I still think about who they were back then, and who they might have become if their lives hadn’t been taken from them. They were both sassy, fierce, beautiful girls. Girls nobody messed with. Girls that other girls viewed with a mixture of admiration and fear.
Time stopped for them the autumn of our senior year of high school. The rest of us marched forward into adulthood without them. In the four decades since they’ve been gone, we have grown up, raised families, and made livings. Most of us are grandparents today. Some of us are already retired. We will have our fortieth class reunion this summer. We will say their names.
We were changed as a class because we’d lost two classmates. We became kinder and more aware of how very fast everything can change. It was a brutal lesson to learn at seventeen. It is a lesson that, sadly, too many young people face before they graduate. Sometimes, it’s an accident that takes a life. Other times, it’s a suicide. For this generation, and with increasing frequency, it is a random shooting in a school.
Last weekend, I watched the television coverage of thousands upon thousands of teenagers holding signs, chanting slogans, and marching in cities throughout the U.S. and was struck with the realization that this generation of teenagers is both completely different and exactly the same as every generation that has preceded it when it comes to social protest. Teenagers are wired to be passionate. They are stubborn and idealistic and hard to get along with, generally. They say what’s on their minds. They are fearless.
And until they face the death of someone their age, they think they’re immortal, too.
I know we were all of those things. I know we thought that, too.
And then we lost friends, and were forever changed.