My second year of college, I moved out of the FIU dorms and into a Miami apartment with my sister. A decision to get back with my ex had torn a huge hole in our sistership – I’m talking huge. A washer full of clothes or a single dirty dish evoked battles of Tolkien or even Tarantino proportions — battles so layered they put baklava to shame.
So the apartment wasn’t always a happy place, and we were rarely home at the same time. Even when we were, we weren’t together. One fall morning, I got a call from my sister, quite unexpected and she was quite panicked. I hadn’t gone home the night before. A little annoyed, I answered, with my boyfriend next to me. She quickly asked where I was (I don’t remember if I told her the truth or lied, or maybe just offered a contemptuous, “why?”), and then she broke some terrible news to me. Her dear friend’s younger sister had been taken from us. She lived and went to school in Texas. At the time, I didn’t know too many details of what had happened, but it was a cruel tragedy.
It’s not that I knew Melanie – I met her once at a Halloween party the year before she passed. She was the kind of beautiful heart that shined wherever she was – the kind I admired and felt intimidated by – with a countenance that exuded kindness and life. She incited a bit of innocent envy. She was certainly a person you wanted to call friend – so light!
My protective and bossy big sis hadn’t called to be controlling, she had called because she cared. She wanted to make sure I was ok. As I hung up with her, I couldn’t fully process what she had told me. I got the hurt part. My heart was torn for our friend and his family, but I was unaware of what it meant for me. I told my boyfriend what happened, but I must have completely zoned out on what his response was. He most likely uttered something mildly comforting followed by a dig at my sister.
That was six years ago. Last night I read a post on Facebook from Peggy, Melanie’s mother. I’ve followed along their trek as time passed, watching them seek justice and extend unimaginable grace. As I read through pieces of her journey, how sweet Melanie fit into that, and the roadmap of Peggy’s faith, I found myself sobbing. I was instantly transported to the days following the incident — the moments when Melanie’s story would finally hit me, truly hit me. The times I lay alone sobbing in my bed or on the living room floor. Not mourning a friend, but mourning a kindred spirit. Mourning the loss of a light in a dark place (and not just a little candle – more like one of those big spotlights that shine into the sky signaling, “this is where the party’s at!” From what I’ve learned about Melanie, that seems a more fitting description).
You see, as I mentioned, I really didn’t know Melanie, but I knew me. And when I thought about her life, and her family’s loss, I saw myself. She was also a sophomore in college. She had a loving family and an artistic spirit. She was passionate about people and life. I saw myself. I kept thinking, “that could have been me.”
Back then, my relationship with my sister wasn’t the only one in trouble. So was my relationship with my parents. Horrendous. By some twist of self-assertion decisions, I had worked myself into a rift with the people who meant the most in the world to me. Their home was always mine too, but that didn’t make the distance between us any less. So this thought, “that could have been me,” knocked the wind from my chest. It changed things. It started to settle priorities. I paid more attention to the scenes and situations I found myself in. I began to let my parents back into my self-protective world, not out of fear, but out of respect and a realization of value: an understanding of the impact one life can have on so many others.
It was over a year before things between my parents and I healed, and took even longer to repair the damage between my sister and I, but it happened. Now I cherish my time at home.
Melanie touched hearts with hers, and still does. From the fringe, her life revealed so much to me. This thought more than all the rest:
Our lives are a gift, not to us, but to others.