Then and Now

April 13, 2019

Dear Darlene,

I’m writing this letter to you a month after hearing that you had died. I stumbled across something on Facebook saying you were ill a while back and meant to reach out, but I became distracted with a million other things, and missed my chance. When I received the invite to your memorial I was floored. Feelings of regret for not contacting you have haunted me ever since. I have reread our last message several times and I am so grateful that we had the opportunity to catch up after losing each other for two decades.

Kids these days (see what I did there) will never understand what life was like before social media and the internet. I moved away less than a year after we graduated from high school, and although we corresponded via snail mail, eventually we lost touch. I thought of you often, and whenever I ran across someone from our hometown, I would always try to find you, to no avail. I was over the moon when you tracked me down on Facebook in 2013! After so many years apart, it was amazing to speak to you, if only through a message.

I stumbled across a letter you wrote me back in 1995 yesterday. I was sorting through a box of stuff from my days living in Austin, and there it was, just sitting on top. Before I even read the envelope, I thought to myself, “How cool it would be if this was from Darlene”. It was. You were unapologetically yourself in this letter and I couldn’t help but smile the whole time I was reading. You complained about feeling old at the age of nineteen and how being grown up was putting distance between all of us who were so close in high school. It’s funny to read those words now knowing how things change and the many years that would end up separating us.

You were always fierce, but extremely kind. I don’t recall us ever having an argument and I trusted you more than anyone else during those horrible last three years of high school Hell. I miss dancing outside of the taco stand in Compton after we narrowly escaped being arrested for somehow ending up in a riot. I miss listening to Black Flag in your room and hearing you talk about your new boyfriend. To my delight, you two remained together all of these years. I find myself wanting to track him down and tell him how fucking much you always loved him, but I don’t know if that’s weird. I miss wandering around Redlands at night looking for ghosts while everyone else we knew was getting drunk. I miss hanging out with Nole, who lived in the park and collected books. I loved that the three of us would talk about whatever we were reading and it didn’t matter where we came from, only that we had stories to tell.

I watched your memorial service through live streaming on my lunch break at work. I wanted to be there, but wasn’t able to make the trip to California on short notice. Listening to your friends speak about what a genuine person you were made my heart practically burst. I was so happy to know that you only got better with age and that other people had the opportunity to experience who you were. I followed my dream of living all over the country and becoming a fashion designer. You became a force of nature, dedicating your life to working with the homeless, primarily veterans. In our last message, you spoke of mentoring at risk youth because you remembered how hard things were for us at that age and understood “bratty” kids, even when other adults couldn’t. This didn’t surprise me at all and I hate the fact that I never realized the extent of the work you did and missed the opportunity to tell you how much you mattered. Since we were always honest with each other and never held back, I’m going to tell the truth right now; so many people on this planet are dicks and the world is darker without you in it. You did so much in the short time you were here and I have no doubt that you were only getting started.

The last page of your letter was just a pasted quote, “You already know how it ends”. I thought I knew, but I was wrong. I expected to be dead by thirty-five, because my mother only made it that far, and I assumed everyone I knew would outlast me. Here I am, celebrating my forty-third birthday just two weeks after hearing that you are gone. It’s moments like these where people ponder the meaning of life as they face their mortality, but I don’t have time for that tired bullshit. Instead, I find myself remembering the girls we were and being so damn proud of the women we became.

Thank you for all of the lessons you taught me. Thank you for always having my back when I needed it most. Thank you for finding me again and giving me that one last conversation between two old friends trying to catch up after twenty years apart. Thank you for proving everyone wrong by showing that strange looking teenagers can grow up to be badasses and society should stop underestimating people just because they don’t fit the status quo.

Well, I guess that’s it. I don’t know how to say goodbye because I don’t want to. I’m going to look for more of your old letters, but in the meantime, here’s one last letter to you.

Love always,


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