This weekend marks the 11th anniversary of the passing of one of my high school friends. I can’t believe that she’s really gone or that it has been more than a decade. Each year I honor her memory.
Daphne was the first friend I made in high school – before classes even started. We were both on the cross country team and at about the same ability level, so we ran together every day. As the miles slowly passed by, we got to know each other: What we were afraid of in starting high school, what guys were cute, how hard the divorces of our parents were, and our dreams of the future. We grew stronger in body and in friendship.
When I tore ligaments in my knee during the winter of my freshman year, some of the people who I used to hang out with started to become distant. On an intellectual level I understood (heck, I wanted to ditch the freak with the bright blue leg immobilizer, too!), but it hurt. Daphne was one of the friends who stayed with me. The teasing was less when she was around, or I just noticed it less. Whatever the reason, I was grateful.
The propensity of teachers to seat students in alphabetical order meant that I got to sit next to Daphne in every class we had together (I was the end of the “L”s and she was the beginning of the “M”s). I think I was the envy of most of the guys in the room for being able to sit so close. Daphne was the girl that everyone had a crush on. She had a self-confidence about her, unusual for her age. To be honest, as a really gawky 14-year-old, it was hard for me to be the one always overlooked for her friend. But Daphne was such a genuinely nice person, and the attention never went to her head. I don’t think she ever realized just how popular she really was.
After high school, I lost contact with her. A few years later, I ran into her again at a friend’s wedding. She was stunningly beautiful and so happy. She’d found love and purpose. Daphne lived every day, not just letting it pass by unnoticed: She flew small planes; she was into mountain biking; she went bungee jumping. Yet she was not invincible, as a virus proved when she was barely 29.
Her death has been a substantial influence in my life. Daphne no longer had “somedays” in which to do things. I could no longer plan to begin living and enjoying myself at some unknown point in the future. I had to do it now. Within a week of her funeral, I booked my tickets for my first European adventure, which directly led me to move to England. From that day forward, my attention shifted from reliving what should have been in my past to focusing on today and what I can do now to make the future what I want it to be. Daphne helped me be a better me simply by being herself. She is sorely missed and fondly remembered by all who knew her. We love you, Daphne.