Have you ever been punched in the stomach really hard? So hard it makes your eyes water and your gut hurt for days? I haven't. But I think that's what it feels like, because that's the way I felt yesterday when I was told a best friend from my childhood had died and not in the nicest way either.
She wasn't sick and she wasn't injured (physically anyway). She took some pills, left a note for her mom and slipped into a coma that lasted for four days until her family decided not to sustain her any longer through machines.
The last time I heard from Jenni was six years ago during my senior year of college. She'd sent me this awesome book called "Take a Walk on the Dark Side" about spooky stories and superstitions connected to rock music like how Robert Johnson supposedly "sold his soul," etc. She knew I'd love it. Jenni knew me well. And she knew exactly what I needed and when I needed it.
She was much older than me by about five years. I met her at church camp when I was 11. The thing is she didn't have to take notice of a skinny, shy kid like me, much less be nice to me. But for some reason I still don't understand, she did. She asked me to hang out with her group of eccentric hippie friends and the best summer of my childhood commenced. We gave each other the nicknames of "John, Paul, Ringo and George" after the Beatles. (I was George, by the way. He's still my favorite Beatle.) We nerded about the "X-Files" and X-Men.
I moved out of the neighborhood when I turned 13. I enrolled in a private school and began the worst year of my life. I don't exaggerate when I say my peers made my life miserable. I reached the lowest emotional point in my life that year, and I pray that's the lowest I'll ever go. I seriously believe I'd have delved into some negative activities if not for my drawings, rock music, and Jenni Simmons.
Again, for no reason I could see, my older friend looked out for me. From afar now, but she was still my friend. She phoned me. I developed the love I still have for handwritten letters through writing back and forth to Jenni. She made me laugh by making fun of the "posh" names of bullies at my school. She, along with Led Zeppelin, the Who and the Allman Brothers, gave me a reason to press on. This world was just too beautiful to not be a part of.
After I graduated college, I lost touch with Jenni. I understood she'd been through a lot, a miscarriage and a divorce. I wrote several letters that remained unanswered before giving up. I wish now I hadn't given up.
Yesterday, one of our old group ("Ringo" no less) was chatting me up. I hadn't spoken to her in ages and I blithely asked her how Jenni was doing these days. That's when she told me Jenni took her own life last June. It was an eerie feeling. When I'm sad, I like to cry and get those emotions out of the way. But I was numb; I didn't know how to feel, much less how to react.
Now I only wish I'd have done more to show Jenni my gratitude, to show her all she'd done for me whether she knew it or not. I want to tell her she pulled me through a difficult time in my life, a time when I needed a friend and she was there. A time when someone I considered cool told me in so many words: "You're awesome. Don't listen to the people who say otherwise."
I only wish I'd have been able to say those words to Jenni before she took her last breath last summer. I wish I'd have been able to pay her back for all her kindness, kindness she gave me not for her own benefit, but just because she was a great person.
I wish I'd have been able to convince her that there was one person who wanted her here in this beautiful world.