On August 23, 1991, a beautiful girl left the world.
She was a neighbor and dear friend. She often sat next to me in the pews at our church and sang her heart out, even though she had one of the worst singing voices I have ever heard.
She was 15-years-old.
The night before she died, I drove her to our high school football team's pre-season scrimmage. I was leaving the house when I heard the phone ring and almost didn't take the time to answer it. It was my friend, Autumn, calling to ask for a ride.
I saw Autumn briefly at school the next morning, but that night going to and from the football game was the last chance I had to talk to her.
I still can recall the details of our last conversation. I even remember what she said to me as she got out of my car -- it made me laugh, and it was so typical of the delightfully sweet things Autumn so frequently said.
I watched her walk to the front door of her home, and I waved to her father as he opened the door for her.
Twenty-four hours later she was gone.
I sometimes get so caught up in the difficulties of my life. (Just read yesterday's post.) It certainly does not look anything like the life I envisioned 5 or 10 years ago. When I was pregnant with Daniel, I worried about any number of things that might go wrong, but I never actually considered the possibility that my child would be unable to talk. And don't get me started about the other knock-out surprises and disappointments life has thrown my way .... Suffice it to say life has been more difficult than I expected it to be, even though I never once believed any of us are entitled to a fantasy existence.
But all of that being said, I know how much my dear friend would like to be here in my shoes. I look at her picture on my dresser and am reminded that unfairness is a universal truth -- that life can deal you a perfect hand just as the leg breaks on your barstool.
She was a beautiful gal, my friend Autumn. And not just because she had long, beautiful hair with golden highlights, a radiant smile and cheekbones to rival Cindy Crawford's. She was a beautiful soul. I can remember only a few girls from high school who never complained about another girl, never criticized, never ridiculed, never judged. Autumn was one of them. I never heard her say a mean word about anyone.
If she were still here, she would be one of the people who do not judge my son. She wouldn't look upon him as "weird." She would first his see his beautiful smile and his loving nature, and she would bend down to his level and try to engage him.
She has been gone for 19 years, and, yet, I still think of her pretty much every day. I remember how we flirted with the cute, older boy who lived down the street, like a couple of silly, adolescent girls. I remember how we planned the things we were looking forward to that school year. I remember how I looked for her each Sunday morning as I climbed the steps to church, so eager to rush off with her and some of the other kids our age. We were way too cool to sit with our parents, after all.
So many memories come back as I sit here thinking of her right now ...
Oh, how she loved life.
If there was anything I liked about Autumn more than her sweet nature it was that singing -- that terrible, off-key singing. She knew how badly she sang. We joked about it. If she saw me start to frown, she would sing even louder, with a smile on her face and a gleam in her eyes. "So who cares that I can't sing," she would say to me. "I like to sing, and it is church. Who is going to say anything?!"
I think about her carefree, joyful attitude and wish I did a better job of emulating her spirit.
I think about how many songs she never got to sing, and I am reminded of how glad I am to be here on this Earth, laughing with friends and loving my children.