Remembering a friend

Memories have way of coming to surface


Photo by Sydney Steed

Story by Olivia Corbett, staff writer

It’s funny how coincidences seem to work their way down into your psyche and drag up hazy memories that you’d forgotten you possesed. You hold them down under the water until they stop thrashing about in your conscious thoughts, and then you simply let them slip away, hoping that they’ll rot into nothingness on the bottom. But coincidences manage to pull them back up to the surface, mewling like a newborn as though they’d been there the whole time. Because they have only been sleeping. They haven’t died.

I was at the Wal-Mart checkout counter when tenuous memory slipped its way back into my active mind, twining itself in and out of lazy loops and circles. A warm hand had clamped itself on my shoulder, and I turned to see a face that had been absent in my life for more years than I had bothered to count, grinning like a Cheshire cat. I hugged the woman, too shocked to protest, and struggled to mask my surprise with a lopsided smile of my own. I could hear serpentine recollection hissing in my ear: It’s Amanda. This is her aunt, remember?

It wasn’t until coincidence slithered in that I really began to listen.

“Gracie is in second grade now.”

Remembrance began to reverberate throughout my skull in wicked whispers, so intense that they could have been screaming.

Gracie was the baby. You were in second grade when this happened. It’s been eight years, and now she’s just as old as Amber was when she lost everything.

Laying in my bed, just minutes later, I watched the shadows thrown by the fan blades slap the walls, trying in vain to dam up the flimsy divider between consciousness and my subconscious. But memory had flooded my mind already and had begun to leak out in its desperate attempt to force itself forward, leaving briny tracks in its wake. It was clear that my consent, if I gave it, would be little more than irrelevant luxury.

With a sigh of resignation, I let the days play out in my head like a flipbook with a few pages missing, recounting, more than anything, odd snippets of dialogue and stale but intense emotions.


I had been on my way to lunch at school. Self-importantly annoyed by my friend’s absence. My parents were waiting in the lunchroom.


They only ever came to eat with me on special occasions.


I was tired of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Change would be nice.


My mother’s face was weary. Something was wrong.

Dull shock.

“Do you know what happened to Amber?”

Missing words.

“Her father went crazy. We saw it on the news. He killed Miss Melissa. . .He also shot Amber’s aunt in the arm and tried to shoot Amber before he killed himself. Gracie wasn’t his.”

It took until that evening for the words to really sink in, and it was a long time before I saw Amber again.

I was the only one of her classmates that attended her mother’s funeral.

Eventually, when her therapist decided that it would be best, Amber came back to school.

She sat in the same seat, in the same classroom, with the same cinder block walls and stained carpet, did the same work, and listened to the same teacher. But she was a different person. Always bubbly and full of inexhaustible energy, she now sat silently, sluggishly, with her head down and her shoulders hunched and an expression that was unrecognizable. Though I stayed dutifully at her side, I couldn’t look at her anymore without feeling frightened by the vacancy that stared back at me. There was nothing in her eyes anymore.

Sometimes she showed up and left before school ended. Other times, she didn’t show up at all for days at a time.

One day, I realized that the light behind her eyes had finally come back on. But it wasn’t in a shade that I recognized. She would bully the aunt who had been there with her. The aunt who had watched her sister drop to the ground. The aunt whose life had flashed before her eyes at the bang of a gun held in the grasp of a man descended into madness. The aunt who may not have always been quite right. The aunt who looked at me with wordless thanks for caring about her niece.

Amber’s personality had changed completely.

She was different.

She was someone I didn’t know.

It would be a full year before I would recognize her again.

Amber and Gracie now live with their matrilineal grandmother, who they call Mom. They live in a different town in a different state and have different friends. The nightmares don’t come as often. The therapy has stopped.

It makes Amber feel almost normal.

But with every coincidence, the scabs are ripped away and the scars are sliced open.

Memory comes floating back.