In 2002 I was a junior in high school. I arrived home after a date and found both my parents waiting up for me wearing grim expressions. They handed me a letter that had come in the mail that day, from the representative of my childhood best friend’s family. The letter stated that I was being contacted because I was a friend to the family, and it launched into a short and painful tale. Lindsay had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer only weeks before, and one afternoon she complained of chest pains and collapsed. She had passed quickly and unexpectedly, so a family representative was appointed to contact loved ones and notify them of the funeral arrangements. I received the letter the day before the funeral.
Lindsay and I met in the first grade, where we discovered our mutual love of hanging upside down on the monkey bars by our knees, locking our hands together, and swinging back and forth until we couldn’t hold on to the bars any longer and we fell to the ground in a heap, giggling. Our mothers grew exasperated–mine sure did, anyway–at the fact that we snuck our matching shorts out of the laundry basket so we could wear them every day of the week, since they were the best for climbing jungle gyms. We spent weekends together, riding bicycles through the neighborhood pretending we were being chased, crying together whenever one of us fell down and got scraped up, and marveling at the grown-up things her much older siblings did.
Lindsay moved away while we were still in elementary school, but her parents visited often so they would let us spend the afternoons together when they visited on weekends. When we weren’t together we mailed friendship bracelets back and forth and we “snuck” long-distance phone calls. We both had other friends in our own cities, but we saved secrets for one another. As we grew older, whispered conversations about boys and cars began to creep into our phone calls. I listened in awe when Lindsay told me about her first kiss, and we made plans for when we would both soon have drivers licenses so we could travel back and forth to visit on weekends to share our stories.
Lindsay got her license and a shiny new car for her birthday, which was a month before mine. The story the pastor told at her funeral was one which happened not long before her death, when she’d been cruising along in her new car and she’d hit a rabbit. In tears, she pulled her car over to the side of the road and sat with the rabbit as it lay dying. This was the young adult version of the same kind-hearted little girl I’d shared tears with as a child.
The day of her funeral, as I sat there in the crowded gymnasium among hundreds of people I didn’t know, I couldn’t stop the flow of tears. I listened to stories of Lindsay’s basketball feats, of her caring and kind nature, and of her last adventures as a teenager. I felt cheated that I hadn’t been able to hug Lindsay one more time, locking our foreheads together like we’d done as kids, our eyes laughing before the giggles actually started. Of all the things I remember of Lindsay, that one still remains my favorite: the way her eyes crinkled at the corners when she was about to laugh, and how beautifully bright they seemed when we were giggling about whatever silly game we’d just invented.
I grew nervous when my parents walked with me to the front of the gymnasium to view Lindsay for the last time. I didn’t want to see what she looked like that way, not quite sleeping. And when I did finally see her my feet became instantly glued to the floor. This was my friend, the girl who’d been so much like me when we were little kids, but who was so much more grown up all of a sudden. But it wasn’t her, because Lindsay was always smiling. Always moving. Always laughing. And always there, even when she hadn’t been.
When I shyly stepped up to speak with her family after the graveside service, I remember being surprised at how tightly Lindsay’s parents hugged me, telling me that Lindsay had loved me. So instead of comforting them while they cried, I was the one being consoled. I remember my parents’ rushed apologies for the fact that I couldn’t stop sobbing, and they explained that I’d only heard the news the day before. I felt guilty for my tears and for the fact that I’d assumed Lindsay would still be there in a year or five years, when we were old enough and free enough to see one another whenever we liked.
I returned to school the following week, wondering if that guy I still passed in the hall sometimes even knew that Lindsay had had a huge crush on him for several years and even still asked about him for a while after she moved away. I feared he didn’t even remember who she was and realized that perhaps he hadn’t for some time.
My life moved on. I started working after-school jobs, I dated, I played sports, and I looked forward to college. I thought about Lindsay still, wondering what she’d have to say about the cute guy I was dating, guessing she’d probably make fun of me for the weird little car I drove. Maybe we’d giggle together about my blunders on the volleyball court and celebrate her victories on the basketball court. I fell into other “BFF” relationships with girls–usually with a new one every few years–but I vowed I wouldn’t forget the first one who had bestowed that title upon me.
I realize that if Lindsay were still alive today we might not necessarily still be close friends, depending on where our different lives had taken us. Maybe we would have moved apart so that our communication would now all be through facebook. Or maybe we’d have been there for engagements, weddings, and, years later, for babies. Whatever the case, I haven’t forgotten about you Lindsay. Happy birthday, my beautiful friend.