I walked through the double doors of the school. I thought I would only see this place maybe once more in my life, but here I was right back here. My palms were sweaty and I was already shaking. My mom could tell that I was nervous. Everyone else probably could too. The lady at the front instructed us where to sit and we entered into the gymnasium. There were already people sitting down and some at the front looking at Stancil. My sight first landed on her when I walked in. An overwhelming amount of longing rushed over me as I wished, for the thousandth time, for this all to be a nightmare that I would wake up from. My mom found us a seat and I sat, not paying attention as to where. There was only one thing I was focused on.
It reminded me a lot of my graduation day. The way all the seniors gathered in one of the hallways and talked, joked, and laughed. I was with Stancil that day and my former boyfriend. I remember being so nervous that I couldn’t say anything. That I didn’t want to. I was set to give the valedictory speech for my class. They both told me how it was such an honor and that I would do amazing. Then we had to line up, forming two lines—it was time to walk into the gym. I waited, anxiously for our turn to walk and to get to my seat. I felt like I could not stand. Like I could not hold myself up any longer. I was so nervous, but I had them to look at.
I was feeling that among other things at the moment. Natural dread mixed in with the feelings. I just watched her. She was lying there, sleeping peacefully—never to wake again. The funeral hadn’t started yet, but I knew it would soon with all of the people now filing in. Kourtney, a former student just like me, came up and asked me if I wanted to go outside for a few minutes and wait for her friend. We went outside and just stood while other people walked up. We didn’t talk, there was nothing to say. One of my favorite teachers, and Stancil’s, came up toward us and enveloped us in a hug. I cannot remember what she told us, but I remember blurting out.
“I’m speaking.” I remember the feeling I got in my chest as I said it. It just continued to tighten as if it would eventually just explode. She looked at me, sympathy filling her eyes.
“Do you have a tissue?” I said no and she began searching through her purse for an extra one. She handed it to me. I stuffed it in the pocket of the dress I was wearing. “Take your time up there. Feel free to cry.”
“She was- She was leaving my house.” I said, feeling as if it took every last ounce of me to say those words. I felt the tears forming in my eyes, but I did not let them fall. She hugged me one more time before telling me something about the speech and going inside. Kourtney’s friend came up shortly after and we all went back in. As we sat down the funeral procession started, I could feel my heart beating faster by the second. Everything was such a blur until the moment arose for me to get up from where I was sitting and walk to the podium. Time began to move slowly as I got up from my seat. I walked the same path I walked on graduation night. Walked up the same stairs. Walked across the same stage. And then, finally, stood behind the same podium. I remembered in that moment, as I was unfolding my paper, on my graduation night that I looked out into the crowd as I spoke. I looked at three teachers that had shaped my life in some way. Then I took a look at my boyfriend. Then I searched the crowd for Stancil until I found her. As that moment went on, before I began to speak, I looked out at the crowd. There was probably less people in the gym that day, but it still felt the same. The weight of what I had to say. I searched for her and then glanced at the casket that lied before me. With that, I looked down at my paper because I realized then that I no longer had anything left to look for and began to speak. After I finished, I don’t even remember if the audience clapped or did anything. I didn’t expect them to. I just remember walking off the stage in a different way than last time and sitting back down in my seat. The rest of the service also went by in a blur, until my attention was caught by someone handing me a flower to load in the car outside. Almost everyone had gathered outside, just like our graduation day, except this time they were replaced with solemn faces. I couldn’t take it anymore so I went back inside to find my mom. When I got to her, a teacher that Stancil and I both knew, and had a class together in, came up to me and hugged me.
“You have to keep going for her now. She will always be with you.” I remembered murmuring something, but I can’t remember what it was and she hugged me again. Then the teacher I had met before the funeral came up and hugged me once again.
“You did good.” I nodded. However, in my head I was saying, it wasn’t for me. Then my mom asked if I was good to go and I nodded. On the way out, two other members of the school’s faculty tapped on the glass from the office and mouthed “You did good.” I nodded and took it even though I didn’t want the credit. I only did it for her. After that, we went to the burial site and I hugged her stepfather and talked to a few more members of her family before leaving.
Later that night, I had wondered if she was proud. If I had done the speech justice and if I had captured basics of our friendship in three short minutes. Just as I had wondered the same on graduation night. I caught myself starting to text her and ask her, like I did on that night. Then I realized looking at her name on my phone that I would never honestly know how I did on that night, because she will never be able to tell me. I checked my phone once more, just as I had the nights prior to, hoping to have a response. But nothing good would come of it. Then I realized something more devastating.
I would never be able to read the line she would always say to me— “I’m such a proud friend.” Everything had changed forever.