Still silent after all these years

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH -

I met her in Grade 10. It seems si­mul­ta­ne­ously like a life­time ago and just yes­ter­day. She was gig­gling in French class. And up­tight-me tried to tell her to shush.

Mo­ments later I was gig­gling too and our friend­ship was ce­mented.

That’s the power she had. Although by the time I met her she was so­cially quiet and in con­stant doubt of her­self, she was an amaz­ingly ta­lented, bright, and beau­ti­ful teenage girl. Her laugh­ter coloured ev­ery­thing in her life. She’s the only women I’ve ever known who could tell you a story about be­ing raped and ac­tu­ally get you to laugh part­way through be­tween the tears and sym­pa­thy. She’s prob­a­bly the only woman on earth who ever had that power.

And now she’s dead. Her death, like her life, a tragedy and some­thing hard to un­der­stand or be­lieve.

I can’t say her name and it tor­tures me that I’m not per­mit­ted to give her that last hon­our. But her family has cho­sen. Who am I to ar­gue?

I hadn’t talked to her in al­most 10 years. She was a part of my young adult­hood that I left be­hind. The life she started to lead and the sto­ries she told me were for­eign and scary. I tried to help. Per­haps not hard enough. And then I car­ried on with my own life.

Just last fall I thought of her. I made the de­ci­sion to con­tact her: to find out where she was now; to of­fer help if nec­es­sary or en­cour­age­ment if wel­comed. But she wasn’t on Face­book. So my ex­cuse was easy.

I was scared

Truth­fully I wor­ried about our di­ver­gent paths. Would I still be able to smile with her? Would I even rec­og­nize her any longer as that freely laugh­ing teenager with in­se­cu­ri­ties but prom­ise? I de­cided it would be eas­ier to meet her in per­son than to call on the phone. I thought I’d take an­other friend along, to ease the dis­com­fort of re-ac­quain­tance. Truth­fully, I was scared. But not as scared as I imag­ine she was when her life es­caped her grasp last week. Or maybe she wasn’t scared at all. Maybe she was at peace, fi­nally at rest with the thought of her fi­nal rest.

I won’t know be­cause I wasn’t there. And I can’t guess be­cause I wasn’t there for her in the past decade.

Did she still laugh freely? So hard she snorted and cov­ered her mouth. Are there any re­cent photos or did she still shy from the cam­era? Was she happy at all? Was she still the kind and pure soul I re­mem­ber?

Per­haps it was her es­sen­tial good­ness, her kind­ness, her laugh­ter, her quick wit and her vi­tal­ity that made me think that she was go­ing to be OK. She was go­ing to make it through. And per­haps it was that same be­lief that let me put off con­tact­ing her. I al­ways thought she’d rise above the cir­cum­stances that brought her down. Her prom­ise was vi­brant.

It’s too late now. And I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. But if I could talk to my teenage self again I’d tell her to tell some­one: ex­press the wor­ries you had, the doubts, the sus­pi­cions. In­stead of con­fronting your friend with what you be­lieved to be the truth, put it in an adult’s hands. Don’t think they must know — be­cause us adults, we’re blind.

If I could talk to my­self back then I’d re­mind my­self that we all strug­gle and have hard­ship but some of us cope bet­ter than oth­ers. Some of us hide our strug­gles bet­ter. Re­gard­less, all of us need help: an ear to lis­ten not to the funny sto­ries but to the story be­neath.

If I could talk to a teenager to­day that knew her friend was strug­gling with lack of self-worth or a family sit­u­a­tion that seemed wrong or any other thing that kept her from be­ing her full self, I’d tell that teenager to talk about — to tell some­one, to “snitch,” to pro­tect her friend at the risk of her friend­ship.

And I think that’s what I’ll tell my chil­dren when they get older. To­day, they only know that Mommy is sad be­cause her friend died. But one day the story will be told, the full story that should’ve been told ages ago. And hope­fully they’ll learn from it. It’s too late for my friend, but there’s still time for all our sons’ and daugh­ters’ friends.

There’s no way to turn back time. But we can change the fu­ture with our ac­tions now. Par­ents, please talk to your teens about their friends. Teens, talk to an adult. It’s true that you may de­stroy a friend­ship, but it’s worth it to save a friend.

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