Two days ago, I attended a memorial service for someone my age for the first time. I am twenty-three so I have at least twenty-three reasons I am fortunate. I’ve known people my age who have died, including a 9th grade P.E. classmate who was shot dead the night before my first day of college—a death with considerable impact on my heart despite the limited nature of our interactions. But while my brain anxiously scans archives out of fear there are faces I have forgotten–peers I might have already said bye to at the grave then let their memories recede like their bones into earth–I cannot think of anyone else I shared childhood years with before they flew from life.
It was Jane who died.
Unexpectedly, my first reaction upon receiving my sister’s text that Jane had died earlier that day was excitement. I was so pleased to read Jane’s name and think about what it would be like to catch up with her that I couldn’t process her not being alive. My mind looped between joy and confusion, settling closer and closer towards grief like a maple’s double-samara fluttering toward pavement. Neither my sister nor I had been close to Jane, but she had been an important part of my childhood as a player on a sister Mt. Tabor soccer team, and we had greeted each other in the halls at Mt. Tabor Middle School. She had teased me on the size of my backpack.
Whereas I was a small child with shoulder blades like wings, often likened to a pixie, Jane was a giant. She was tall, muscular, and vibrant with confidence.
Jane was alive.
How did you enter rooms, Leslie? How did you leave? Did you dress your heart in kevlar for all new faces, or did you manage to maintain some kind of open heart policy? As a human, as a white butch lesbian, as a transgender warrior, did you greet people with optimism, or did you, regardless of your outward demeanor, expect and plan for the worst? My best times are when I walk beaming into a room, enthusiastically shake hands with new-to-me souls, or casually joke and converse with folks, but this is not my everyday. I think I’ve always carried some fear and insecurity with me—false or prophetic certainty that I am inferior to others and will be rejected. I tiptoe in my own life and don’t ask many favors because I’m certain I’m asking too much.
Every person who spoke at Jane’s funeral shared how warm, gregarious, and sincere she was. She also invited herself into people’s houses and helped herself to what was in the fridge! She was shamelessly herself. The auditorium overflowed with individuals from her childhood neighborhood, Nordstrom, elementary school, middle school, high school, sports teams, and even Alaska. They walked easily or carefully with canes, or rolled wheelchairs. I recognized some faces and wondered which chapters we shared.
Her service taught me many lessons.
I still believe that one of these days we will have a soccer reunion and we will crack up with laughter on Upper Clinton while shooting goals. The ground will be cracked with grass straining upwards or a hive of holes in mud from cleats and showers. Dirt will fleck our knees as it did when we were kids. Our shorts and jerseys will stain as we laugh breathless, our muscles tightening from exertion of our kicks and the joy of still being kids after all this time. Jane reminds me of what it is to love and be loved. And what it is to live.
Rest in peace, Jane. Rest in peace, Leslie. The world keeps spinning, but I think a great many of us are richer in life and braver than we would have been had you not once been here.
I began this letter on September 20. I will keep the date for that reason.