There is more than one way to lose someone. When we say we lost someone, it usually means that they passed away. But we also lose people unconsciously. The person is still there with us, but it's not the same, they're not the same. We don't realize it until it's too late, but the person we knew is now only a shell. There is nothing left of the friend we've come to love. Only an emptiness that can never be filled.

We all swear we're never going to lose friends. We make them one day, they start off as casual acquaintances, and eventually those relationships deepen. We become friends, we get to the point when we will do anything for a friend: die, eat our own liver, rip the very heart from our chest and devour it raw while being rained down on by acid. We would sacrifice every part of our being to keep a friend safe. We give our hearts, our souls, and our lives. And we would give everything we own to keep those people close to us, no matter what the cost. We swear we'll never drift apart, we swear we'll protect each other no matter what. But things change. People change. The inevitable happens. Humans are like butterflies. We stay in our old life, our old cocoon, for so long that we find it hard to imagine anything else. We grow happy with our routine. We know that change is coming someday, but we become so content that we erase it from our mind...until it happens. One day we suddenly break from our shell and leave everything we once held dear behind, ready for a new beginning.

Some beginnings are more tragic than others.

I first met Mandy on my first day of third grade. Well, my first day at my new school. I was the new kid, alone and afraid. I was sitting in the sandbox, trying to grip reality and tell myself that the day would soon be over. When I first saw her there, I could have sworn she was an angel. She was one of the few people who had approached me that day, and she was an angel to me. Most people think of angels being tall and slender with long, flowing golden hair and a sincere smile. The smile was the only part she had. She was short, even shorter than me, and she could have been mistaken as a first-grader. She had chin-length, pale brown hair, a very honest smile on her face, and eyes that sparkled no matter what expression was on her face. I was shy, she was jubilant. She coaxed me out of my new kid shyness and got me to talk, and almost automatically we stuck together like it was a natural thing. We brought out the best in each other right from the beginning. She was loud and outgoing, determined and fearless. I was quiet, I was shy, I was withdrawn. She taught me to release myself and I taught her to restrain herself.

Mandy was always feisty. She could resist peer-pressure and put-downs better than anyone I knew. She was a strong believer in God, and she always reminded us of what He would think if we were doing something wrong. She was the leader and still the voice of virtue in our little group of friends since the start. She was a compulsive attendee of church and youth group, and saw to it that I started going with her. I learned some, but mostly we liked going together because no matter what the situation, we could find some way to have fun as long as we had each other. It didn't matter if we were in an empty room with no windows, we could still have the time of our lives. Friends were all we needed.

We were almost never apart all through grade school. We went to birthday parties mostly, we experimented with makeup, and we caused a little bit of trouble wherever we went all along the way. Separated, Mandy was loud and fearless and I was quiet and retiring. Together, we were both unstoppable, we invincible, nothing could bring us down. We were superheroes, we were secret agents, we were pro athletes, we were anything we wanted to be and we could sincerely believe it was real. When junior high rolled around, we (the entire group) were worried about being separated. Mandy, Shauna, Alyssa, Ariel, and me, we had been friends since we met and we wanted nothing to change.

Junior high couldn't come between us, we soon realized, and we figured nothing ever would. We formed a very cheesy little pop band and sincerely believed we could make it big, all with Mandy's assurance. She was always a musician. She was always singing some little Britney Spears song or writing some Christian piece that we would sing at recess. The band didn't continue for very long, but even after that was over she still showered us with songs she had written and even persuaded me to start singing publicly, something I had never been able to do before. Things started getting a bit strange toward the end of eighth grade. Mandy the good girl became Mandy the troublemaker, and I'll never be able to figure out why. I just know that she started getting detention all the time, which was viewed as very bad when we were so young and ignorant. I got my fair share of detention, too, but it was always for being late to class, or sometimes having a little fake fist fight with Lisa in the hall, but never for skipping class or a million other things Mandy would do. I knew something was weird, but nothing really started getting scary until high school.

High school started, and with it, a whole new set of rules, ways of living. We now feared seniors instead of eighth graders, and so many other changes. But somehow it never mattered. By now, our group had extended to include Lisa, Noelle, and Jeremy, and our circle of friends made us all feel protected. We were no longer quite as immature and ignorant as we had been in the past, and we understood a bit more about the ways of the world. By then, we were the ones labeled as 'Goths' by those shallow enough to label people, so pretty much the only people who would talk to us much were already our friends. There were concerts and parties and we never really went to any of them, but they were big changes all the same.

Mandy started skipping and drinking a bit, but it was never too much to alarm anyone. It was just a little here and there. Our strong bond had diminished a bit over the years rather than strengthened, but our friendship never died. I started worrying about her and the things she was doing, but they were nothing compared at what she would start next.

The summer after freshman year, Mandy and I started hanging out a bit more than we had during school. It seemed almost like the old days; except for the fact that now we liked gory comic books and writing. We had different interests than each other, but we could still talk for hours about music. Music we liked, music we wrote, anything. She would sing me pieces she had written and I would do the same. I was no longer the shy little kid I had once been, and I owed that to Mandy. Now I was just as outgoing as Mandy, and I could easily sing publicly because of all her encouragement. We would stay up all night without sleeping working on new song ideas and listening to Evanescence because it was my favorite band, and Korn because it was her favorite band. W would talk about the future a lot, about what our bands would be called and how we would get famous and do songs together. Mandy has always wanted to be a singer, I think for as long as I've known her. I knew she was determined enough to be anything, and I admired her for it. She got me into several singing auditions with her that summer. She would never try to beat me or make me feel inferior, even though I will always believe that she is the better singer.

Toward the end of the summer, Mandy started cutting. I guess it was for release from problems or rage; I'm not sure which. I understand how she felt, because I've gone through self-destructive stuff too, but it really, really scared me. A lot of my friends were cutting that summer, and it was just more than I could handle. Mandy was the worst of all. She carved words into her flesh and cut regularly on her arms and legs and even her face. I wanted to tell her that she was out of control. I wanted her to know how much it hurt me. But I was a coward and I just offered help if she needed it and a shoulder to cry on. She told me not to tell anyone, and like any idiot teenager I agreed. I didn't tell anyone, and I just hoped that it would stop and everything bad would go away. I didn't want to be this afraid anymore. I just wanted it to end.

Shortly after this was when Mandy started slowly slipping away. I didn't know what was happening. I would call her to do something and she would agree. We would make plans for her to come over or something, and then she would never show up. It scared me at first, and then I got angry. When I called to ask her about it, she was never home. Then her mom started calling my house looking for her all the time. I found out that she told her mom she was coming over here on a regular basis without telling me, but she didn't come here. I didn't know at the time where she was going, but I was angry and confused and even the tiniest bit afraid, though I hated to admit it. Lisa, who had become my main source of companionship over the course of eight and ninth grade, offered a lot of support at the time even though she didn't know what was going on, she just knew that I was upset. If it weren't for Lisa I might have gone insane. Mandy kept this up for the remainder of the summer, and it got worse when this year (sophomore year) started.

Eventually with the pressures of a new school year and everything else piling up on me, I stopped worrying so much and tried to concentrate on school. Mandy got worse and worse, more and more distant and skipped a lot more school. Like an idiot I still didn't suspect what was going on. Mandy got more and more unruly and finally got transferred to Crossroads, the school where they send the kids with discipline problems. I hated this. I hated how it had happened to my friend who had once been the one who gave me moral guidance. For a while, I refused to believe it. I saw her sometimes, but she was never the same, she was always in trouble, and she always got me into trouble. It was impossible to talk to her anymore. She was just too far away, off in her own little world.

Friends don't stop trying for each other. Friends would do anything for each other. Friends never let friends get lost. But I gave up on Mandy, eventually. It was more than I could handle. She was more than I could handle. And now I am horribly ashamed that I would ever consider giving up on her. Friends never leave friends alone in the dark. But I did that to Mandy, though I don't think she noticed. I don't think she even remembered talks we would have anymore. It was worthless trying. It was pointless trying to be her friend. When things seem pointless, strong people keep fighting. Strong people never give up when they have a breath left in their body. I gave up. I will never have that strength and determination that Mandy had, that will to continue that shone in her eyes whenever she held a microphone in her hand. I decided it was impossible for her to be helped, and I quit. Just like that. In one moment all the things I had done for her were erased by the weakness that I allowed to consume me.

I found out later, about a week ago, that Mandy was compulsively smoking pot. She had been since the end of ninth grade. I was too stupid to know it. That was why she had been sent to Crossroads. That was why she was so distant. That was why she had forgotten me. It was never a good enough excuse, though. I can't understand how the most determined, independent person I know could ever even consider starting drugs. I know people have reasons, and I will never put someone lower than me for the decisions that they make. I just wish I had been able to do something. Because when she had started drugs, that was this story's beginning. It wasn't back when we met. It wasn't when she started changing. Those were all beginnings, but they were never the beginnings of what destroyed my friend. Drugs are the evil monster that consumed that girl who used to laugh when I fell from my skateboard and then would help me up. She let the drugs have control. Once you relinquish control, it's a chore to go back. The longer you let the control stay out of your hands, the longer you remain the puppet dangling from some string high above and allow some puppet master to govern your actions, the harder it is to return to control. Control is something you should never surrender.

Mandy did.

I still wish I knew what to do about Mandy, I wish I could help. But people are already trying to help her, and it isn't doing anything. Mandy is too strong to let them help her without her consent. I wish I would have done something before it was too late. But I don't know if there's anything I could've done. You can't have guilt for something you can't control. Only Mandy can control her future. Neither me or anyone else can do anything about it. It's all up to her, and I can't see her changing. I can't see her getting out of this.

Every story has a beginning, every story has a middle, and every story inevitably has an end. I can only hope that this story has a happy one.

To be continued.