Countdown to 10-Year: In loving memory…

Tomorrow, I will be attending my 10 Year Class Reunion. In these days, I will take the opportunity to look back on ten of my favorite elements of high school (in no particular order of importance)…

#1 – In loving memory…

I went to visit my friend today, and I took her a single red rose. I miss her dearly.
I went to visit my friend yesterday, and I took her a single red rose. I miss her dearly.

Five years after graduation, the Class of 1999 lost one of its members in an automobile accident. I lost a friend who had a very special place in my heart… a friend who still has that place to this day.

While I am sure I knew Candace somehow through elementary school, it was in sixth grade that our friendship seemed to really spark. At least, that is when my fond memories of her start.

We had sixth grade science together, and we had to participate in the science fair. That meant having to purchase a presentation board for the fair.

Candace paid for hers in all pennies.

Later that year, I forget what our class was doing that she brought deviled eggs to class as part of her project. However, I do remember going to her after class and saying, “Hey… I’ll be your best friend if I can have one…” She pretty much rolled her eyes at me the same time I rolled my eyes internally at myself for even using that old cliche.

I did not know when I said that, though, that she would be one of those people to truly leave a mark on my life that will be there until the day I die.

I have SEVERAL picture of Candace taking a picture of me while I took a picture of her. It was like a running joke.
I have SEVERAL pictures of Candace taking a picture of me while I took a picture of her. It was like a running joke.

Candace simply had this open and innocent nature, even as you knew she’d already lived a lot of life by junior high. I don’t think anyone would disagree with me when I say she had this ditziness that made you shake and scratch your head, and yet she was in National Honor Society in high school and took advanced placement classes.

She was a natural beauty, one of those rare beauties who didn’t have to wear make-up or fix her hair to still stand out in a crowd. That fact was one part natural good looks and one part inner beauty that shown through her personality and easy smile. I really don’t think she was ever want for male attention, and yet I don’t know of many women who would have begrudged her that fact.

I could go on and on about memories I have of our friendship, but I will do my best to keep it short… ish.

Candace would always wear her ponytail up high on her head, and she quickly earned the nickname “Pebbles.” I still have cards from her signed with that name. A Pebbles she was, too!

I remember calling to dedicate LeAnn Rimes’ “(Don’t Ever Lose) That Light in Your Eyes” to her on WACO 100. And she would dedicate any given song back to me. I wish I could remember now what it was she called in now. That part of that  memory escapes me, but LeAnn’s song always reminds me of her.

Me and Candace at Flag camp -- 1997
Me and Candace at Flag camp -- 1997

So does “Wonderwall” by Oasis, as I still remember her singing along to it in the cafeteria when it would come on the jukebox.

She went to the same church as I did, and we went through Confirmation together. I think it was during projects we did as part of our Confirmation that she met my brother. I remember that she was one of the only friends of mine that my brother actually stopped me to tell me, “She’s really cool. I like her!” I told her that one day, and she would always — from then forward — make sure to go out of her way to say hello to him whenever he was around.

Un-apologetically open and friendly. That was Candace.

I remember, also, as we worked on a project for Confirmation, she and another friend spent the night at my house with me. She wanted to know why we made her sleep on the love seat, while the two of us had the couches. I pointed out she was a good five inches shorter than both of us.She took it good naturedly, but pouted about it nonetheless. What I’d give to banter with her again, if only for a few minutes.  It would almost always end in gales of laughter.

These two were unseperable!
These two were unseperable!

Candace was a member of the Flag Corp, and that sisterhood offered even more memories. Too many to even begin to list.

This weekend is homecoming, and Candace made her appearance on the Homecoming court. She shined out there on that field.

Our Senior year, near the end of the Fall Semester, we came close to losing her in an auto accident. I still remember when the call came, and I got word it had happened. I went numb…

One of my favorite photos in our Senior Yearbook is a photo of Candace in her cap and gown, with a far away look in her eyes. She came all too close to not being there that night, and yet there she was. A few more scars on her body, but she was there with our class. Getting her diploma with the rest of us.

She would always bring her tax return to have my parents prepare it for her. The last time I saw her was on a very cold February or March day, when I met her and her boyfriend at my parent’s office to get their tax information from them.

Candace giving me a pout... Our last night to ever perform together on the field. -- 1997
Candace giving me a pout... Our last night to ever perform together on the field. -- 1997

My parents had to run an errand out of town, and I was more than happy to meet Candace, who had an appointment that Saturday morning, at the office for them. I hadn’t seen her in far too long, and I itched to know how she was doing. For even though we had drifted in location, and we didn’t “hang out” any more nor did we ever run around and go out together, I still considered her one of my very best friends.

However, I drove up late only to discover I had the wrong keys. We didn’t get a chance to visit much as we stood there shivering and she handed me their information outside.

I hugged her tightly and we said a very hasty good bye to get back into our warm vehicles. I apologized up and down for my tardiness and for forgetting my keys. I still remember her giving me her patented, “You’re crazy” look and laughing at my being so flustered — something only someone so familiar with you can do and you know its done out of love.

The next year, I missed her coming into the office to drop off and pick up her return. I had no idea it would be my last chance to ever see her again.

I got word that night in April 2003 that there had been an accident. Once again I went numb. She’d cheated death before, but was not so lucky this time. This world lost a light that night, but it gained an angel above. I like to think she’s one of my guardian angels… be it true or not, it gives me comfort.

PastPhotos (73)I had a final in one of my major Journalism courses at Texas A&M the day of her funeral. It was one of the finals you were there to take even if you had 103 fever. Candace was always one of my biggest cheerleaders (and not to mention an Aggie fan!), and I felt she would probably kick my butt if I missed my final. However, I did make it to the Rosary the night before. That night is my very last, deeply treasured, memory of her.

So as the Class of 1999 gathers tomorrow night, her absence will be felt deeply. She’s not there by choice. She’s not there because… she’s not here.

I went to visit her grave yesterday, and I mused to myself, “Where would she be today if…” as I stared at her headstone.

I know that asking that question doesn’t get me anywhere. I instead choose to believe in my heart that she’s smiling down on me and everyone she ever cared about and loved in life. I choose to believe she is happy that I’ve accomplished as many of my dreams as I have. Happy I’ve found a man I love to grow old with. Happy I have a wonderful family who all also remember her fondly. Happy to be one of the voices in my conscience, guiding me in various tasks and decisions. Happy to be poking fun at me when I do something goofy.

Here’s to believing wherever she is now, she’s happy and smiling nonstop. She deserves absolutely nothing less.