The Worst Year of My Life

You see the title. You're thinking, it's about 2020. That's been the worst year for everyone. No, not me. My worst year was 2019. One sunny day in 2018, I got off the school bus. I walked through the double doors of my middle school. It was my normal routine. I would go to English class, I would sit next to my friends, it would be...normal. I was walking up the stairs when one of my friends ran up next to me. I'd known her since kindergarten, we'd grown distant ever since we got to a new school. She tapped my shoulder, she said to me, "Hey, did you hear? Maddie got diagnosed with cancer." Maddie was one of my best friend's little sisters. I'd known her since she was 6, maybe even younger. This news was a punch in my gut. Not even that. It was like getting hit by a train. As all children do, I still had hope. That's what keeps us going. Hope. It's why kids can recover more easily from disease and injury than adults can. We believe. My naïve mind was not able to comprehend that, a little more than a year later, I would be at her funeral. I saw her go from a bubbly child who loved to play soccer and practice gymnastics to a kid who rarely left her room. I went to their house for a project once. I remember seeing this girl sitting at the kitchen island doing her homework. I remember thinking, what happened? I believe this was also the moment in which any meager belief I had in God finally disappeared. How could any higher being do this to a child? Give a child rhabdomyosarcoma? An extremely rare disease, I saw it destroy her. We had to leave school early for the funeral. We, being our small class of 5. We left our seats in Spanish, we walked down the stairs, we left the building with our bags around our shoulders, and got in our parents' cars. I vowed to myself not to cry. I hadn't seen her in awhile. We hadn't been best friends in the first place. The church was only a mile or so down the road from our school. Purple balloons floated above the sign. Purple was her favorite color. I was wearing my dress with a white top and a black skirt. I couldn't fit into it now if I tried. We walked inside. A long line around the space, winding around the pews. And at the front, an open coffin. Gods, I even cry now thinking about it. I saw so many people I recognized, some whom I hadn't even realized knew her. I saw my school principal. I saw my teachers from elementary school. A few assorted people from school whom I hadn't realized would leave for this. The line grew shorter, I got closer to the front of the church. And then I was at the front. Staring down at her pale face. Holding a teddy bear. And I broke my promise. I didn't deserve to be crying, either. I hadn't lost a sister, a daughter, a cousin, a grandchild. I wish emotions worked that way. My star sign is the crab. I've always been too emotional for my own good. I kneeled down in front of the coffin. And when I had finished my words to her, I continued in the line. I hugged her dad. I hugged her mom. I hugged my best friend. And I kneeled down to hug her little sister. And as if my emotions hadn't already gotten the better of me, I had to sit back down and listen to the eulogy. Her father had given it. Her mom had tried, but couldn't go on. He talked about seeing her golden ponytail flying in the wind as she played soccer. That broke me down even more. Maybe it was selfish of me to wish it would end already. It almost definitely was. She was only eleven. She was in fifth grade. And her life was cut decades short. Maybe that was the beginning, the first seedling planted of my greatest fear: death itself. Life is too short. Spend time with your family and your friends. We don't have time to waste. Ever since that moment, I've wondered. When will my time come? I can't bear to die young. I certainly can't bear to die alone, or in a hospital bed with a breathing tube and an Ecmo machine. I will never forget my first funeral. My first time knowing someone one minute, and seeing them dead the next. I cherish life, at least, I try to. I say "I love you" to my parents whenever they leave the house, or whenever I hang up the phone on them, because I can't handle them dying without those being my last words to them. The worst year of my life was the year that a part of me died, along with Maddie.

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