Into the Past (2008)
At age eleven, I was so very lonely. I never went outside unless if I had to. I was always getting sick-and if I'm completely honest I'll tell you that part of it was because I made myself sick so I wouldn't have to go to school and be miserable and feel alone. I never cared about much of anything. I was, in some ways, very spoiled. But in others, I was very deprived. Now, I had things to be thankful for. I had… two friends, to be exact. One of which was leaving me the next year, all alone to fend for myself. The other, though we loved each other, wasn't quite enough when she had always grown up with the kids I just couldn't quite be friends with. This just so happened to be the year that I officially met them. I loved God, but it wasn't nearly as strong a relationship as most children have with the Big Guy Upstairs. I was living life passively-mostly keeping happy by living though the pages of books and film. Yearning for something more, but not knowing what there was to do. I was very naïve thinking everything that could be done, was already over and done with.
I have many stories from my life that I could tell, but this is my favorite story-and it isn't even completely mine. I rarely tell it, because if I'm not given enough time, the message is twisted into something tragic. Truth is, I've written my own happy ending, with some unexpected help. The story of how my life was forever changed. There were many people and events that played into it, but I'm focusing today on the most important person, a true saint. From start to finish, from the day we met to the day I write the ending to this-I'm going to tell how one young girl changed my life. This perspective is about how what she did for me has affected who I am to date.
It all started with crossed paths on a beautiful spring day. It all ended when I didn't cross paths with the ones I loved on a beautiful spring day a year later. In fact, it was almost exactly four years before the date I'm writing this.
I can't remember the exact moment. I can't even remember how long it took me to remember all their names. Only a boy and a girl I had grown up with introducing me to two boys and two girls that would teach me how to live. The one who clung to me the most, and changed me the most? It was the playful little girl with the sparkling, dark brown eyes and the hair the exact same color as mine. It reached her shoulders, while mine reached my back. I was eleven years old going on twelve. She was six going on seven.
Her name was Macie, and she changed my life.
Most of my remaining memories of that happy summer with the four kids next door are just of smiling, laughing, and roughhousing outside up until it was too dark to see. Even then, sometimes fireflies and bonfires would allow us to continue playing together into the night.
I remember catching butterflies by day with the girls and then we'd move on to the "lightning bugs" by night. Really, everything I did with each kid made me feel more alive than I ever had before. Before then, my life consisted mostly of watching television, reading books, drawing pictures of things I had so very wished would actually happen in reality, studying, playing my percussive instruments for band… but never socializing. I preferred to hide away in worlds aside from my own, inside of closed doors, where I felt safe.
They all opened my eyes. The last thing I had been doing was protecting myself.
The first conversation I can remember having with her was from an August day, when we discovered our birthdays were only two days apart. My twelfth was to be on the eighth day of the eighth month of the year 2008, the day the Olympics kicked off. Hers was the 10th, and being a gymnast, she was very enthusiastic about this event. Even though this was very early into our friendship, this was the first time she tricked me. I asked her how old she was going to be. She grinned and told me to guess.
"Well, you're going into second grade, correct?" the little girl nodded, smiling at me. Me!? What did I do to make her so happy, I wondered, and would always wonder every time I spoke to her.
"Will you be eight?" I asked.
I should've known by the mischievous grin on her face that she was lying when she said yes.
In many ways, she was far less naïve than I was, and taught me much more than I ever taught her.
I didn't find out that she was actually only five years younger than me until around a year later when all the chaos –chaos that shook my world to the core and forever changed my life-unfolded.
Every day. Every day after school I would come over, without fail. I would come no matter how many other obligations I had. That year I lived on caffeine. It got to the point that I drank a bottle of Coca Cola every day and a few cups of coffee. Even though there were consequences, such as a major stunt in growth (I should be 5'8 or 5'9" by now. I'm only 5'4 and three quarters.) I have absolutely no regrets about this. Really, I wish I would've spent even more time with them, but it was impossible. Every single moment that I could, I was over there. One day my generally calm and kind mother snapped, and even screamed at my 6th grade self that was yet again headed out the back door without a word, "You're MY kid, not theirs!"
Most of my memories have faded into this lovely jumble: Chasing each other, jumping on the trampoline, jumping on the leaves, bonfires(we had a lot of tree limbs taking up space in our yards and they would burn the ones in theirs), pushing her on the swing attached to the tree, getting extremely competitive with her older brother, carrying the younger kids around, having silly arguments just for the sake of hearing ourselves yell, having adventures in a wonderful creek behind out houses that I was technically supposed to stay away from, learning to rebel from my parents for my own sanity's sake, running, dancing, jumping, loving, and finally, appreciating how great it was just to be living and breathing.
I have many clear and vivid memories from this winter, and many humorous stories about the days we'd all spent sledding and treading ice in the creek. Even though I got sick many times, and my school life was absolutely unbearable… When I was with them, everything felt okay. Even when I felt weak, ill, and just flat out depressed, I still came, because they loved me, especially Macie. She was always disappointed when I was away for a few days or a week, and always asked why I'd been gone. I didn't like to see anything except for a smile on her face. So I did whatever I could to make sure it stayed on. When she smiled, I couldn't help but smile with her, even if someone had tripped me earlier that day, or completely left me out, or if no one would be my partner in biology and I had to work by myself, or even if it was one of the days that I sat completely alone during lunch and watched everyone getting along perfectly find without me. Right here, right within walking distance of my house, I had a place where I belonged.
I'd do anything to make her laugh. I remember one day we were in the creek with her brother, directly behind my house. I had to be quiet in case my mother might hear us, but I remember taking a piece of ice, exclaiming, "Gee, Mace, Jordan, look at this!" And I broke it on my head. She yelled, "It looks like ICE!" Her brother and I kept smashing it on our heads and laughing very loudly-I didn't even care if my family heard us anymore.
Even though life was hard, I was finally happy, and getting better and stronger by each day.
As with the other seasons, I can recount many different happy snippets of memories. I remember St. Patrick's Day, when she pinched me for wearing pink instead of green. Then later I changed clothes when I went to a Girl Scouts meeting, just for her. The most significant event that I can recollect from the spring of 2009 was the last time I'll ever see my beloved neighbor in this life.
Then and Now
I remember her asking me why I never went to church, and offering to take me to hers, it was even Baptist, like my whole family was supposed to be. I remember promising her I'd find a way to start attending church on Sundays again, at some point, for sure.
I remember telling her that I would be going to public school the next year with our neighbor Christopher, whose little sister was the one who introduced us.
I remember her being one of about six people that ever called me by my nickname-Gabbie. Everyone at school called me Gabrielle. I remember insisting on being called Gabbie that spring and after a couple of weeks at least the teachers obliged, and a few pitying students.
I remember the night her brother turned nine years old, and peed in the bonfire right in front of us, and their grandmother making us turn around as he did so.
I remember the last time I'll see her until God decides I get to see her again.
I remember that day very clearly-the day I almost said I loved her since it was just the two of us messing around-but deciding against it for fear of sounding too mushy.
I remember when, two days later, I heard her screaming on a sunny Friday afternoon, when we happened to have a day off for a Teacher's Institute, and my best friend from school was right by my side.
I remember when, a few hours later, I found out that I would not ever see her beautiful smile again in this life, realizing that I would not have the honor of watching her grow from a charming, sly child into an amazing, absolutely beautiful adult.
I remember the tears.
I remember not feeling anything at all for a few days, just numbness that somehow managed to stay with me for a year and still weeds its way into my heart these days if I am not careful.
I remember changing to spelling of Gabbie to Gabby since she probably thought that was how I spelt it-the 3rd time I'd changed the way I spelt it in my sixteen years.
I remember how I made this odd change because I didn't want to confuse her as she watched my life play out without her.
I remember not being able to go to her funeral because my grandparents and mother (whom I live with) refused to let me miss another day of school.
I remember crying at school. I remember my classmates showing me kindness for once, trying to give me comfort for the time being.
I remember going to her visitation, and walking out feeling at peace with myself, knowing that even though she was very young-she truly lived her life, every moment, every day.
I remember pacing my room, with dull blue light coming in because of the rain that April was continue to be bringing with it, rain that very much matched my tempestuous soul.
I remember thinking back on how so many times in the past two years, I had wanted to end it all because I felt so alone.
I remember thinking of how she looked up to me, and how she'd know what I was really like from now on.
I remember promising her that I would continue to be the happy-go lucky girl that came over every day.
I remember promising that I would live my life to the fullest and never ever think of committing suicide and never self-harm.
I remember promising that I'd continue to praise God even though I'd have to go to church on Sundays since I'd be switching schools.
I remember making promises to a little girl that I've broken several times.
I remember how, even if I did fall several times in the past four years I've spent without her alive and vibrant and clearly right by my side, I've always gotten back up, without fail, and always will.
I remember how I became depressed and started to wish I were dead again, because I felt uncertain if she really were still there with me in spirit, if a soul truly could exist.
I remember how when I first started to fail her and lost faith in God, I only ran back to Him because of what she did for me.
I remember how I got baptized and became Catholic in the very church that was affiliated with the school I'd grown to loath, for her.
I remember how I chose Maximilian Kolbe as my Confirmation saint because he died in the place of another, just like I would have gladly done for the innocent little girl I loved on March 27th, 2009.
I remember how I cut myself about a week ago, because I'd felt alone, unloved by my friends, misunderstood by my family.
I remember how I thought for just a fragment of a moment-as I watched some blood flow-that my life was over.
I remember when I ran straight into my room afterwards and the first thing I saw was the framed picture I had of her beside my bed-the one that her mother gave to me on my thirteenth birthday.
I remember when the school found out, and I had felt so cornered and trapped when I had to face up to what I already owned up to; when I had to show the "big scary adults" what I had done, but already knew would never do again, for her, for myself, and for God.
I remember how, this week, I've recounted how I gotten here, and how, just this week, I've changed my life yet again, and taken up my cross yet again, and have been converted and am following the way, the truth, and the life, yet again.
I remember how, in two days, the day she went on to her new life beside our God will have been exactly four years ago.
I remember how I've learned to act like a child, like her, and to be happy, like her, and to love Jesus with a passion, just like her.
Most of all, I remember her grandmother telling me what I needed to hear the day I came to her family's church right after her death, when everyone came to pay their due respects.
"She loved you."