Friends and More Friends

So I went to lunch with one of my very best friends, Lisa, last week at Bottega. Incredible food, incredible atmosphere, incredible company. I think I promised you pictures. Yeah…that didn’t happen. I know, I know! How dumb of us not to just have someone snap a picture with one of our phones. But that’s us. Mutt and Jeff don’t always think. Aaaaand, there are certainly no pics of any food since I inhaled it before I could even see what it looked like! But rest assured. My tomato risotto with lamb shank was UNbelievable (and I totally meant to capitalize the UN in that word!).

I did, however take the time to research these little beauties. They served our sparkling (well, I got sparkling, Lis got still) water in them and they were not only adorable, but kept our water FRIGID! And so, I want them. At $100 for 4, I will not get them, but I want them.

If you are my friend on facebook, you will note that I posted about my friend Michelle’s birthday yesterday. You will also have been made aware that she died almost 23 years ago. I am going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to tell people, via my writing, about my friend Michelle. Please be forewarned that this isn’t a pretty story. It’s sad and tragic and angering. But it is part of who I am. It is part of the fabric of my being, so to speak.

Michelle was the very first friend I ever made. My aunt lived next door to her family’s home on good ol’ Hackamore Drive from the time I was born. We met when we were 2 and started Kindergarten together when we were 5. We were not inseparable. We were not what kids call now “BFFs” or “besties.” We just were. Every day after school until were in 4th or 5th grade (when girl drama started), we hung out, did homework, and simply acted like little girls. We played dress up a lot, we ate a lot of homemade creations that our parents surely wouldn’t have approved of, and we honestly were just kids.

When we were in 7th grade, Michelle’s mother (who is Korean…keep that in mind, it will be useful later) legally separated from her dad (who was white…just hold on to that). It was shocking to all of us. Michelle and her brother moved with their mom, Sherrie, to a little apartment not far from the house they grew up in. Her dad, Thomas (Tom for short, hold on to that one too) stayed in the house and had them every other weekend. I still saw her a lot, but not like before. Plus, we each had different groups of friends now that we were in junior high. We fought and we strayed, but we always ended up together somehow. 

That year (1989), Michelle turned 13 on January 23rd. I wasn’t invited to her birthday party because we were arguing and she had a pretty solid group of new friends that I didn’t quite fit into. I don’t tell you this for pity. I tell you this so as not to romanticize our friendship and make it something it simply wasn’t. That’s just part of who I am and how I need to tell my story. But we did “make up” a couple days later. No words were said about the party, neither one of us cared that much anymore. But we decided to microwave marshmallows at her house and hang out just to be together. Weird memory, I know. But it’s what I got.

6 days after Michelle turned 13, another neighborhood mom picked my cousin (who lived next door to Michelle) and I up from school, which wasn’t weird. We had an incredible network of families that grew up together. Some of them went back 2 or 3 generations. When she pulled up to my aunt’s house, we noticed yellow crime scene tape around Michelle’s house. I thought her mom must have started another grease fire (she had done that before) and maybe someone got hurt this time. I was 12 and very, very naive. Nothing bad had ever happened in my life thus far. I didn’t even remember that her mom didn’t live there anymore.

We walked into my aunt’s house and my parents were there (weird, because they both worked full time and NEVER had days off like this) and some other neighbors were there (again, weird). They were all staring at me and some started crying when I walked in. My aunt decided not to beat around the bush. “Michelle, Tom and Tom Jr. are dead.” That was it. Dead. Not “hurt,” not “they’ve passed away.” Dead. I asked no questions, but my aunt just said, “Tom killed them.” My cousin Michael turned left and walked to his bedroom. I looked at my parents and turned around to walk out the door. No more words were spoken. My parents just followed me out and we drove away. I was in the back seat and turned around to see some police cars leaving the house. I don’t know how I didn’t notice them before.

I asked my dad (who was a cop in our city) what happened and he started to cry. He told me that it looked like Tom had shot Michelle and Tom Jr. while they slept and then shot himself. He left hundreds of notes all throughout the house. He also left one on the outside of the front door telling Sherrie not to come in, just to call 911. She didn’t. She saw her children and the father of her children dead. I don’t know if she called 911 from inside the house, but she called.

The next weeks were filled with memorial services and the funeral. It’s all a blurry memory now. I do remember that her mom was like a zombie at the funeral, completely sedated. I couldn’t understand why she would do that. Now that I have my own children, I understand. A small group of friends met with Sherrie for 2 years on the anniversary of Michelle’s death. She gave us each some mementos of Michelle’s and we watched a video made the Christmas before Michelle died that had her dad obviously edited out.

Those days were the most physically and emotionally painful days I had had in my young years. I cried so hard, my eyes swelled near shut and my chest hurt. I couldn’t sleep for days. My mom held me so close, I thought I would suffocate. Now that I’m a mom, I get it. I’ve visited her grave every year during the week between her birthday and the anniversary of her death. I’ll be going in 2 days again.Sometimes my mom has come with me and just made sure I didn’t fall apart even more than I have already. Sometimes, Lisa and I go. Sometimes I go alone.

9 years later after Michelle died, I married a half Korean, half Irish man whose father’s name was Thomas. I don’t believe in serendipity or coincidence or fate…just that that’s who God chose for me. The first time we visited Corey’s (my husband) dad’s grave, I told him Michelle’s dad was buried at the same cemetery and that the only time I had been there was when I was 16 and drove there by myself to spit on his grave. I’m not proud of that, but keep in mind I was 16. He told me (didn’t ask if I wanted to or merely suggest) to go into the office and find out where Michelle’s dad was buried. He made me find the grave, stand there and look at the headstone. I didn’t cry, I didn’t talk. I just stood there. And cursed at Corey out loud. 2 years later, as I held my infant son in my arms, we visited Corey’s dad’s grave and silently made our way down to Michelle’s dad’s grave. I didn’t have any flowers or balloons. Just words. I held my son, whose middle name is Thomas after Corey’s dad, and whispered through tears, “I forgive you.” I was not the only person he stole from by killing Michelle, but I had spent so much time being angry and hurt that it was time to let go and just grieve my friend’s death, without the sting of anger. Then we left and Corey told me that forgiving someone isn’t for the other person. It’s for us.

So yesterday I told my almost 12-year-old whose middle name is Thomas about my Michelle. He was so sad for his mama. But now he knows a little of my life before he came along that played such a key role in making me who I am. For better or worse, he knows. Next year on Michelle’s birthday, he will be one month younger than I was when she died. My mother’s heart never wants my sons to feel that pain, even though I know pain and hurt and anger and disappointment are all inevitable parts of life that they will encounter. But I have someone now that I didn’t have then. I have God. I have a heavenly Father who will never hurt me like earthly fathers can and do. I have a Father who reminds me of the value of forgiveness…not for others, but for us. And I can draw near to Him when my children need me to be strong. And that is what I will do.



5 thoughts on “Friends and More Friends

  1. Danielle,

    God has a plan for each of us. He is our rock and so is your husband. I am happy to read that you have such a wonderful friend Lisa that you can confide in and go through the ins and outs of losing someone so special.

  2. I have chills and tears running down my face right now. I don’t think I’ve ever written or told my whole story of that event the way you did in this blog. Amazing, reflecting now on that experience as a 12 year old. I did the same as you and Mike…walked away silently. Then I say in my room with no lights on until after midnight, looking out the window. Thank you for sharing and reminding us. I still think of Michelle all the time.

  3. I knew Michelle’s brother, Tom. While it wasn’t my first experience with death, it was the hardest because it was someone my own age. It was a very sad time at school and I hope it’s something that my children never have to deal with at such a young age. Next time you visit Michelle will you ask her to tell Tom that his old friend from high school says hi. Hugs to you!

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