I remembered her, Erin, as numerous memories flooded my field of vision. In my tiny Upstate New York town (on Lake Champlain) there was a bridge to Vermont on the other side, where a good chunk of our adolescent peers lived. In ninth grade, the Vermonters came over from their middle school to join our high school. And I became instant friends with the whole lot, Erin included.
It was 1999 and there we all were, 14 years old, hanging out in the rural Vermont cow town of South Alburg. To prove our bravery, we’d jump off the nearby bridge. To relax, we’d layout on the shoreline in the summer sunshine of our impending teen years. Our days consisted of blasting 90s alt-rock and hip-hop from department store stereos, sipping a watered down beer stolen from one of our dad’s garage fridges or passing around a joint given to one of us from an older sibling.
A slight smile rolled across my face as I remembered our lost friend, fondly. I also remembered her childhood home, her little brother, her enormous backyard, and how we all pursued shenanigans and mischief on a daily basis while exploring and discovering the property and surrounding neighborhood. And though I hadn’t seen her in years, her sincere presence was never forgotten or faded away when I would recall those “good ole days” when wandering and pondering through this haphazard world on my own.
We’ve all had someone close, from our youth, who departed this earth much too soon. Whether they were a best friend or simply an acquaintance you walked by everyday to biology, their faces, their aura and demeanor always stuck with you. And you think of them, if only for a brief moment, when you realize how much fast times flies and how precious life is when you take into account we have no control over the fate of our days above ground.
I made amends with death years ago. My best friend from childhood. He was killed in a motorcycle accident at 19 years old. I had just arrived back at my parent’s house from the culmination of my sophomore year of college in Connecticut the night my mother told me what had happened. Everything was a blur for several days after, all the way up to when they lowered his casket into the ground. I placed one hand on it and said goodbye, promising him that “I’ll live a life for the two of us.”
That outlook on life and how fragile it is has remained in my crosshairs for the last 13 years and counting. It’s about being aware of how we all will die someday. We’re not immortal, where if you’re sitting next to someone, one of you will go first, while the other is left to grieve. So, with that fact we all know (and yet forget so easily in daily interactions), I aim to let those I love know just how much they mean to me.
And then there are those we don’t see often, but think of with the utmost gratitude. Erin was one of those people. Because no matter how long or well you knew someone, if they made you smile and laugh, then they bestowed you with the greatest gift one can be given — friendship.
You can live to be 28 or 82. It doesn’t matter. We all have a set amount of time to do what we need to do, and do it to the best of our ability. That’s the beauty and also the mystery of life. Taking each day and do what we can to make sure we squeezed every ounce of happiness, curiosity and love from those fleeting seconds ticking away on the clock.
That Monday evening, I went for a run around Lake Junaluska, once again with nothing and everything on my mind. I passed by folks walking their dogs, folks pushing a stroller, folks fishing, folks alone within deep thought. All of them occasionally glancing over to the bright red and orange sunset falling behind the Great Smoky Mountains. I pushed along the four-mile loop and thought about my friend. I thought about how heartbroken her family and loved ones must be right now, and how I hope they each find peace and solace in this unbelievably trying time.
And I thought about today, and everyday that came before it. Nobody knows what the future holds. But, if we’re lucky enough, we get to do it all — live, laugh, and love — again tomorrow.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 The Classic Wineseller (Waynesville) will host a “Speakeasy Night” with Russ Wilson’s “Hot 4” (jazz/swing) at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, April 15.
2 There will be a performance of the Taikoza Japanese Drummers at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, in the Bardo Arts Center at Western Carolina University.
3 The Student Reception will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at the Western Carolina University Fine Arts Museum.
4 Forrest Rivers will read from his work The Hippie Revival and Collected Writings at 3 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva.
5 “The Loves of Elaine,” will hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. April 14-15 and 2 p.m. April 16 in the Feichter Studio at the Haywood Arts Regional Theatre in Waynesville.