What If You Had Died At 15?
The lie is that a life is ever finished.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done if you had died at 15,” my childhood best friend said to me shortly after my daughter died. I’d been telling her about Ana’s best friends who had dropped by our house to spend time in Ana’s empty room. They did that a lot for the first year or two after she died. They’d bring Ana’s favorite snack, sit in her room, smell her perfume, laugh and chat, then leave. It had been heartbreaking for all of us.
It’s been six years since I lost Ana. I think about her two best friends often, along with all the children that were part of Ana’s world throughout the little more than a dozen years she was alive. I don’t hear from them much anymore, but thanks to social media I see glimpses of the adults they’ve become. Most of them are in their early twenties now. They are men and women, fully formed. Their childhood, and Ana’s part in it, is rapidly receding.
I think about what my friend said too, about how she would’ve been (briefly) bereft if I had died at 15, leaving her with only the memory of my teenage self. Like Ana’s friends, she would’ve been devastated for a while.
But, of course, life would’ve carried her forward, beyond those few years where our friendship had taken center stage. If I had died at age 15, I would’ve remained a sad footnote in most people’s lives, including hers. Is this Ana’s fate? Maybe. But I’m learning to be okay with that. Most of us will become a footnote in someone else’s story.
What if I had died in 1986? It was the year Chernobyl exploded and Challenger disintegrated. It was the year The Oprah Winfrey show went national. When I turned 15 in May of that year, Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” was the number one song and Top Gun (the original) was smashing box office records.
I was a high school sophomore who had my entire life ahead of me. My best friend and I used to speculate about what we’d be like when we were old (back when 30 was “old” and we assumed we’d always be best friends.)
“It will be 2001,” we’d calculated. “Can you imagine? We’ll be old ladies in big sweaters with lots of cats.” We’d laughed at the image of ourselves at age 30 and how impossibly far into the future it was.