Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Burntcore's Week 14 Entry: Missing You


Picture 1Picture 2

Burntcore's Choice: Both

Missing you

I stared at the picture of Katie and me lying in the grass from last summer with my dog Bijou. I couldn’t believe it had been a year already. It seemed like it just happened yesterday… and now we were having a memorial service tonight to remember her by.

That day was like any other. Katie and I had spent the day together like we did all the time. It was late summer, only weeks before our senior year was supposed to start. We were so excited that we got lockers next to each other in the senior hallway. We spent the morning going through our closets and comparing our new clothes for school.

Our senior year… it was the one thing that we had looked forward to for years. This was it, the culmination of all the years of school, our final hoorah before we were cast out into the world as adults.

And now I stood here, officially an adult and a high school graduate, missing my best friend.

We were supposed to do this together.

Tears tracked down my face and I roughly brushed them aside with my hand. I didn’t want to start crying yet. Tonight would be bad enough.

Arms wrapped around my shoulder, making me jump until I realized it was just my mom. I sunk into her embrace gratefully.
“Shhh, baby girl. I know it’s rough,” my mother soothed, rubbing my shoulder. She looked down at the picture in my hand and smiled sadly.

“I remember taking that picture. You two had such fun that day.”

I could only nod. If I spoke, my voice would betray me, and I’d start crying in earnest.

“Still can’t believe she’s gone. Deanna hasn’t been the same,” she mused quietly. Deanna was Katie’s mom. Something broke within her that night when she learned her only child, her beautiful baby girl, had been killed.

“No one has,” I added in a whisper. No day had been the same. Katie was my best friend. How could anything ever be the same?

“Come on, sweetheart. We gotta get ready for the memorial,” my mom said as she steered me toward the house.

I didn’t respond but followed my mother inside the house.

In my bedroom, I looked at the outfit that was laid out on my bed. It was one of Katie’s outfits. It was one of the outfits that we had agreed to swap after we raided each others’ closets. She should’ve been the first person to wear this, not me.
Far too soon, my parents and I were climbing into the car and off to the memorial site, the high school football field. It was fitting, it was the location of her death.

The crowd at the field was huge. I grumbled under my breath at the sight. Katie was a fairly popular girl but there was no way all these people knew her. I supposed I should be happy at least that they were all here to help celebrate her life… and it would serve as a warning.

It was so unfair. Katie was too young to have her life taken from her. Why did it have to be my best friend?

We made our way to the field, walking through the small groups of people, each group holding the small white cloth balloons. They were a lot like hot air balloons but on a much smaller scale. Katie always wanted to go in one. This was our homage to her. As we walked, people would murmur soft things towards us or gently touch our arms as we passed. I didn’t want this attention. This wasn’t about me.

My parents pulled me to a stop as we approached the center of the gathering. Katie’s mom Deanna, and her father, Jon, stood on a small platform. There were a few small floral arrangements along the edge of the platform. Katie’s picture stood in the center, behind her parents, larger than life, smiling like she didn’t have a care in the world. The picture was from her senior photographs taken just a week before her death, for her senior year that she never got to experience. The school even granted her an honorary diploma that Deanna accepted at Graduation. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

We joined Katie’s parents on the platform and I tried to hide behind the adults. I wasn’t comfortable with this. I didn’t want to face this. Deanna looked back towards me with a small smile on her face.

“You came after all,” she murmured.

I stared at my feet. “I had to.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, although there was a part of me that didn’t, but I had to be here. I had to be here for Katie, for her parents, for my parents, but mostly for Katie.

Deanna nodded and pulled me into a rough hug.

“You were such a good friend to her, Eva. I will never forget what you meant to my little girl.”

I sniffed and tried not to cry.

“Shall we get started?” Jon asked quietly.

Deanna nodded and gently released me from the hug but clasped my hand to keep me close.

Jon turned on the microphone that was on a small stand nearby.

“Thank you everyone for coming tonight. We, Katie’s parents and I, appreciate it so much that all of you would take time out of your night and remember our little girl. She was such a light in our lives.”

Jon’s voice broke and he took a moment to collect himself.

“She was like any typical teenage girl. We had our rows, but overall, she was a good girl. She was smart, beautiful, and was a good friend.” He glanced at me with a small, watery smile.

“But she was too trusting and trusted the wrong person.” His face hardened as the anger of his daughter’s unnecessary death came to the surface.

“Let our pain serve as a warning. She didn’t have to die if we had been more vigilant. If we had just-“ Jon cut himself off as his emotions overtook him. His shoulders began shaking as he cried quietly.

Finding strength I didn’t know I had, I took the microphone from Jon’s hand and approached the huge gathering.

“Katie was my best friend. I miss her every second of every day. We were supposed to go to college together. Now I’m doing it on my own. And it was all because of him.“

I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to find my focus. Jon had stopped crying by this time but had his face buried in his wife’s neck as they comforted one another.

“I had my reservations about Paul myself, but I never thought it would lead to what happened. He had issues that no one realized he had. I never thought I’d see the guy who said he worshipped Katie push her off the bleachers in a jealous rage.”
My memories came back in full-force, bringing back the one night, the one moment I wished I could forget. I would never forget it seemed to go by so slowly and so fast all at the same time.

“I remember that night like it was yesterday. We were at cheerleading practice, getting ready for school to start and the first home game. Everyone who knew Paul, knew he was a little odd but he seemed harmless. No one knew how angry he could become.

“Katie and he had become friends last summer, closer than I realized, closer than I think she realized. He felt he had a claim on her, a stake, just because they were friends. But she had the audacity to want to spend time with me over him.”

The guilt I couldn’t quite get over enveloped me. I knew that I didn’t cause her death, but I couldn’t help but feel somewhat responsible. If she hadn’t chosen me over him, perhaps she’d still be alive.

“He flipped. They argued on the bleachers. I watched from the field, trying to figure out what was going on. He kept advancing on her, causing her to move farther and farther up the steps, until they were at the top. I should’ve screamed, I should’ve done something, but I didn’t.”

A sob threatened its way up my chest but I wasn’t ready to give in yet. Her story needed to be told. She needed to be remembered.

“I can only imagine that she refused him once again because suddenly he began gesturing wildly, and then… then… he p-p-pushed her.” I began stuttering as my emotions took over. “She flipped over the railing and f-fell. She fell to the ground and didn’t get back up. Paul hopped over the railing and fell too, but he got up…. Eventually.”

Sobs were heard across the field. I gritted my teeth and tried to force down my own sadness. This wasn’t all there was to Katie. There was so much more.

“But it is not how she died that she should be remembered. She lived every day to its fullest. Her life was so much more than her death.”

I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I burst into tears. My parents pulled me to them and held me as my body shuddered, wracked with a year’s worth of pain and loneliness.

Deanna took that moment and spoke, taking the microphone carefully from my grasp. She invited everyone to remember a moment of Katie’s life and release their balloons, letting the happy memories of Katie flood the heavens so we all could remember how she lived.

I heard the crowd murmuring as each group found something to say to one another quietly. A sense of peace came over me as the voices floated around the field. I couldn’t hear distinct stories but the love that was coming from everyone buoyed my aching spirit. Rubbing my eyes, I looked up and saw hundreds of balloons illuminating the night sky. Hundreds of memories of Katie.

“Katie, you finally made it up there. I miss you. I love you,” I whispered, sending my thoughts up with all the balloons, as I finally said goodbye to my best friend.