Monday, April 22, 2013

The Hardest Lesson to Learn

Today is Earth Day.  

It also happens to be the anniversary of a day I will never, ever, forget.

It wasn't a terrible day today.  I didn't sit around all day thinking of the friend I lost on this day 19 years ago. 
I didn't cry all day.

But the tone for today was set long ago; and again recently in a dream I had last week. I woke up thinking I had been right there with her.  Stacy, my friend.  And that's her real name because I don't have the where-with-all to think up another one for her right now.  And because, she just was, Stacy.

On this day in 1994, just 30 school days before we graduated high school, Stacy was on her way to school.  It was raining, and in a freak one-car-accident, Stacy lost control and flipped her car.  The old Nova she drove landed upside down.
The lack of a shoulder belt and only a lap belt to hold her in place caused Stacy to slide "up" toward the roof of the car when it rolled.  Her head got trapped between the headrest of the seat and the roof of the car.  

A neighbor who witnessed the accident ran over to the car to try to help.
He got there just in time to hear her take her last breath.

Stacy's classmates who shared first period with her, heard the news first thing.
I didn't have a class with Stacy until the afternoon - pre-calculus.
A friend who I shared homeroom with ran from her first class to our homeroom.  She wanted to tell me before the announcement was made over the intercom.  By the time she got there and got my attention, the morning announcements had already started and she had to blurt it out - Stacy's dead.

My reaction, to this day, still embarrasses me.  I don't like drama queens and I usually try not to be the center of attention.
I'm not even sure exactly what I said.
Maybe I screamed.
I know I cried.
I think I fell on the floor right where I was standing beside my desk.

I do know everyone in the room was staring at me.

I do know the hardest question I had to answer was from people who didn't know her - "who was she?"
I guess it's really hard to be upset when you don't know the person who died.  Still, it felt so inappropriate and cold to hear those words.

Even now, I can feel the intense feeling of shock I remember feeling that day.  Shaking my head.  Wanting to wake up from that bad dream. 

The next few days and the funeral are all a blur to me now.
I know where she is buried, but I could never bring myself to go back.

Stacy was so full of life.  Always smiling, happy.
The irony of the day she died has always bothered me; she loved animals - was a member of PETA; was very "green" especially back then; planned to go to vet school.

Stacy wasn't perfect, as none of us is.  But there was one character flaw of hers that just drove me crazy. And it's so stupid now, because it's not a flaw at all.
She was so compassionate, that when you were having a bad day, she would apologize to you. Many, many, many times.  Over and over, even if there was absolutely no way any of it could be her fault.

I'd known Stacy since the 6th grade.  We became great friends in 7th grade and remained friends throughout high school.
Near the beginning of our senior year, we discovered we both intended to go to NC State for college.
She asked if I wanted to room together.

I could've said yes. I should've said yes.

I said no.  And I made up a lie as to why I could not live with her - my parents wanted me to take a random roommate.  They thought it would be good for me to room with someone I didn't know, from a different background.

Now maybe my parents did think that was a good idea.  I don't know because they never told me.

I was AFRAID.  I was afraid that if I lived with Stacy we would get on each other's nerves and our friendship would be ruined.
Instead, I did that with a little white lie.

It put a real strain on our friendship that year.  Most of it may have been felt by me because I knew what I had done.  Even so, we grew apart.

Just the day before her accident, April 21, 1994, we started to reestablish our friendship.  In math class, she helped me understand some concepts we would be tested on the next day.  She sent me home with some of her notes.
To this day, I still have them - her handwriting so neat and pretty.

I sincerely regret the fact that I never told Stacy I was sorry for lying.  I'm not even sure if she knew, but I KNEW.  I wish I'd made it right.

For YEARS, I walked around in shock that she was gone.  My first two years of college, I would think I saw her in a crowd.
She appeared in my dreams often.  Back then, they usually resulted in me waking panicked - thinking I was the reason she died.

The experience was the strangest gift really.  It taught me at 18 to never take anything - or ANYONE- for granted.  It showed me that we are not promised another day on earth.  We aren't promised another day with loved ones or a certain amount of time with our friends.

It taught me (and I'm still learning) to live today as if it were my last and enjoy it all right down to the last second.  To really appreciate ALL that life brings us and not just the happy good, but the sorrow and the pain as well.

I'm ashamed to say, there have probably been years when I didn't remember her on this day.
But I am excited that in my dream last week, I talked to her.  She was happy as usual.  She was smiling and carefree.  WE were talking and laughing.  
And we were friends.

I miss you Stace!
Love always, 

I'm linking this post up with:


  1. Oh, I am so sorry! Just a sweet little tribute to her- I'm sure it would make her smile.

  2. This is so heart breaking. At that time in our lives everything evolves around our friends. I can't imagine getting that kind of news right there in the middle of class. What a horrible accident, she sounds beautiful!

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. I remember the shock of learning a classmate died. This is a wonderful tribute to your friend.