Lately I’ve been waxing nostalgic about my high school years. It’s been because of a couple of things. My 10-year reunion is this year. N. and I were planning on attending, but the committee didn’t get around to organizing the event until it was too late to have it during the summer. Instead of attending the reunion, E. and I are flying to Washington tomorrow to visit family. I’ve been making a mental list of the people I want to visit and the places I want to go. The other reason I’ve been feeling nostalgic is that last week was the birthday of my best friend from high school. Kristen would have turned twenty-nine, but she died five years ago.
We were pretty much inseparable during high school. Kristen was witty, kind, snarky, and curious. She was always up for anything: signing up together for taekwondo (and quiting after a month), riding scooters along the beach, renting foreign films, going to concerts, trying new ethnic restaurants, or going to West Coast Swing night at the local ballroom (and getting hit on by hicks). There were so many small events in our lives that we shared. And now that she’s gone, I’m the only one left who remembers these things. As far as the world cares, they might have never happened at all.
I’m the only one who remembers when she picked me up in her car at 16, a freshly-minted licensed driver, to go for a spin. I remember the sheer terror we felt as we realized she had mistakenly turned the wrong way onto the freeway off-ramp and how we collapsed in hysterical laughter as soon as we were safe again on the road.
I’m the only one who remembers how she gamely went along with me to draw silly pictures and write non sequiturs in chalk on the driveway of a crush’s house. And how we were surprised in the act by said crush and his mother driving home and how we ran away in a panic into the thick underbrush to escape apprehension and got all scratched up.
I’m the only one who remember the time we decided it would be fun to try and go sledding in a bare inch of heavy wet Pacific Northwest snow and how afterward we lay muddied on the soggy hill and talked about what we thought God was like.
Ever since we were high school freshmen and she first tried to take her life, the spectre of her death was always there, stalking her. Sometimes months or even years would pass and it would seemed like it had been banished, like she had escaped and would be free to live a normal life. But then something would happen, some banal trial of life or some emotional event known only to her, and it would become cruelly apparent that it had never left at all. And then one day her death took her away for good.
So going home for a visit is bittersweet for me. I’m reminded of Kristen almost everywhere I look: that infamous off-ramp, the coffee shop where we hung out and played at being sophisticates, the furniture store where we went couch shopping with her mom, the Big Tom’s drive-in we would stop at for shakes, the paths we would ride our bikes along. But now these places are changing. Trees have been torn down and new stores and houses built up in their stead. Life in my hometown stubbornly goes on without her and without me.
It makes me feel old. It makes me miss her.