While I often wax poetic about my childhood and life in my small town, there are some ghosts from the past that I don’t often write or talk about. Parts of my childhood and teenage years that are better left locked away in my memory, too painful to recall. Memories that cause physical exhaustion just by simply thinking about them. Sometimes those memories come rushing back; causing the tiny hairs on my arms to raise, my breath catch in my throat, and my heart to fill with sadness. The past few days I’ve been haunted by memories.
I was fifteen, a sophomore in high school. It was a Sunday, one of those perfect Spring like March days, that everyone longs for after a harsh winter, one of the first days that one could go outside without a jacket. And it was sunny. I remember the sun glinting off the river causing blinding light rays if you looked at the water at just the right angle. The day was punctuated with police cars, their flashing red, blue, and white lights swirling over and over and over and over. Phone calls from friends and classmates. Someone sobbing uncontrollably in the background. Hushed whispers from adults who couldn’t themselves fathom the news, much less know how to deal with fifteen and sixteen year olds trying to comprehend what was happening around them. Looking into the red rimmed, bloodshot eyes of friends; knowing that our lives had all been changed. Knowing that in that day and those that followed, a part of our teenage years had abruptly been taken away from us, just like our friend.
Fifteen years ago today, a childhood friend was violently killed at the hands of her older boyfriend, someone I knew and trusted. The horrific details of how it happened are forever branded into my mind. Every last detail. For a long time, when I closed my eyes, those were the images I saw. Sometimes I still do. I can remember what I wore to the funeral. The color umbrella I held while huddling with friends at the grave site. The scared, confused wide eyed looks of friends and classmates that I know mirrored my own. The feelings of loss and overwhelming, unspeakable grief. Fifteen years ago today, not only did she lose her life, but my friends, classmates, and I lost the last vestiges of our childhood, thrust into adulthood in a way that no child should have to face.
Today I’m having trouble grasping the fact that it’s been fifteen years. That today marks the point where the events that happened half a lifetime ago are still far too vivid and real in my mind. Today, fifteen years ago, I couldn’t fathom how life would go on. But of course, it has.
Today there is a cross erected along the deserted dead-end road, near the spot where my friends broken body was found down along the river bank. I walk my dog there sometimes, the cross one of the only physical reminders of her presence left. I occasionally hear others who are walking or biking wonder out loud who the young girl was or what might have happened. I want to tell them she was my friend, the sort of person she was, what her hopes and dreams were. Instead I briefly pause and whisper a prayer for peace before moving on. Knowing that I will never forget.