"Now unfold that piece and pull it up... then pull these two to puff out the body. That's all."
The room was full of kids looking down, quietly folding. I tossed my crane into the large pile that had begun to form in the middle of the room. One more out of ten thousand folded tributes to a life ended too soon.
In any jumbled, messy story of growing up, there are events that stand alone and apart from the chaos as significant milestones. Often times, these moments are not recognized as being so important and life-changing until long after they've passed. They become life's greatest lessons--and while they may be too far over our heads the first time around, they burrow themselves in our hearts and minds and wait until they are called upon later in life at a time when we can better understand what it is we're being taught.
I met my friend Stephanie for the first time when I joined the girls' swim team as a sophomore in high school. She was a small freshman with a voice almost as high as a three-year-old who just inhaled a balloon full of helium, a tiny-framed ball of energy, a fast swimmer and an even faster talker. Beyond that, she was competitive as all hell. We were never really super close, but for the time I knew her, I came to consider her a pretty good friend. We would go over Chinese homework together on the bus to practice, talk about manga we were reading, and hang out after school before ASIA meetings. Every so often, I got a peek at the pieces of Steph that didn't quite match up with the bubbly manga-reading person I saw in school every day. She was searching for happiness that she seemed to never really find. Her blog entries seemed to be written by an entirely different person than the one I saw in school, a girl too angry at the world around her to be bothered about helping little animals or giving candy to her friends.
"No one would miss me," she once told me. "Nobody would cry or anything. I doubt anyone would even know the difference.""Not true," I answered, unsure of what else to say. "I would cry."
"That sounds like a huge load of bullshit."
On April 9, 2005, a sunny springtime Saturday, she walked out of a Chinatown restaurant and into the middle of a busy intersection on Washington St.
Maybe the worst part about it, for me, was that she was right. I didn't cry when I heard the news the next day. I didn't cry when I got to school that Monday and saw everyone else crying. I didn't cry when I walked past the locker covered in notes and flowers, and I didn't cry when I sat down in Greek Tradition a few desks in front of an empty chair with a teddy bear and bouquet in the place of a student. I didn't cry when I dressed in black and hopped on a bus to Chestnut Hill, didn't cry when my 2-mile walk from the bus stop to the funeral home was interupted by a bearded 20-something-year-old anarchist trying to sell me on the evils of government, didn't cry when I saw her because whoever that poor dead girl was in the casket didn't look anything like anyone I knew. I didn't even cry when my guidance counselor hugged me and said "It's okay to cry." The only thing I could do was sit silently on the floor with a bunch of other kids and fold birds out of scraps of paper. I didn't know what else to do, because it didn't seem real.
Like the Boston Herald wrote the next day, "at 16, death is supposed to be an abstraction."