Still silent after all these years
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.