I would've asked her to our unit's military ball that year, if not for having already made arrangements. Even so, I was torn. I certainly had feelings for my actual date, but Megan's personality, her sarcastic yet excited nature drew me to her, and I quickly learned she had a unique take on almost everything. In the back of my mind, though, I knew eventually I would have to make a choice.
That decision came, unfortunately, right in the middle of that military ball. Megan was visibly upset that I hadn't decided at the last minute to drop my date and take her, something I refused to do both because of my dichotomy of feelings and an unwillingness to stand someone up. Nevertheless, I, for all my youthful stupidity, thought I would be able to manage an evening with two girls both interested in me without any trouble. What I didn't count on was the mistletoe, and all the complications it would cause.
I found myself under it first with Megan, and a picture was snapped at that moment of the two of us in media res. It's probably one of very few of she and I together, and I'm working through a friend to get a copy of it now, and maybe one day I'll be able to post it. Regardless, when my date saw it, she was not pleased, to say the least. "Hey, man, I think your date's pretty mad--she was crying in the bathroom," says a friend. Uh oh.
Decision time, J.R. You've got two girls, you have feelings for both, but it's not fair to either to continue living in uncertainty. Who's it going to be?
I chose my date. I don't remember my words to either her or to Megan, and I don't remember all the circumstances that followed. I wish I could--I've wracked my brain trying to remember it all--but it's hazy. I know Megan didn't take it well, and I know either friends of hers or maybe even relatives approached me as I was leaving the ball to tell me what a sorry son-of-a-bitch I was. They didn't have to tell me; I already felt it.
But within a week or so, my ball date had become my girlfriend, and I put Megan out of mind and, in large part, out of sight. I maintained a casual friendship with her, but nothing meaningful. I'm haunted now by what she wrote to me that year in my yearbook:
J.R., I'm trying to think of something meaningful to say, but I can't think of anything. We've been through a lot this year, but we're friends now and I hope we stay friends all through high school. Keep in touch over the summer and I'll see you at camp. You have my number and E-mail. MeganI didn't follow through on her wish that we stay friends. That is the single greatest regret I carry with me in my life.
She left the JROTC program after her sophomore year, and I last had any meaningful face-to-face discussion with her around the same time. We had Latin I together, and from time to time we had a conversation or worked together on class work. I had also apologized to her for my lack of chivalry at the ball, and she had forgiven me. Of course, if I had known that those classes would be the beginning of the end, I would've said so much more.
From there, the story gets murky. By her sophomore year, she was already a little different from the girl I knew a year before. Her sarcasm was more pronounced, her cheerfulness a little more subdued. Her friends were obviously changing, and so were her interests and dress. I never saw these changes as an indication of trouble--we all do things like that, to one degree or another, in high school. Few people enroll as freshmen and leave as graduates with the same personality.
That's where my involvement in her story essentially ends. We didn't really maintain the friendship she'd hoped we would. I'm confident that if we had--if it had been a real friendship, rather than a simple friendly acquaintance--I would've been able to cut her drug use off before it came to addiction or dependency. I'm not the type to sit idly by and watch someone I care about destroy themselves.
But I had no idea she was a drug abuser--not until I received an instant message just after midnight on Saturday, 21 February 2004. Jeana IMed to tell me that two friends were involved with a drug situation. One was in the hospital, and "Megan is dead."
Dead? No, surely not. Am I reading this right? How can she be dead? Drugs? How?
Like all of us, I, too, had a million questions to ask. I've since found answers to some of them, but many others remained couched in ambiguity. I don't know what exactly led her to her fate, and the self-doubt and what-if scenarios are many.
Megan's been gone two months today, and it's so unfortunate that I feel her absence more than I felt her presence. Her loss is something that's affected me more than any other death--I've never lost a friend, much less one so young, to something so preventable. I'm overwhelmed with the unwavering certainty that this didn't have to happen, that just one person could've made a difference and saved her from an early grave. I've apologized to her so many times for failing to have been the one to make that difference.
I'm not sure if she "hears" me when I talk to her, or "sees" us here on Earth. I suppose I won't know for sure until my time comes. But if she does observe our world, then she knows the unbelievable sorrow and grief I carry, and knows how much I regret my failings with her. I just wish I could get a sign, something demonstrative of her understanding, her forgiveness.
IN MEMORIAM nostræ sororisque animæ dulcis MEGAN, mea amica, qui vixit septendecim annosque e vivis discessit XX Februarium MMIV. Cum omnibus bonis animis in pace in Christo quiescat intemporaliter.It's been two months, Megan, but I soldier on. The grief is heavy, the regrets are many, but the spirit is strong. I miss you.
In memory of our sister and of the sweet soul Megan, my friend, who lived seventeen years and departed from life 20 February 2004. May she rest in peace with all good souls in Christ forever.