Five years ago today, I woke up to the news that my good friend, Jennifer Caitlin Viveiros, had died in a car crash. As I squeeze my hips into my old funeral dress and brush my hair into a neat bun, as I paint my lips red and try to ignore the worried bags growing under my eyes from another sleepless night, I feel like a child playing dress up. What am I commemorating? This dress belongs to another time. These tears belong to another me. It doesn’t seem to fit anymore.
I can’t tell if I’m getting better or staying the same. I can talk about it now. I can hold someone’s hand and ask for help. But I hear myself becoming a broken record. “I’m worried,” I say. “Please don’t drive tonight.” I twist my fingers around each other and look down at the floor. “I miss her,” I say. “I’m scared.”
I can’t tell if I’m getting better or staying the same. I’ve put our things away in a box in a room I never see. The shirts we earned through our fitness class seem permanently creased at the bottom of my drawer. Her picture is…somewhere. I don’t carry these things with me, but I’m carrying something around. I can feel it weighing me down, in a nameless, shapeless anxiety that eats away at my stomach and isolates me from my friends. I don’t carry her; I carry my guilt, my fear, my sorrow.
I can’t tell if I’m getting better or staying the same. I don’t remember her face. I don’t remember her voice. The rooms at the funeral parlor are there but they’re all jumbled, connected by a fabricated, orange-lit hallway in my mind that echoes with a dull static as I wander through memories. It’s a visceral space. It’s disjointed and choppy, but it is real. I can see myself sitting alone in a room with a slideshow of her life. I can’t see my face, but I can see my shoulders shaking. I can feel the coarseness of my friend’s varsity letters as I pressed my wet face into his jacket and cried. If I close my hand, I can even imagine another friend’s hand there as we slowly, cautiously approached the coffin together. But I don’t remember Jenn’s face…
When I’m telling people the story of Edmonia Lewis, I often mention that there is a building dedicated to her on Oberlin’s campus, and most students have no idea what happened to her here. “There is no better way of forgetting something than by commemorating it,” I quote, and everyone nods solemnly. By trying too hard to remember Jenn, I’ve made her into nothing more than my own guilt. I am guilty that I didn’t try harder to see her over winter break, that I actually made up a lame excuse so I didn’t have to get out of bed. I am guilty because I was asleep when she died. I am guilty because I didn’t answer my phone when my friends called to tell me because I was being blissfully antisocial. I am guilty that when I first discovered the Facebook memorial group, I thought it was a joke. I’m guilty that I don’t remember the day we met, the things we did, the laughs we shared, but I remember so vividly the day she died. I’m guilty that I don’t cry anymore. And I am guilty that, despite all my best efforts, I couldn’t find a way to make her permanent.
So, this is the last time I will write about her. This is the last time I will tear apart my room looking for a dress I only wear once a year. This is the last time I will tear apart my brain for even the slightest memory. This is the last time I will put more than love into wishing my friends safe journeys. This is the last time I visit her Facebook looking for answers. This is the last time.
I’ve said all there is to say. I was 18 when Jenn died. I’d just moved away from home to start college. I’d never been kissed. I’d never driven on the freeway. I’d never held a full-time job. I’d never learned how to say goodbye.
I’m 23 now. I live on my own (albiet in my college town). I’ve been happy in love and sad in heartbreak. I know the highway network of northeast Ohio like I know the back of my hand. I work at the closest thing to a dream job I could hope for without a higher degree. And now it’s time I say goodbye.
I can’t tell if I’m getting better or if I’m just staying the same, but it’s time for me to try.