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Coping, or something like it

By Destiny D. Aquino

Section: Arts, Top Stories

March 18, 2011

It’s been one entire year. I wish I could tell you that I don’t cry anymore, that I don’t go to call her and that I don’t feel like I’m drowning in life. It’s been one year and I still don’t know—don’t know why it happened, don’t know what to tell my niece when she asks and don’t know what to do or say. I just try to get through the day.

It’s the guilt that gets me. When I want to sit and cry, to sleep and do nothing, it’s the guilt that makes me get out of bed, that keeps me in school and that sends me in search of the perfect pair of high heels. She can’t, so I do.

One year ago today, I got the call. I knew it was bad as soon as the sixth call from my mother came through. I had been in class but I finally answered. “Have you checked your messages, where are you??!!” she said. Since when does my mom call six times in a row? I knew something was up. “No, why, is everything OK?” I asked.

By the time I made it down the hill and up the stairs to my dorm room, I couldn’t even get my key in the door. I couldn’t see through my hazy contact lenses covered in my running mascara. I couldn’t breathe. The rest is a blur. I look back on it now as if it were some bad Lifetime movie. Things like this don’t actually happen to people like me—so I thought.

I now know where the Lifetime movie writers get their stories. They rip them from the headlines and the lives of people like my best friend, my sister as far as we were concerned.

“Misha died last night,” my mom said. “Amaya is fine; someone’s going to get her. Do you want to come home?” I couldn’t get words out. My roommate came after me when she saw me walk through the common room in hysteria. She took the phone from me. I don’t remember what I said to her. My other friend sent e-mails to my teachers. I just cried.

I couldn’t understand it. I still don’t. My best friend was not the Good Samaritan type. She was cranky and liked to sleep all day long. She wasn’t friendly. She was the poster child for the mean girl. I used to hate her. She was the dance team’s captain. She had the football-star boyfriend.

We became friends on prom night. I saw her crying in the bathroom and I didn’t want to care, but it was that crying you can’t ignore—even while intoxicated. I sat on the floor next to her. It was all jumbles, the words coming out of her mouth. “I’ve been drinking,” she finally said. ‘Well duh, we’ve all been drinking,’ I thought. It’s funny how some moments stick out forever in your mind.

“I think I may be pregnant,” she told me. Through all of the senior week festivities it had slipped her mind and her calendar. When she felt a cramp, she thought it was her period, but it wasn’t; she couldn’t leave the bathroom. She couldn’t stop crying. It still amazes me that her biggest concern was that she might have hurt the unborn baby.

We graduated three days later. We were sure by then and we were talking. Years at the same school not a single nice word exchanged; now I was her confidant, her partner in this thing. Everything was supposed to be OK.

Her parents weren’t happy; they wanted her to get rid of it. She moved out of her parents’ house and into her boyfriend’s house. They tried to make it work. Her boyfriend, Walter, had a drug problem and everyone knew it. This news only made it worse. She wanted to give her baby a family. She loved him. This would change things, she thought.

It didn’t. She moved in with me when Amaya was little. All of our friends still couldn’t understand how we were even talking, let alone living together. She became my sister. She was there when I got into Brandeis and when my grandfather died; I was there when Amaya turned one and for her first Christmas—we were family.

She tried to fix Walter, tried to make up with her parents. It all worked for a little while, but it always got bad again.

She moved to Louisiana to get away from everyone. To start anew, she began nursing school to become a psychiatric nurse. She would tell people that she wanted to “take care of the people no one else wants to.”

I was so angry with her—why would she just leave like that? I felt abandoned. I didn’t understand that people grow up, they move away and life goes on. This was her turn. I can’t even remember the last thing I said to her. I think it was something about clothes of mine she still had; I don’t like to think I was being that petty with her. We hadn’t spoken for four months when it happened.

Then she was just gone. Everyone we ever knew kept saying how wonderful she was in every way, how she was a pillar in the community. That was a bunch of crap. But who cares, who was going to correct them? Not me. I couldn’t bring myself to be there. I couldn’t hold it together to go home for the funeral.

Almost everyone stopped talking to her after school; they all went to college far away. She stayed home, had Amaya and started at the community college. Now they were there, crying over her, but I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do when someone you know dies, remember only the good things.

I remember everything, the way she was always late and would eat all but two spoonfuls of ice cream and then put it back in the freezer. The way she would wear my clothes and then throw them in my laundry, and her serious obsessive-compulsive behavior when it came to her sock drawer. These are the things I’ll tell Amaya because she’s too young to remember her; she’ll only have pictures, stories and our memories.

You’re probably still wondering what happened to her. I wish I could explain it to you, but I told you I don’t understand. I can only tell you the things I do know. The rest has kept me up more nights than I can care to ever count.

The police told us this: She was driving home late at night on an interstate highway. She saw a hit and run. No one got out of the car so she pulled over. She walked across the four-lane highway. As she tapped on the window of the car, another car going approximately more than 90 mph struck her. She flew 100 feet. She died on impact from head trauma. The woman whose window she was tapping on did not report the second hit and run when she called the police about her original accident. The car that hit her drove away and stopped two exits away, where the driver changed his tire and ripped off his bumper. This was recorded on toll cameras. The police found her at sunrise, hours later, after calls from drivers describing what looked like a dead body on the highway median.

I don’t know why she picked this night to be nice. Who gets out of the car at 3 a.m.? Did she actually die on impact? Did she lie there in pain? Her little brother told me he has nightmares about her screaming out for us on the side of the road all alone. I have them too.

Amaya is three now. She asks about her mom and dad. Walter is facing a 10-year prison sentence for possession with intent to sell. He tried. He says the loss was too much. Part of me can’t blame him. I only knew her for a few years. They had been together most of grade school and they had a baby. He doesn’t want to live without her.

The princess, as Misha called her, is a little person now with her own personality. When I was home for break I took her out for the day and she suddenly started screaming , crying and throwing a fit. I ran to her and asked her what was wrong and she looked up at me and said “Ha Ha Tia got you!” She has her mother’s sense of humor. After that, I had to go to the bathroom so I wouldn’t cry in front of her.

I wonder if she’ll ever truly remember her mom or just what people tell her. I worry for her future. I wonder if she’ll ever find out her grandparents only want her now because she’s all they have left. I wonder why this happened to her. She’s just a little girl. All the people who love her and loved her parents: we try. Will we be enough?

The entire thing has sent me into what I’ve been calling a quarter-life crisis; others are calling it an existentialism-caused depression. Who cares what anyone calls it. Losing someone so young changes you so quickly, so deeply; I worry she wouldn’t recognize who I am. Would she still want to be my best friend?

Is there actually a heaven? Can I tell Amaya she’ll see her mommy sometime far, far away? That Misha is actually watching over us? I guess that’s what you call faith, but when you’re so angry, so lost, can you have faith?

Like I said before, it’s the guilt. “Misha loved living each day.” Even when it was difficult, even when it was terrible and there was no end in sight, she loved to laugh at bad jokes and listen to gossip.

When I want to curl up and hope it’s all a bad nightmare, I go to class for her because she would have enjoyed learning. When I don’t want to go out with my friends because I’m feeling depressed, I go because she would have dragged me out herself.

On my graduation day, on my wedding day, when I have babies, eat too much chocolate, spend too much money on a dress, get drunk and do things I regret; when I do all the things she should have been able to do, all the things you do when you’re young and beautiful like she was, I do it with her in my heart. With her as my reason.

This feeling has a name. It’s called survivor’s guilt. The solution: to live. They, the parents, the therapists, the significant others, the books, everyone tells you it gets better with time. It’s been a year. It feels like yesterday. Her phone number is still in my phone—I can’t delete it. The worst part is when people take it upon themselves to assume you’re OK. As if mourning has some sort of time limit on it, an expiration date on which you wake up and you’re put back together. What they forget is that in order to put something back together, you need to have all the pieces and one of my pieces is missing. We can’t replace her and there’s no filler. So I’ll always be just a little bit incomplete.

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