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Two Dates, Two People
October 15 and October 22.
Two dates that will forever be ingrained in my brain.
But, I should probably back up and start from the beginning.
I live in a small town. Our school, however, is large; just the senior and junior classes consist of just over 1,200 students. Other than that, nothing too exciting happens around here. Life goes on quite peacefully. But these two dates in October brought my whole world to a screeching halt.
School started in August. It was the beginning of what looked like an amazing senior year. Some kids were pondering what major to study next year, while others struggled to decide where they wanted to continue life after graduation. I planned to apply to as many colleges as I could. The entire senior class was focused on the future. Everyone had their plans, their hopes, their aspirations, their fears, and their ambitions. Yes, things were crazy and stressful, but at the same time, we all felt carefree and wonderful. We were the senior class of 2012; we were immortal.
On October 15, 2011, everything felt normal, just another ordinary Saturday. Most of my college applications were turned in, so I mostly relaxed that day. I read, watched TV, snacked, texted friends – all l things an average teenaged girl does on a lazy Saturday. Marching band practice was that afternoon, and after that was a spaghetti dinner hosted by the band boosters. I attended both, and all was well.
Around eleven o’clock, I checked my Twitter just to see if I had missed any big plans my friends had. As I was scanning the posts, I saw several posts that made my mouth dry up instantly and my blood run cold.
People were posting things like, “Pray for Mitch” and “Hang in there, Mitch!”
I only knew a few Mitches, and one was my brother. I sprinted into his room and saw that he was there. He gave me an odd look, as I sighed with relief and pushed my bangs out of my face. But then, as fast as I could, I went back to Twitter. I refreshed the page and discovered that people were posting about a boy in my grade. He apparently was kayaking in Lake Michigan when his kayak capsized, and he was thrown into the icy waves.
I shut off the Internet and prayed that it was all some sick rumor and went to bed.
The next morning, I stumbled downstairs to find my mother sitting at the computer pale as a ghost and wide-eyed with horror.
“Did you know a boy named Mitch in your grade?” she asked, her voice trembling.
I nodded, sliding into the seat next to her. On the computer was the Coast Guard website, declaring that a boy named Mitch had disappeared beneath the waters. The Guard had only just called off the search.
I looked at my mother, pointing at the words “called off the search.”
“Molly, he’s gone,” she whispered. “They don’t call off a search unless they have reasons.” She looked directly at me, grabbing my hand. “I’m so sorry.”
Tears welled in my eyes as thousands of emotions swarmed my brain. I was upset, terrified, angry, confused, and worried all at the same time. Where was Mitch? Why couldn’t they find him? How dare the Coast Guard stop looking! What will school be like tomorrow? Why Mitch? Why Mitch?!
That last question echoed around in my head for all that day and for several days after. Why Mitch? Why did he have to go?
Mitch was a great guy. I never knew him personally, but I did know that he was kind and charming to everyone, regardless of who you were. He had a bright smile, and always got red faced with sheer happiness. He was very polite to his peers and his teachers. Being outdoors was something that Mitch loved. Many people said that it was a great way for him to go, doing what he loved. He lived every single day as his last.
School was devastating. It was never so quiet in the halls of my high school. The first Monday back, everyone wore white to honor Mitch. Teachers didn’t teach, students cried, and everyone wore sad smiles on their faces. No one knew how hard it was going to be. The worst of it all was that Mitch’s body had not been found. Some clung to the hope that Mitch would be found and would be okay. Life would resume as normal. A vigil was held in Mitch’s honor. Hundreds of students, parents, and teachers showed up to pay their respects. It was a truly beautiful sight.
At a National Honors Society meeting Thursday morning, we brainstormed ideas about what we could do to honor Mitch. Ideas were tossed around but nothing really stuck. At the end of the meeting, we broke into committees for an event coming up. I was in charge of decorations. A member, a girl named Allie, came up to me and we discussed decoration layouts. For the first time all week, I actually felt better. I left the meeting feeling happy for the first time that week.
One week later, Saturday October 22, 2011, was an important day. Our marching band was headed down to the University of Illinois for a competition. The day went superbly; I was very distracted and spent the time with my friends.
Towards the end of the day, I received a phone call. And that’s when it happened again. My world stopped.
On the other end of the phone call was my friend Matt, the president of National Honors Society. “Molly?” he spoke slowly and unevenly. “Did you hear about Allie?”
My mind quickly flashed to the girl at the meeting on Thursday. My heart pounded as I clarified that I was thinking of the right Allie. Matt confirmed. I said that I didn’t hear what had happened.
There was a terribly long pause before Matt answered: “Allie just died of heart failure.” I heard him take in a sharp breath. “And the NHS event for tomorrow is cancelled.”
I was speechless. I just stood there with my mouth hanging open. I’m sure Matt called my name a few times before he hung up, but I heard nothing. Around me I saw people cheering and hugging and smiling and laughing. I wanted to shake them all. “Allie is dead!” I wanted to scream. “Stop being happy!”
Thank goodness my mother was at the competition with me because I don’t know how I could have handled myself. I sobbed in the car on the way home. Nothing made sense. Two kids in my grade were gone. They weren’t coming back. They wouldn’t graduate. They wouldn’t go to college. They wouldn’t hang out with friends anymore.
They were gone.
Allie was one of the sweetest girls I knew. She had the biggest smile I had ever seen. And I don’t think I ever saw Allie without her radiant smile. I had the sheer pleasure of knowing Allie through my history classes and through NHS. She was a bundle of emotion and energy. She was passionate about life and the people in her life. Allie loved animals and writing, and she wrote several brilliant poems. Her poems inspired me and moved me deeply.
She always found the good in situations. Once, in my history class freshman year, we were assigned twenty pages of reading for homework. While the rest of the class groaned in agony, Allie bounced in her chair and grinned. I asked her why she was so happy about the massive amounts of homework. Through her smile she answered, “Why be unhappy about it?” Her answer stunned me, and I remembered it when I heard of her death.
Once again, just when things had started to seem ordinary again, the halls of my high school were silent. White was worn again in Allie’s honor. A vigil was held for Allie’s memory. People spoke wonderful things about her. We all smiled through our tears and clutched our candles tighter, lifting them towards the sky.
Allie’s funeral was held on the following Tuesday. It was beautiful. Flowers decorated her casket, even though I could not bring myself to approach her. I hugged her parents and spoke highly of my dear classmate. That night, I finally broke down. I cried the tears I had held back for a week. I sobbed for Mitch and Allie’s families, friends, and those who knew them well. I wept for the futures they would never have. I cried and cried and cried.
Nothing seemed fair. Why would God take two of the most respected and beautiful people we knew? Why cut their lives short when they both had so much to offer? Why, why, why?
But I think I’ve finally figured it all out, three months later. Their deaths were to teach us a lesson. And however unfair it was that Mitch and Allie were taken from us, there is always a lesson to be learned.
Mitch taught us to live every day as your last. Go out and do what you love to do. Be who you want to be. Don’t be afraid to pursue what you love.
Allie taught us to smile even in our darkest hours. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the good in everything. Love the life you live, always.
It’s not fair that they are gone. But it is fair to celebrate the life they were given. Take the lessons they’ve taught us and apply them to every day life.