Tuesday, November 20, 2012

For Rebecca

Environmental Club, Spring 2000

On Sunday afternoon, I got some devastating news. My friend Rebecca, a beautiful soul and one of the most genuine people I have ever known, had died the previous day. To say I was shocked is the understatement of the decade.

Rebecca was easily one of the most vibrant people in the entire world. I don't say that lightly. She had this amazing ability to make you feel like you were the only person in the room. She never had an enemy. Rebecca was one of the few girls in our entire high school who could get along with anyone. She could draw you in and make you feel like you had been friends for years. She had perfected the arts of the casual touch and the side nudge. I'll always remember sitting next to her, listening to her tell stories and crack jokes, and then nudge me with her shoulder, usually with an, "Am I right?" She was a great listener. She was truly interested in who you were and where you were going and how you hoped to get there. She didn't judge and she wasn't ever mean. She is, quite possibly, the only person I have ever met who accepted everyone without condition.

She was easily one of the smartest people I have ever met. Where I was terrible at math, she excelled. She loved it. I would complain about my basic algebra, and she would be able to explain it to me in a way where I understood it. She was incredibly talented in pretty much every area. With all of that, though, she wasn't arrogant. At least, not to me. She wasn't full of herself, and she never made you feel like a dummy for not understanding. She went out of her way to help everyone. It was as though she had made it her mission to be of service to everyone, no matter who they happened to be or whether or not they were her friend.

What stands out the most in my mind is Rebecca's determination. It seemed like she accomplished whatever she set out to do. If you had a dream or an idea, she got excited for you. She didn't accept being lazy. If you had a dream or an idea, she found a way to help you make it happen. She was unstoppable. At the beginning of our sophomore year of high school, Rebecca was the only member of the Environmental Club. In the mornings before class, I'd sit with my friends Kate and Erin in the cafeteria usually. We'd snack, study, finish homework, talk, tell jokes, complain that the world was ending....the usual. One day Rebecca came to our table and said she was the only member of the Environmental Club, and she wanted us to join. I can't remember, but I feel like we all laughed at her. I, for one, didn't want to join the Environmental Club. I wanted nothing to do with it. And yet, I ended up in Ms. Zitlow's classroom every Friday morning, with Rebecca smiling the whole time.

In the picture above, Rebecca is spinning us all on the tire swing. We had spent the day cleaning up with the Friends of the Parks, in some god-forsaken park somewhere in the suburbs. Kate, Erin, and Rebecca had spent the night at my house and we stayed up all night--naturally. We were up too early and assigned to some park somewhere on the south side. We spent the morning up to our knees in mud and garbage, cleaning and weeding and being friendly to the park. At the end of it all, we rewarded ourselves at the playground. We crammed ourselves on the tire swing and took turns pushing and running each other around. At one point, Rebecca hopped off. "You guys suck at this!" She took the reigns and made us all nauseous, running in circles and making us dizzy. In my memory, that's Rebecca. She could take the reins and before you knew it, you were following her anywhere.

During our junior year, she flexed those muscles again. One day, she happened to mention she was on the school newspaper and that the staff was quite small. When she mentioned the room was air conditioned, I said something to the effect of, "Shoot, I'll join the newspaper if I can sit in the air conditioning!" The next thing I knew, I was standing in Ms. Gabel's classroom talking about The Amity and just like that, Journalism was on my class schedule.

I clearly remember one night where the four of us, Kate, Erin, Rebecca, and myself, all decided to see a movie. I don't remember if we ended up seeing the movie, or if that was even part of the original plan. What I do remember is Rebecca trying to convince us that bowling was cool. She loved to bowl and wanted us to bowl together. We spent hours driving around, looking for a bowling alley between Ashburn and Merrionette Park. It was a Friday night in the fall. It was easily after 10:30 by the time we found a place that had open bowl. We wasted hours, getting laughed out of every bowling alley we tried. At the same time, we had one of the best nights, laughing and joking and singing in the car. When we finally did find that bowling alley, she kicked all our asses.

Rebecca had a deep, deep love for The X-Men. She gushed almost daily for close to a year before the first movie was released. We went to see it the day it was released in theaters, and I spent the next two hours sitting next to Rebecca, with her whispering in my ear, "That's Rogue! That's Wolverine! What they didn't tell you was how Cyclops became a cyclops...I'll tell you later!"

To connect with her heritage, Rebecca started taking Italian language classes. She was so excited to start, and when I expressed interest and jealousy, she tried to get me to sign up with her. If she'd had her way, I'd have been right next to her practicing and preparing for a trip to Italy. She went to Rome in the spring of 2002 and could not have been more excited.

As news of her untimely death spread among the members of our graduating class, everyone said the same thing. "No, not Rebecca...she was so sweet, so friendly, so nice, so genuine." I think it really speaks to her character that, in a class of 300-something girls, not one person has said anything terrible about her. I know we're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but truly, everyone loved this girl. She had this beautiful light inside her that you couldn't ignore.

I can't believe she's gone. I hadn't seen her in a while--we all got busy with our lives and jobs--but I have always considered her a friend. I know I'll always remember her smile and her laugh and the way she'd crack a joke. It seems unfathomable that her beautiful light has been extinguished. I know the last few years hadn't been the easiest for her, but I just can't wrap my mind around the very idea that she no longer exists in this world.

I'll miss you, my friend. I will miss your smile and your laugh. I'll miss your nudges and your jokes. I'm sorry that you were hurting. I'm sorry I wasn't a better friend to you. You were a beautiful addition to every life you touched. I hope that you have found peace. We were blessed to know you and love you.