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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What Losing My Best Friend Has Taught Me About Time.

As most of you know, I witnessed my best friend's death, five and a half years ago in a drunk driving accident.

How long is five and a half years? It's both an incredibly long time and no time at all. It's such a short time that I can still picture her perfectly, the silly faces she sometimes made while dancing, the way she always answered the phone with a cheerful, “Hey, lady!” But it's such a long time, too, that I can hardly explain how I made it from there to here.

There's this thing that happens lately in my dreams. Alyssa shows up and explains why she's been gone for so long, and the explanations are always outlandish and always make perfect sense in the moment. Then she asks what she's missed, and I don't know where to start. There is so much time that needs to be filled in, so many questions that need to be answered. Just bringing her up to speed with the current music charts would take hours. “Drunk in Love”, five seasons of Pretty Little Liars, a friend's engagement, another friend's pregnancy. New jobs, new loves, travels, breakups, and some really amazing, terrible horror movies — always our favourite shared guilty pleasure.

But most of all, the seemingly short time that's passed seems like forever when I compare how different I am today from the person I was the day she died. I was 15 then, and now I’m turning 21, but it feels like the difference would be better measured in decades. The year after Alyssa's death was the most difficult of my life. I spiralled. I did things I'm ashamed to this day to relive. The guilt I felt for having survived that night, while my everything just lay lifeless beside me was seemingly unbearable. There was a lot of sobbing in the car while listening to music she used to love, a lot of sleepless nights replaying every conversation I'd ever had with her, wondering whether I did the right thing in each interaction, however small.

I have hurt more than I ever thought I would survive. I've cried so hard I gave myself nosebleeds. I have learned to live with the deepest regret and sorrow I've ever imagined. I feel older, and I look older, sometimes I wonder if Alyssa would recognize me if she saw me today. But I'm also definitely stronger. Not the way people say a bone is strongest in the place it was once broken. This is not a question of healing. My best friend is gone, and there will never be enough scar tissue to fill that hole. But I've learned that I can live with the hole, and that is a kind of strength.

I can also see how fast time has moved when I look at the people who were part of my life in late 2011 and the people who are part of it today. After high school, I drifted away from many of my oldest friends, but since Lyss died, I've found my way back to some of the people that I loved in my youth. This is no compensation for what we have lost, but realizing the importance of holding onto people from my past has been another source of solace.

The opposite is also true: I've learned to cut people out of my life whom I am better off without. Alyssa could never say no to anyone who needed her, anyone who was hurting, no matter how much pain she was in herself or how much worse they were making it. Sometimes I wonder — if she had put herself first more often, would she have gotten in that car? Might she have been able to identify that although this guy was upset and needed us, he was in no condition to drive and refused to be passenger with him in such a state, rather than the unremarkable consequence of working constantly to take care of everyone around her? The regrets I have for Alyssa and the time she wasted on people unworthy of her kindness — I don't want to have those regrets for myself.

In all these ways and more, time moves forward drastically after a crushing loss; leaps instead of steps, growing pains you sometimes wonder if you'll survive. But still, there are days when time crawls, when the well-meant proverb, “Just give it time,” feels like a curse. You ache for the future to hurry up and get here, for the day when you wake up and your heart doesn't break, but when it arrives, you look back and see how far you've come and the distance hurts just as much. Sometimes I picture the journey in physical terms, as though Lyss and I were walking down a road side by side, until one day she sat down and never took another step, but I had to keep moving. I can see the road that brought me from where she is to where I am, but I can't ever retrace those steps.

More than anything, losing someone you love makes you think harder about every moment. It makes you feel the weight of things, even something silly like a song or a fashion trend, when you know that each one of them makes the world slightly but irrevocably different from the world she knew. It makes you treasure the moments that will never come again, and hope for the ones that will or could. It's hard to live with the certain knowledge that you are always transforming into someone unfamiliar to both yourself and the people you used to know and love, but the only other alternative is to dig your heels in and refuse to change, ever, and that becomes untenable very quickly. All I can do is try to welcome the future while honouring the past and hope that if she could see me, Alyssa would be proud.

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