I still remember the glint in her eyes, that first time ours locked. The unwavering and unending humor and tenderness that lie behind thin veils of sarcasm. It was the two of us against the world. I remember the daily battles in the hallways. I can feel the cold metal of the lockers pushed up against my face, and the menacing laughter of my assailants. I can remember the first time I ever heard her voice, wavering and filled with fear, yet strong and loud and clear. She told them to leave me alone, and they did. Tiny and unassuming as she was, she had only to tell them to stop, and they did. She was powerful, a hurricane of emotion, unavoidable and impossible to ignore. She shoved me to my feet and laughed at me, and yet we were young and joking and completely dead inside, I found solace in her smile.
I remember all of her oddities and quirks. Not that there was anything extremely mysterious, or odd, or special about her, because there wasn't. She was just a person, and even though she stuck out to me, she wasn't that far apart from being as insignificant and normal as the rest of us are. But everyone has their quirks, and hers seem to particularly stick in my mind. I don't remember them all at once. I can go for short whiles without thinking of her, but just as suddenly, the slightest thing will cause me to think of her, and then I cannot get her out of my mind.
How she refused to zip up or button a winter coat, out of habit, and she would rather grip the openings and fold the ends over one another with her she only would drink tea or coffee if it was hot enough the physically burn her mouth. How she would meticulously lace and tie up her shoelaces each time she put them on, even if it took her ten minutes to do so. How she managed to love so many things, but she never managed to be well-versed in anything because she would bore of anything quickly and move onto her next obsession. How she listened to old people music, not just classic rock, but music from the 1910's to the 1950's. because the songs that reminded her of her grandpa now remind me of her. How her she always tried to do her makeup, but it ended up looking tacky and caked-on, though her appearance meant nothing to me. How her hair became slightly darker in the winter, and got little flecks of gold in the summer, because of time spent outside. How she coughed and snorted when she was startled, and instead of jumping at a surprise she always just swore loudly. How she walked with her feet turned in a little bit more than slightly, like a pigeon, which caused her to almost be a clumsy as I was. How she had a bit of a clipped Canadian accent, though she had only lived there as an infant, and she pronounced her vowels just a little bit differently. I remember all of them. Not all at once, but in increments of malicious remorse.
What's worse are the memories that come late at night, the memories that are not of her, but of us. The memories of us and our time together that so haunt my sleepless nights are draining and debilitating and leave me feeling empty inside. They attack me in merciless onslaughts, not allowing me to forget everything I had ever said or done with her. Sometimes they'll make me smile, but even the happy ones make me cry. I lie, late at night, just remembering, unable to fall asleep because then I may actually forget. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I wake up screaming, sometimes I feel so absolutely nauseated that I pass out or throw up or both. But most of all, it's the remembering that hurts the most.
I still remember the sound of her laughter, echoing inside of my mind, as I fell from the peak of the stairs and onto the white-tiled floor of the graduation stage. I heard gasps and astounded inhales from those who were surprised and cared for my health, but her reaction was the only genuine one. If I'm being completely honest, sometimes I would fake a fall or a trip or a stupid thing to say just to hear her melodious laugh. Her laughter was like a wind chime, broken and loud and impossible to forget. She always got awkward glances and eye rolls from the ruder and more bitter peers, but we never thought much of it. We were sarcastic little shits who stopped at nothing to get a smile out of each other. We knew each other inside and out, and she still managed to catch me off guard with some jokes sometimes. I would joke, and she would laugh, and I would keep joking and making a fool of myself because laughter was my drug and she was the only dealer that had a good enough product for me.
I remember the prickling of the grass on my feet as she held my hand and made me to run. The parked car moved further and further away, growing smaller and smaller in my line of sight, as we moved our road trip from car onto foot. The sun warmed my skin, causing me to sweat sweat and to fear that her hand would slip from mine. The hand that beckoned me away from the edge and back into life, the hand that had pulled me off of the ground and forced me to stand. I never wanted to let go of it. In her manic state, she ran faster than I could, and rocks tore at the rough skin of my bare feet as I struggled to keep up. Her clothes were baggy and hideous, as if she was aiming for the aesthetic of a homeless person who had just woken up. She smelled of sweat and dirt and worms after rain, but I had somehow grown accustomed to it over the course of the past day or two. We finally stopped, on the peak of a small hill in the middle of the field. We fell to the ground, breathing heavily, and laid there until the sun set against the horizon. It felt like we were the only two people alive in the entire world. She fell asleep, snoring grossly and rolling around in an ugly fashion, and I ended up carrying her back to the car. She was a lot heavier than I imagined, but I managed only because I was sure she wasn't actually sleeping and I thought it was cute and annoying and absolutely hilarious.
I remember sitting in the library during lunch, trying to do schoolwork with her annoying me. She was never a smart kid, she never got exceptional grades. She didn't like to read and math gave her literal, physical headaches. I can only ever remember her liking languages, and wanting to learn them all. She taught me sign language, and we signed together, trying not to be too loud in the library. Every once in a while she would laugh and I would feel the cold stares of those who actually wanted to work and actually had futures. Trying to quiet her down was all in vain, so eventually I stopped, and learned to multi-task through my work. I couldn't ignore her, I just couldn't, partly because I loved her and partly because I couldn't bear to hurt her feelings. It was annoying, though endearing, and at least it built my social skills.
I remember the low point of our friendship, the day I thought it would end. Her voice quivering with tears in her eyes as she yelled and screamed at me. I had cut myself a little too much and called her in a panic. Consequently, it was the last time I had done so. Once she had made sure I would be alright, she unfurled a storm of fury unto me. She shook me and cried until I had been crying too, and called me several loaded names that I can only assume she said because she loved me. I thought she would hate me, assume that I was a self-pitying, over-dramatic freak. I held to her desperately, my face sobbing pathetically into her chest and her arms holding me to her. We stayed curled up, just silent and angry and together, long after we had both stopped crying. I asked her if she still wanted to be friends, I asked her if she was going to leave me. I didn't get an answer, she just laughed, and we never spoke of it again. But that day, I learned that she needed me and cared about me just as much as I did her.
I remember now that last campfire night, sitting too close to one another because the cold was biting at our faces. It was too cold to be outside, it was barely fall and about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I remember the smoke enveloping my face, my airways, my lungs. Wind whipped the smoke around her, making her hair flail and her eyes watery and stormy. Her high pitched, annoying laugh rings in my ears to this day, and the touch on her hands lingers on my skin like a burn wound that will never heal. I remember moving together as the night moved into early morning, in the most innocent and lovable way possible. Snuggling together, her almost sitting on my lap, our eyes never leaving each other in a sappy moment of platonic love. I loved her so much. I wanted her to be in my life until I died. I couldn't fathom any ending to the world that didn't include her tagging along with me for the entirety of the ride. I just assumed it would last forever.
I felt warm. I felt alive. I felt, for the first time in my life, that I had found a home.
They say that friends make you feel happy, or when you come home, your friends will be there. The best friends, for me, have always been the ones that aren't always at your side, but the ones who feel like home. That's what friendship is, when it's a real friendship. Friendship is feeling like you've come home, friendship is a safe haven where anything goes and you feel high when you're sober. Acquaintances come and go, even those that you feel are friends. But real friendship is warm, and peaceful, and forever. Real friendship is comfort, and stability, and trust. Real friendship is a home. It's confiding your heart and soul and love into a person, receiving the same, and still feeling at ease in every waking moment with that person. She was that person. She was my home.
Friendship was never a struggle for us, but rather, a given. I took it for granted. I always expected her to be there, and often times, on days when I forget, I still expect to wake up to find a series of text messages from her late-night ramblings on my phone. We could go for days without talking, texting, or even thinking about one another, but she was there. I could always go back as if I were living with her still, and there was never an awkward encounter. No matter what happened, I could always go home.
And now, I can't ever go home again.
Because my home engulfed itself in a blaze of sleeping pills.
And burned itself to the ground.