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Jackie


Our mothers had recently become friends, through the PTA I think, so her parents invited us over one Friday night. Jackie was a grade behind me in school; we knew each other but rarely talked. She seemed shy. I was shy. While our parents talked and laughed in the kitchen over drinks, we were in the living room, watching something inane on television. We sat on the couch in silence for several minutes. I started to wish I'd just stayed home.

At one point we each snickered at something on the tube. Then she muttered a few sarcastic asides and the entire tenor of the room changed. I can't remember now what she said, but I'll never forget how it made me feel: Alive. I replied with an equally dry comment of my own and we were off to the races. In that instant, I knew she and I were the same. We saw things from a slightly skewed perspective. We felt like outsiders at school. We each had some friends, sure, but not many close ones. I think we both felt misunderstood, maybe even a little unlovable, in that unreasonable way only teenagers can.

We spent the rest of the night quipping, laughing, and snarking our way through a variety of topics—mostly school related, and especially the popular kids who didn't seem to know we existed. We were bonding, quickly, over our real and imagined insecurities and inadequacies.

For the rest of high school, our families would occasionally get together for fun, and sometimes raucous evenings at one of our houses. Jackie and I usually wound up together in the living room, or out on the porch, talking. She was so smart, and riotously funny. Like all interesting people, she was goofy and weird, in the best ways possible. Her laugh was big and infectious, the kind that made you feel better about yourself for having heard it. I can't claim to have known her fully, but our connection was strong. I saw the same pain and unhappiness in her that I felt, but I also saw the same spark of creativity and passion that I felt so deeply about things I didn't think anyone else cared about. What I didn't see back then was that her pain, her suffering, was so much more real and acute than mine.

Today I ache for the loss of my friend Jackie. I'm still struggling to accept it. She's too young. I can still see us, just kids, sitting on that couch, laughing. I'm grateful for the time we had together, and I'll carry those memories in my heart forever. They'll serve as a reminder that sometimes, if you're lucky, you have a spark with someone that leads to an enormously fulfilling friendship, even if only briefly. Jackie was that kind of person for me. I miss her. I miss the kids we were back then, and the laughs we shared, before awful things like suffering, or loss, or grief got in the way of it all.

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