When I was in 6th grade my grandmother received an unexpected diagnosis of cancer. It was a rare form of cancer and she had roughly 6 months to live because after watching her daughter (my aunt) suffer through chemotherapy treatments at the age of 28, she didn’t want to go through it herself. She knew it would only extend her life by a few months and didn’t want to be sick. She was very bitter about having the cancer and my grandfather was very sad. It hit everyone like a ton of bricks.
At one point, my grandmother was in the hospital for awhile and I was heading back and forth to the hospital with my grandfather to see her. It was a very eerie feeling for me being in the hospital and seeing my grandmother like that. My grandfather decided to take me to a family restaurant right across the street because we hadn’t eaten. I remember ordering mozzarella sticks and we sat at this little table together. As I sat there eating my cheese sticks this song came on the radio by Christopher Cross titled “Sailing.”
Every time I hear this song, it takes me back to that very day with my grandfather, when he sat at that table in the restaurant in tears and told me,
“Be sure to appreciate everything you have, especially your loved ones while they’re here.”
Later on that week, my grandmother became worse. She wasn’t going to be here much longer and I still wasn’t with it. I was simply too young and this would be the first death I would mourn. The situation with my grandmother was causing him a great deal of pain and I remember one day hearing him very upset in our basement. He was crying loudly, yelling at himself and throwing things around. He was saying over and over how much he was angry with himself for not telling my grandmother that he loved her enough. He felt that he hadn’t appreciated her like he should have. It really made me cry and I didn’t know how to help him. Around a month after that, she was gone.
A few years passed and my grandfather was back to golfing and living his life the best he could. I started spending more time out of the house, predominately at the roller skating rink in the next county over. I loved skating and because the rink was in a different county, I was able to meet new people from different schools. My main issue with skating was the fact that I had big feet and always had to wear these ugly men’s skates that made my feet hurt, until I came to know a girl by the name of Anne. Anne was there to mainly socialize with everyone else and because she was from that county, many of the kids there were her schoolmates. She had these amazing black speed skates with shocking magenta wheels that were low-cut and my size! I was near a size 12 shoe at that point and it was hard for me to find anything to fit. She told me that I could borrow them if I wanted to and I took her up on the offer. They felt so smooth rolling on the ground. Every weekend we were there together I would use her skates and we came to know each other. We became best friends.
Anne was like the friend of a lifetime. She always had the right things to say and made me feel so good about myself. She was as tall as me and we had a lot in common. When I started driving, we would go places together and shop. She was a year or so younger than me, so getting my license was a huge plus for us. We had some of the same friends and It was because of her that I found my first boyfriend. She would come over often and she always enjoyed my grandfather’s company. He always had something funny to say to her. We played pool at the local pool hall, drove around listening to music, and swam in our friend Jen’s pool in the summer. Life was good. We were young without a care in the world.
One of the first things I did after graduating high school was graduating from cosmetology school. I started working in a salon right away and Anne loved it. Now she could have her hair and nails done whenever she wanted. She always said that I could create the best shaped acrylic nails she’d ever seen and loved the way I styled hair. It would be me that put her hair in an updo for her junior prom.
Another year went by and I was busy living life. I took a job managing a car dealership because it was more money, but continued doing cosmetology on the side. I got involved in a bad relationship and had made a few stupid choices, but I was okay. I wasn’t seeing Anne very much because I was just too busy for much of anything, or at least I thought I was. We sort of began to grow apart a little bit, but would occasionally hang out.
Anne was about to take a vacation to Florida with her family and really wanted me to give her a pedicure, manicure, hair style and the whole works. I thought it would be fun for us to catch up. I spent about 4 or 5 days heading back and forth to Anne’s house that week. She was showing me the summer outfits she bought to take on her vacation. It was a lot of fun. I can still remember sitting in her room on her super soft bed. I always loved Anne’s room. As we sat together she told me that she had a boyfriend. I was shocked! We had some real catching up to do. She told me all about how they met and I became confused. She proceeded to tell me that he was older than her and in prison. I was alarmed, but I didn’t want to say anything negative to her at this point. I asked her why he was in jail and what he did wrong, but she said it didn’t matter and that he would be getting out soon. Little did I know, this would be the last time I would see Anne.
About a month went by and Anne was back from vacation. I’d heard a rumor from a mutual friend that she was hanging out with the wrong crowd in a bad neighborhood. Her boyfriend was out of jail now and she began spending late nights with him where he was living. I tried calling her often, but her mom would always answer and tell me that she wasn’t home. She would tell me about their troubles and arguments. More than once she said that she couldn’t keep Anne home and away from these dangerous people. Anne was now 18 and able to make her own choices and she was taking some tremendous risks. We finally talked a time or two and I tried to convince her to come back home and to stay away from this group of people. She wouldn’t listen to me and at one point I felt like I’d really upset her. She said she loved this guy who was just out of jail and she didn’t think there was anything wrong with the decisions she was making. Who was I to judge? I was mainly concerned for her safety. The only time I could speak with her was when she was at home because it wasn’t common for teens to be running around with cell phones yet. Everything was different back then.
I was sitting at work a few weeks later. It was a slow day and the sun was baking me through the tall glass windows of the car dealership. It was such a hot summer that year. The phone rang and I answered it. It was my friend Michelle calling to ask me if I’d heard the news. Of course it was a ‘roll your eyes’ moment because Michelle always had stories to tell and she was the ultimate story ‘spicer’ which everyone knew. She proceeded to tell me that Anne was dead. I didn’t believe her and actually got a little mad and told her I’d call her back. There was just no way. I called Anne’s house and her mom answered the phone. Not long after my first words were spoken, I heard a dead silence on the phone. I can still remember sitting there with the phone in my hand as her mom was crying and not speaking a word. I stood up and couldn’t breath. It felt like my lungs weren’t functioning. I dropped the phone and began pacing around, out of my mind. I don’t even remember what my initial thoughts were. I just remember being in a total state of panic and denial. I got back on the phone with her mom and we both just cried on the phone together. She apologized for not calling me and told me that she couldn’t bring herself to tell me what had happened yet. Finally she told me the story.
Anne hadn’t been home for about 3 days. She was staying with this guy who was supposedly her boyfriend. He had just been released from prison. Apparently some people wanted him dead and Anne was in the wrong place at the wrong time. They entered the house around 2 am and shot and killed him. At the time, it was thought that she was in the back of the house in a different room because she jumped out of a window and began to run. She ran for a distance, but they were already after her and they weren’t going to let her get away. They shot her 7 times in the back and she collapsed near a house doorway. It took her mom forever to tell me the story and I just sat there on the phone in complete shock while listening to the details. Running for her life, shot 7 times, my dear friend was dead. Because it was the middle of the night and there were barely any witnesses, I was told that finding her killers would be like locating a needle in a haystack. There just wasn’t enough evidence and the killers obviously knew what they were doing.
I was so sick about everything that happened and couldn’t sleep in my house for a few days. I guess the thought of being in my room made me think of her and it scared me in a weird way. I just wanted to be with someone, so I stayed the night with my neighbor-friend Lisa. She understood how I was feeling and knew Anne from seeing her from time to time at my house.
The funeral was coming up and I was trying to figure out how I was going to deal with it. I hadn’t been to a funeral since my grandmother passed and really didn’t like them. I was talking to Anne’s younger sister on the phone and she told me there would be an open casket at the wake. I didn’t understand how, but because she was shot in the back, I guess they were able to present her in an open casket without revealing the damage to her body. Regardless, this wouldn’t have been my choice. I wanted to remember Anne how she was the week we spent together before she went to Florida, the Anne I spent time skating with, the Anne I sat and listened to music with for hours on end. Then, her sister told me that they wanted to play some of her favorite music at the wake and she wanted me to give her some of our favorite tapes. I told her I would give her our favorite cassette tape which had one very important song on it. Earlier in the year Notorious B.I.G. was killed and Puff Daddy came out with this song called, “I’ll be Missing You” in remembrance of Notorious B.I.G. This song was a favorite for me because it contained parts of the background from The Police’s 1983 hit song “Every Breath You Take.” I always loved that song and thought what Puff Daddy did with it was pretty unique. Of course I never knew that our favorite song that spring would be playing at her funeral that summer.
I left work early the day of the funeral and brought the cassette tape with. When I got there I slowly made my way up to the casket. It was horrible. It didn’t even look like her and her face had all of these dark lines, almost like her makeup was smeared. I stayed with her for a few minutes, greeted everyone, gave her sister the tape and left. I just couldn’t bring myself to stay there as there was no way I could keep myself composed. As I was leaving the parking lot that day, I thought about what my grandfather said when I was a kid, to appreciate the people you have now when they’re here. I am grateful that I had Anne in my life for the time that I did, but it took me a long time to get over the fact that we would depart like this. I wonder if I could’ve done things differently and not lectured her about what she was doing. Would it have made a difference? I do wish I would’ve told her on the phone how much she meant to me and that I cared about her, but I have to believe she knew in her heart that I did. Even though we had grown apart, we had a special friendship.
When I think about Anne and my grandparents I ask myself,
“Was I as good to them as they were to me?”
After all of these life experiences that remind me to appreciate what I have now, I still sometimes think it’s easy to take things for granted in life, especially relationships. After being married for a considerable amount of time, I notice there are times when I just expect that everything will be wonderful the way it is-my husband will come home from work, we’ll watch Netflix or work outside, the kids will continue to thrive and grow, but none of this is guaranteed and we are definitely not in control.
It will be 20 years in a little over a month since Anne was killed and it still feels like yesterday. I will continue to try my hardest to appreciate everything and all the people in my life. It’s important to show it. I hope that others will do the same because we never know how much time we have together. Thanks Grandpa. ❤