I didn't dream about you last night. After all of the dreams about our conversations, about you, the weird metaphorical dreams about your death, this one was about the rest of us- your friends, your grandparents, your sister, trying to sort out your death. Stringing together our memories of you, keeping odd tokens to honor you in our lives, trying to figure out what went wrong and how it could have been different. It was a strangely painful dream, because it's been the story of my waking life since the moment I got that phone call. And I'm not the only one.
I don't know if you know this, but there are a lot of people still missing you. There's a young blond woman in Louisiana who drops flowers in a stream every year on your birthday. There's a curly-haired young man in South Carolina who still dreams about you, and still wonders about that call he missed from you days before you died. There's a redhead who can't pass a single life milestone without looking around for you and crying that you won't pass these same milestones, and she won't be able to be there for you. And so many more, I'm sure.
You were special, my friend. I see it more, now that I'm older, now that I've worked with college students. You laughed at my fear of large crowds, but whenever the band paraded through the school hallways for spirit days you made sure to stand between me and them. And that's who you were with many of us-laughing at our neuroses, and yet quietly protecting us from them.
When I moved to that crazy small town in Tennessee, you were the first friend I made- the first person who chose to talk to me because we had things in common, and had fun together instead of because I was the new pastor's daughter and the church youth charity case. You were a transplant, like me. Like me, your mom died suddenly, long before she should have. And the two of us, we were crazy gifted and determined to make something of ourselves and get out of that small town.
There was a lot of laughter during our 3 1/2 years of highschool....when we fiercely competed over the top grades in all of our classes together (except math, because I couldn't possibly keep up with you there), when you called me "Cripple-me-Elmo" as I hobbled around with a sprained ankle, when you almost missed the busses for the school field trip, the two of us sorting through the pile of college recruitment mail, you reminding me that loving travel was not a good enough reason to join the Navy ("Charis! You're claustrophobic, you can't do that. People in the Navy live on ships."), while we skirted the safety regulations as chemistry partners.
We had our triumphs too- you on my arm as I escorted you for your national honor society induction ceremony, me winning the science award, our last dance at senior prom. Then, there were the days when we looked at each other with fear in our eyes, because we'd given life our absolute best shot and it wasn't working out in our favor.
After you died, a lot of people didn't understand why I was upset. College friends, the school counselor college friends forced me to see, my parents, accused me of overreacting....but no one who knew the both of us has questioned my grief. I'm reminding myself of this as I've come to question whether that special bond we had might have just been in my head. We made a pact our junior year - when we figured out where we were going to college, we were going to pick a spot in the middle, and if life ever got completely overwhelming, if one of us couldn't handle the world, we were just going to get in our respective cars and drive until we were together. And yet we never picked that spot....
People asked me why I wasn't angry with you for taking your life. I couldn't tell them the truth - that it could just as easily have been me, that I'd spent many a Friday night alone in my dorm room plotting my own suicide. I couldn't hold you to a standard that I couldn't meet myself. I still don't know....what the difference was, what pushed you over the edge, what held me back.
Few things have changed my life as completely as your death. I keep my phone on at all hours of the day. I've answered it at 3am more times than I care to admit. I'll never put off another phone call to a friend who's weighing heavily on my mind. Heck, if I have a bad dream about someone, I'll text to make sure they're okay. And yet, your death is why I will never doubt that there is something after death. Your story wasn't over that night you died. I've found that friendship is stronger than death. You are still remembered, you are still missed, you always will be. Those of us who loved you still fight each day to trust that God really can care for you better than we could. The last time I saw you, we parted with a hug...that last phone call ended with a promise to talk soon. Four months later, you were dead. "Soon" has turned out to be a lot longer than I expected, but someday, we will laugh about that.