Forever Twelve This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 31, 2011
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The studded snow tires slowed to a halt. My mom had pulled up behind the coach bus in front of the gym doors. I stepped out of the car with a smile on my face, grabbed my bag from the back, and waved my mom off. As I walked toward the door of the bus something was different, and very wrong. The Junior Varsity and Varsity basketball teams were standing scattered on the frost bitten sidewalk. Among the shivers and chattering teeth I saw anxious and uneasy faces. Little did I know that this day, January 17th, 2011, was going to be one of the worst days ever for my second family, my basketball team.

As I approached my teammates, a friend of mine pulled me aside to inform me that our youngest player, Leah, a sophomore, had purposely harmed herself just that morning. I quickly scanned the faces of the other girls, and realized this was far from a joke, it was reality, and it was hitting us hard. The last update anyone had gotten was that Leah was being rushed to Dartmouth Hospital by air. As our patience wore thin, we waited for an updated phone call. The cold no longer existed. My body went numb, not because of the chill in the air, but from the chills that ran up and down my spine. My brain ran a thousand miles per hour trying to process the words that I had just heard. Powerless, we all stood there. I knew that we were all sharing the same thoughts. Leah, how could she do this? What could I have done to prevent it? Was this my fault? Every minute felt like an eternity, as the worst thoughts crossed each and every one of our minds.

“Girls, would everyone circle up?” My coach’s face was stern and filled with concern when he finally called us together. We slowly placed our arms around each other squeezing tight. He told us it was bad but that we had to think positive, keep her in our thoughts, and pray for her. He then announced, “The game is canceled today. Everyone needs to go home, drive safe, and pray for Leah.” As he finished speaking, not one of us moved. We were motionless, frozen in time, unable to grasp the situation.

Eventually, we moved into the school gym where we could be warmer, and sat on the floor. Some of us had our faces buried deep in our hands, others of us were hugging, and others of us were on our phones contacting our parents and friends. As we continued to wait my stomach became sick. I was dizzy, light headed, and terrified. A soft blanket of silence wrapped around each of our shoulders. I remember calling my mom and before I could even speak, she informed me that she too, had heard the heartbreaking news. Neither of us could hold ourselves together as the first tears began to flow.

As I sat in the open gym all the current images began to blur. School counselors and parents had begun to arrive at the school. I remember hearing their soft whispers and murmurs as they spoke to us, “Stay strong girls, think positive.” The only thing I could make clear in my mind was Leah. Her strong thighs getting low while she played controlled defense, and most of all, her smile. The last moment I saw Leah was in our team huddle at the end of practice the day before. Her hair had been slicked back with sweat from her hard work that day, and her face was proud. She had just made eight of ten foul shots and she couldn’t have been happier. I will never forget Leah that day, at that exact moment. Her eyes gleaming and wide, and her beauty shooting off in all directions.

It wasn’t until we were called into a huddle again that the bad news finally came. As we clenched our arms around one another our coach began to open his lips, we knew what was coming, and we could see it in his eyes. I didn’t want to hear it; my hearing fogged as he forced out the cruel and brutal words, “Leah is dead.” His soft words shook the entire building. The echo of the words rang through the gym, and they bounce through my mind every day. I watched my teammates collapse onto the floor, the floor that Leah had been standing on and running on, less then twenty-four hours earlier. The sobs poured through the open gym. With the blink of an eye, the most beautiful girl at our school was gone. The strongest, most spirited, and courageous part of our team was never to return. My heart sunk to the floor, and my throat clogged with horror and despair.

The next few hours were still. Time had frozen as we held each other and cried. As time finally began to move, the Junior Varsity players filtered out of the gym, and my team was left sitting there, in the corner of our home court. What had seemed like such a large number of twelve, had turned into eleven; such a small and ugly number it had become.

As minutes turned into hours, and hours became days, my teammates and I became a true family. We began to spend afternoons together, and spent entire nights as a team over the weekends. We have each other’s backs and are one another’s support system. We are cautious of each other’s problems and work to be encouraging and positive. Losing Leah has created a tighter bond between us, and has helped us all realize we depend on this family. Leah’s decision made us all understand that we need to think about the big picture, not just ourselves. As a team we collectively decided that we would never be a team of eleven, but that we would always be twelve. Leah’s spirit and beautiful smile live as a fire burning in each of our hearts, that will never go out.

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