Yesterday, I was browsing Facebook when I saw that a mutual friend had written his condolences on the Wall of a girl I used to be friends with my freshman year of college. I clicked to see her Wall, where I found another Wallpost from a friend of hers, saying that my friend had been murdered during a Halloween party in SF. It sounded like the stuff of movies, something you hear or read about only from the safety of your house, through the anonymity of a computer screen.
It wasn't my first experience with death, but my first experience knowing someone who had been murdered. I came home shaking with fear and shock -- mostly shock -- and confusion, whereupon I cried hysterically in Monster's arms for the next few hours. I was mourning her death, of course, a death described in such gruesome detail by her friend, a death which nobody deserves, least of all her. But I suppose I was also mourning the death of my world view as well. My whole life, I've been sheltered and naive, believing in fairy tales and castles and wishes upon a star. I couldn't comprehend how or why this could happen in this world -- in my world -- sure, I read about this stuff all the time, but the fact that it had happened to somebody I knew crashed through my computer screen and gripped me by the heart.
I went to work today after crying for a good part of the night, and then reading to distract myself until my eyes stung so painfully from the tiredness, I had to read with one eye open. I figured the distraction of work was better than staying home crying all day, thinking about the friend and the naivete I had lost. But of course I bottled that sadness up all day long, where it sat inside me like a spring coiled as tightly as a snail, and when the end of the day came and a co-worker asked me a question, I opened my mouth to answer and the tears came flowing from my eyes. I was embarrassed to have lost it like that at work, but in the end it did me good to have cried a good hard cry, and I'm lucky to work in a place that has an incredibly supportive and caring environment. My manager gave me a hotline number to call for counseling services, which I fully intend to do in order to make sense of it all.
Here's what I remember of this girl: she was fearless. Her spirit was indomitable. We were both camp counselors for a high-school philosophy program during the summer of our freshman year, and there's one incident I'll never forget. During the night, someone broke into her room and stole her computer while she slept. The thief then proceeded to send her a series of taunting emails, including one that asked her to meet him, alone, if she wanted her computer returned. With or without telling us, I can't remember which, she went to confront him by herself. Luckily, he never showed. When she came home and told us what she'd done, we were beside ourselves -- "Are you kidding?! Do you know how dangerous and stupid that was?!" -- but in retrospect, nothing would have stopped her from going. She, shorter than me at probably five feet or less, told us with a fire and a hardness in her eyes that she was going to confront her computer thief if that was what it took to get her computer back. She was that determined and independent; at the time, we told her she was foolish, but moreso, she was just fierce. She ended up soliciting the help of a resident computer expert who tracked the email IP addresses down to the library, where campus police made a dramatic and triumphant arrest, and the computer was returned to its rightful owner. I'm glad that story had a happy ending, and I would tell it for the next 6 years, whenever a conversation reminded me of it: how dramatic the incident; how dangerous the situation; how daring my friend.
Trite though it may sound, I still consider myself and my generation invincible. Growing up, and even now still, I believed I could leap, fly, and fall without getting so much as a scratch on myself. Hearing about my friend, it shook me and my foolish foundations to the core. It taught me that no one is invincible, least of all myself. And it finally allowed me to understand -- and be intensely grateful for -- my parents' protectiveness over me as I was growing up. For the entirety of my teenage years, I resented them deeply. I wasn't allowed to go to the mall by myself because I was a girl; I wasn't allowed to wear clothes that were too revealing when I went out because I was a girl; I wasn't allowed to stay out at a party later than midnight without my dad showing up at the front gates to personally walk me to the car and take me home, because I was a girl; I wasn't allowed, I wasn't allowed, I wasn't allowed.
The summer before college, when I was back home in Malaysia, there had been a series of kidnappings of girls at the local malls. A group of boys and girls headed to college in the States invited me to have dinner with them at one of the malls, and not only did my parents make sure I was dressed appropriately, but they walked me to the restaurant, met the people I would be dining with, and watched as I walked away when it should have been me watching them walk away. When it was over, they were waiting outside the restaurant door to make sure there would never be a time when I was alone. At the time, I resented them for not allowing me the sweet freedom all my other friends seemed to have; I loved them, but I couldn't wait till college to enjoy the freedom I was never permitted. But now, I understand why they were so protective. They were showing me that I was the sun and the stars to their world; that with me, they would always make sure to be safe than sorry.
I don't know if there's an afterlife, or what happens to our souls after we die; I like to think our souls come shrieking out of our bodies and race their way up to heaven. I wonder if my friend is watching me right now, me who hasn't talked to or seen her for 6 years, mourning her death so intensely it feels like sadness is my skin. I wonder if she knows that she is remembered, and missed, and that she was admired. To that friend: I will never forget your fierceness and determination, the way you marched through life with confidence that you wielded as boldly as a badge. I'm not sure how long it will take before I feel like I have fully finished mourning your death; it may be a week, it may be a month -- but it will be a lifetime before I forget you.