If death were a photograph, it would be the first selfie you ever took. You were probably in sixth grade, got your first flip phone with a camera button on the side and turned it around to take a picture of your acne-ridden face, side bangs curling up, braces fully exposed in your gaping smile as you tried to look good for a camera you didn’t really know how to use yet.
Death has reduced you to this awkward, infantilized, selfish version of yourself. It makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It makes you feel immature, childlike, younger. It makes you think about yourself and about what you look like to the outside world and about how it actually reflects what you feel inside. What are you feeling?
You feel weird. You feel different. You feel alienated. You feel like the 13-year-old who didn’t realize that everyone now wears push-up bras instead of training bras and lip gloss instead of chapstick.
Suddenly, you’re back there. Middle school: with the girl who first brought you to the mall to hang out, who explained to you what Missy Elliot’s lyrics meant, whose bean bag (or was it plush carpeting?) you were lying on when she showed you the underside of her bunk bed where all of her boyfriends whom she had kissed signed. You remember wondering why your room wasn’t this cool, why you had never done these things, why before now you hadn’t wanted to.
You sleep over at each other’s houses, you get matching friendship charm bracelets, you overuse your texting plan sending each other messages with lots of emoticons. Your parents feign anger, but they’re happy you’re making new friends in middle school.
She comes over and sits in your kitchen as your mom cooks dinner. Her mom picks her up, but you call her an hour later anyway to talk about nothing. But it’s the nothing kind of everything, where nothing is everything.
And, really, you’re close friends for a while. Though you start to drift as you hit high school, you’re OK with it. You’ve lost the friendship bracelets somewhere in your room, you’ve gotten new phones, and though you still love Missy Elliot, by now, your friendship is reduced to hellos in the hallway.
You see each other around school, out in town, on Facebook, at graduation parties, at a funeral last summer. Finally, you stop and talk. This is the second death in your high school graduating class, and you both agree on how sad it is to lose people you’ve grown up with, even though you’re not that close anymore.
(You’re referring to the boy, but both of you know that the conversation is equally about the two of you.)
You say goodbye with hugs. You say you should keep in touch more. You wish each other’s families the best, and you part ways. You know that you probably won’t see her again. You know that it might be on purpose.
Last week, you get a call from your mom. Then you get group texts. Then you see Facebook statuses and that terrible CBS article: She has died, too.
You feel weird. You feel achy. You feel bad — bad for her friends, bad for her mom, bad for yourself, a little. Then you feel bad about that. You feel scared and worried about the friends from home you’re still close to. You feel unnecessarily angry at a community in which this keeps happening.
People you’ve grown up with change. They leave. And so do you. You’re no longer in the same town as these people. You’re not even in the same state or the same time zone or same side of the country. You’re still navigating how to feel about the people whose lives are no longer intersecting your own. You grew up together, but you are no longer together. In fact, you’re not even growing anymore.
You’re here, in college, and the death of a former classmate forces you to return back home — if only mentally, if only emotionally, if only momentarily.
Like looking at that selfie: a regretful look, a nostalgic snapshot, a brief memory.
A past you. A past life.
Holly Secon is the blog editor at The Daily Californian. Contact her at [email protected]