My high school days were pretty average. I was pretty average. I wasn’t popular. But I wasn’t not popular. I had good friends. I had good moments, and I had angst filled teen-age moments. Sometimes I felt way too old for school. Like I belonged in another time. An older time. Older-than-what-I-was-time.
Other times I felt just like a teen should feel.
There are few things that I remember from high school with clarity.
One of the things I remember is actually not a thing, but a person. Her name was Lori. I didn’t know Lori well. I only remember sitting in maybe a class or two with her. One class for sure. The one class I recall sitting in with her was “Death and Dying”. I remember it because Lori was sick. She had cancer, and though my recollection could be wrong, I believe it was leukemia.
Where I grew up we went to grade school. Grades one through eight. Then we went to high school. Grades nine through twelve. I went to Catholic schools throughout my childhood. Our grade school was a ‘feeder’ school to one of the local Catholic high schools. Most kids in my grade school also went to the same high school. But there were many other ‘feeder’ schools. So high school opened up the world to include different people. And I haven’t gotten any better at this point in my life as I was back then with names, faces and recall. It took me eight years of schooling to remember the thirty to fifty kids I went to school with in grade school. High school was not going to be, and proved not to be, easy for me with names and faces. I think I hid it pretty well. But it was a struggle.
So going in to high school there were a lot of people I did not have close connections to. Lori was from another ‘feeder’ school. And though I can look through my year book and smile at the familiar faces, I would be hard pressed to name even fifty percent of them.
But Lori, I remember.
And I didn’t even know her.
I knew as we sat in the class “Death and Dying” that she was sick. I likely did not know how sick she was. Though she was thin. And the cancer appeared to make her extremely tired. The effects of the cancer were evident on her youth. She seemed to have a good group of friends devoted to her. I remember hearing stories about Tony, and how wonderful he was to her. I even heard, more than once, of how he would carry her if she was tired. I didn’t see this. But I believed it to be true. I just believed in all of the goodness. I still do.
During the semester we had class together I didn’t get to know her any better. I remember being aware of her presence. If I remember correctly this young man named Tony may have been in the same class with us. I remember speaking to her, with her. But no friendship developed. I was too shy to be gregarious or outgoing. I lacked any confidence what so ever in thinking anyone would want to get to know me. As a class we seemed comfortable enough within that room. We had a book to read. We had discussions. I was probably average in that class as well.
Lori’s presence to me was more felt than experienced. And I became acutely aware of this presence.
If she was in the hallway I noticed her.
If she was in a room I walked into I noticed her.
But that’s all. That is pretty much the depth of our interactions and knowledge of one another.
One day while sitting in class it was announced to us that Lori had died.
I had never really experienced death before. No family members in my memory had died. No one I had known to that point in my life had died.
At this time in my life I carried a notebook with me every where. I wrote all the time. I wasn’t any good. I just felt a need to write. And I did. Sometimes in class when I should have been paying attention. Which may attribute to my average-ness in my schooling. I wrote to say things I couldn’t say. To address things I couldn’t address. To hide things I didn’t want to carry inside of me. I wrote to have a pulse. But I never, ever, wrote about God. I didn’t understand the religion classes, I didn’t have a grasp on faith or belief. I was told what to believe. And looking back I believe with all of my heart that I was (certainly not now….) oppositional defiant. I was told what to believe and what to think. And my free thinking moments would not allow me to fill it with what I was told to believe and think.
I sat in a room full of children, because we were very much children at that moment. I didn’t know what to feel. I even felt a little bit intrusive sitting in a room full of people, many of whom knew her much better than I. It might be accurate to say I didn’t feel I had a right to feel grief. But I felt so very sad. So…incredibly…sad. Like I had never felt before.
I sat at my school desk and opened my notebook and wrote. Without thinking. Without contemplating. I just wrote.
Take her in your arms,
And hold her close for us,
Let us see her smile,
In your warm sunny rays.
Give her God,
The love that she always had with us,
Let her see us
And feel how we care.
Let her be happy God
And give her eternal peace.
Tell her we love her God,
And she is in our hearts,
And in our prayers.
I must have shown it to one of my friends. Who must have copied it. And took it to someone. I was called at home that evening by one of the nuns, a teacher. They wanted to print what I wrote and give it to the rest of the students. She asked my permission. I told her yes. She asked if she could change “God” to “Father”. I said yes. And I took out my notebook and wrote “Father” in the places where they were going to change it from how I wrote it.
I knew so very little about Lori. And it was difficult to watch others around me who were so connected to her go through something so difficult. And feel unconnected to it. To her. To them.
Our class was given the day of her funeral off. I didn’t know it but some of my other friends came to my house to get me to take me to the funeral. I was up in my attic bedroom and didn’t hear them at the door. I didn’t go.
I have thought about her often throughout the years. One day, I sat in my old high school gym for my youngest sister’s graduation. I heard Lori’s last name and looked to see if there was a student with the last name on the program. There was. After the ceremony I asked my sister if she knew the young man and she said yes. She wasn’t sure if it was Lori’s brother or not. But she helped me find him. I told him who I was. Lori and I would have graduated together ten years earlier, if she had lived to our graduation. I am sure I surprised him but I told him I just wanted to say hello and tell him that I thought about his sister often. I guess I just wanted him to know she was thought of. He was gracious. Kind. And I thanked him for talking to me.
Normally I think of Lori privately. I don’t have any real memories to share with anyone. But I like to think of her. Remember her.
Today I told a friend about her.
And I’ve been thinking about her.
And I guess I just wanted to tell someone that I’ve been thinking about her.
I guess I would want her to know that she is remembered.
And now I feel comfortable in my own beliefs, my own faith, to ask God that he let her know these things.