In addition to my wedding anniversary, this time of year is special to me because, on this day six years ago, I lost someone incredibly special to me, my dear friend Jessica Caroe.
Jessica and I were BFFs in college, and spent the summer of 2005 living in group house together out in Maryland while we were interning in DC. She’d transferred to Georgetown from a small Southern school, and we met in Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship.
We realized we were kindred spirits for what’s probably a terrible reason—we were *those* Christian girls, the ones who could party hard on Saturday night, into the wee hours of Sunday morning, but still get up to be on time (or close to it) for church and not fall asleep during the sermon. Sure, we likely should have made some better choices, but I don’t regret a single thing we did because it taught me that self-righteousness—like that of some of our classmates who literally frowned upon people who went to parties, as if making someone feel bad about dancing and underaged drinking made Jesus smile—saves no one. It actually pushes people away from Christ. So, we were Christ Ambassadors (which is what Chi Alpha stood for) on the dancefloor of college parties throughout Georgetown. Amen!
I jest, but what I’m saying is, Jessica taught me about authenticity—what it meant to be unashamed and unafraid to be yourself, even when others are telling you that you should be something else, something they want you to be.
I always said with us being so much ourselves, it’d take strong men to handle us. God blessed us both with those strong men, Rustin for me and Robert for her.
At my wedding reception, where I’d made a joke about letting Robert come to the wedding as an investment in their future and Jessica called me her best friend, Robert pulled me aside and said that he was going to propose to her on Monday. I was thrilled! He showed me the ring on his phone, and I knew she would love it.
He did propose on Monday, and she said yes. They died the next day. I didn’t find out about it until Thursday, when I went on Facebook to see why on earth she hadn’t told me she was engaged; Robert didn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would chicken out.
To say I was devastated is the smallest use of that word, ever. To say I could hardly get out of bed for days also doesn’t quite capture how I felt. To say I didn’t genuinely smile for a year still doesn’t do it justice.
Jessica dying was literally the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, worse than being abandoned by my father even, because it is the only thing that has ever made me question the existence and goodness of God. Crying out to a deity you think has dropped a very important ball is extremely difficult. Of course, I still went to church, still prayed, still went through the motions, faking it until I made it. God had nothing to prove to me; it just took a while for my brain to catch up to the re-revelation of His character.
My first year of marriage turned out to be quite a doozy since I wasn’t all there mentally and emotionally. I had to go back for my second year of business school and remember why I was there. By the time I moved to New York a year later, I felt some better, well though to start writing down some of our memories. That’s what got me started writing nonfiction, actually.
Losing Jessica is still the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but it’s turned out for good in a lot of different ways. It made me take my marriage much more seriously since “for worse” came only three days after we made our vows. It made me take on leadership roles in school and work because I knew it’s what she would have done. It made me write memoir, so I wouldn’t have written my story about my dad if she hadn’t passed and I hadn’t started writing our stories. I wouldn’t have left my job and started writing seriously while still wanting to make in-roads for minorities and women in finance. And that’s just me; it doesn’t include the scholarships that have been founded in her name, the tree that was planted on the grounds of Duke University (where she was going to business school) in her memorial, and other ways I don’t even know about.
I sometimes contemplate finishing writing our stories, but six years later, it’s still a bit too painful. (I say this as her friend, not even her family member, so I can’t imagine their pain.) I haven’t actually cried while writing this blogpost, but I’ve come soooo close, and I’ve kept a distance between my head and my fingers to keep from coming unglued in a public place. She meant that much, that even after all this, it’s still raw to go there.
I miss my friend more than anything, but I’m thinking of their families today. I pray for her family and Robert’s, that God will continue to show His goodness and grace to them, and that they not forget that He’s never forgotten them. As hard as it is to believe.