It’s 1:00 a.m. on April 16th, 2017. An hour ago I turned twenty years old, but if we’re being statistically correct, I’ll officially be twenty in another four hours and fifty-three minutes. I’m sitting in bed scrolling through news articles and finishing some last-minute homework assignments, because school stops for no one, not even a freshly brewed twenty-year old. Besides, I feel like I’ve been 20 for a while now, it’s the first birthday where I don’t feel different, but rather frustrated that I’m not a year older so I can indulge in a glass of wine with my parents over a dinner that I for once don’t need to pay for as a college student. Being twenty is, inherently, inconsequential.
I get a notification from Facebook. I open the app to see an old post of my best friend, Sophie, wishing me a happy birthday with a sweet caption alongside a decade-old photo of us and another dear friend, Danielle.
The photo instantly makes me smile. We are standing in the living room of Sophie’s childhood home, couches pushed up against the walls to give the widest possible room so we three rambunctious pre-teens and classmates could set a stage, sunlight beaming in through the wraparound windows to provide the perfect setting. Better lighting couldn't be found in modern newsrooms or Hollywood sets. Our stage had it made, au natural at that.
I pose on the left in complete character, a belt tied around my head to complete the costume of some character I now forget, smiling through a mouthful of metal. On my right stands Sophie, perfectly perched on one leg, her nimble arms outstretched in a moment of meditation as Danielle, so excited to be featured on some sort of film (in this case, a digital camera) that her body is a blur in the motion it took for her to toss her hair back.
In this frame stand three best friends smiling in innocence and childhood friendship, the warm Hawaiian sunlight sets the stage for our play, the full video version remaining another digital file lost somewhere in a hard drive thousands of miles away.
Our plays in Sophie’s living room were always a wonder. Our improvisation games, inspired by Whose Line is it Anyway, turned into a competitive sport between the three of us, and the passion exuded in the hours we spent performing probably rivaled—if not paralleled—the performances of The Greats: Wayne Brady, Colin Mochrie and Ryan Styles. Whenever the stage was set, so was the video camera.
I later re-watched myself in several of these videos create and direct the plays that Sophie and Danielle would dance to. Several times, at the protest of Sophie’s parents, she and Danielle would leap from one couch to another with the grace of gazelles, soaring through the air and landing perfectly on the opposite couch at the opposite wall, never breaking so much as a fingernail.
How appropriate, that Sophie would become a valued member of the Kamehameha Dance Company, performing at the Hawaii Theater every December for five consecutive years. How fitting, that Danielle would travel the world as a seasoned ice skater, collecting awards and securing a spot as a student in UC Irvine. How wonderful, that I got to live out my childhood dream by setting stages and directing film projects as a broadcast student.
The three little musketeers grew up and in some ways, grew apart. I didn’t talk to Sophie or Danielle on a daily basis once college started, but I never stopped watching in awe as I saw their successes sprawl out over my social media feed as the years passed.
Sophie’s living room stage lost its luster once we grew up.
The last I’d seen it, the once-white walls were now faded, the couches collected a layer of dust due to the lack of audiences, leaving indentations in the carpet beneath them, having never been pushed aside for years. It’s perpetually night outside, since the weeds have grown higher than the windows and hence blocked any sunlight from setting our stage.
The days have grown darker, the weeds have grown stronger, and we grew up.
In the decade since the photo was taken, I’ve been diagnosed with a plethora of mental health issues that have all but stripped me of my ability and motivation to call shots and strike sets. Sophie has strung up her dancing shoes as a result of fibromyalgia, although I’m not sure what pain was worse for her: the pain in her knees as her bones weakened with each step or the pain in her heart that leaked out of her eyes as she stepped away from the sport that gave her so much joy. Danielle eventually took her adventurous spirit on a road trip to Arizona, but was killed in a car crash on her way home.
I remember first getting Sophie’s message on Father’s day, just over two months after I turned nineteen. I immediately scoured my hard drives and photo albums looking for our old pictures together, looking for some part of my friend to hold onto before it sunk in that she would not be posing for another picture again.
I never found any that day.
A month later I took a plane back to San Diego to start another semester at school, and I had a layover in Phoenix, Arizona. The sun was just setting as my flight neared the airport, and I looked out the window and down at the winding highways and streets below me as another day came to a close.
Danielle was on one of these roads, and then she wasn’t. I remember looking out helplessly, searching for the specific road she was on, but all I saw were cars, vans, trucks and RV’s calmly driving by, possibly driving past the same spot where Danielle died, where Danielle would never be able to drive past again. I watched on as cars cluelessly kept driving, their drivers never even noticing their luck in living.
For some reason I left Arizona, alive, but even after not seeing Danielle since that picture, I questioned why I was allowed to. My struggle with depression and stress had reached such a peak and driven my sanity to such a low point that I actively believed—willed it, even—that it would be better and make more sense had I been in that car and not Danielle.
Fast-forward another eight months. I’m sitting in a dark dorm room, officially twenty years old, an age I briefly considered inconsequential before thinking back to Danielle.
Twenty is suddenly more attractive. For whatever reason I was awarded this year, it’s still another year without Danielle. Another year she’ll never get to see.
And yet, this old photo pops up on my Memories tab in Facebook. The days I spent bitter over my inability to find one photo of one of my first friends coupled with my inability to cope with being alive reminds me that time is a luxury afforded to few, even the closest friends.