Wednesday, July 28, 2004

what to say

I am frozen with emotion right now. What do you say to a parent who has just lost a child? How do you console a neighbor who just lost a friend? Who do you call to console when everyone around you hurts?

When my mother remarried, she moved me out of the city and into a tiny rural canyon in Orange County. Next to the National Forest, it's a sleepy town with little more than a few houses and the occassional trailer home. The center of town (8 miles down a windy road) is comprised of a small general store, a one-room public library, an even smaller post office and a restaurant that is eternally changing ownership and closed for remodelling. I never took to "canyon life" and couldn't wait to escape to the "city" at every opportunity. Immediately after high school, I took an apartment in an urban area and never looked back. I always felt differently, because I was always a city girl at heart, who was just living in the wrong place for a while. The other kids in the canyon have a totally different challenge. They grew up in the creek beds and dusty mining trails of the canyon and don't know anything of the "big city" and most of them are faced with a disturbing surprise upon entering high school and being bussed to Orange. So many hit the ground running, trying always to catch up... drinking and drugs, sex and violence... trying to experience it all as fast as possible, in an attempt to disguise the fact that they are "canyon people" - the red necks of Orange County. Jamie was just such a girl.

Jamie was our urchin child. Always running through the canyon in bare feet. Ponytail askew, frizzled and twisted like she'd been sweeping the sidewalk with it. She was the girl with a lizard in her grimy fist or a tadpole in a bottle. After her mother left and her father moved next door to us, she became my second little sister. She and Shaina were inseparable. If she didn't sleep over at our house, she'd arrive early in the morning. It became such a routine, that my mother didn't even blink and tossed both little girls into the tub at 7am and shampooed everyone at once. After bathing and brushing, my mother would dress the two alike. Whenever we'd shop for Shaina, my mom would drape 2 of everything over her arm... the two tiny blonde babies would skitter about the neighborhood, up a tree, over the creek, down a trail in matching pink baby doll dresses with daisy trim.

As they grew older, Jamie was always the instigator. Living alone with her dad allowed her more freedom that my own sister. The two would sneak off to smoke cigarettes swiped from their dads, test out red lipstick, and crank call boys.

Last night, Jamie stopped as my brother rode by on his bike. Always one to lend a kind word to the "little kids" who were looking up to the older, cooler kids, she stopped and chatted. Complimented his bike, asked about his trip to Disneyland. He rode his bike along side her as she walked to her house, and saw her off safely.

News came early this morning. Jamie never woke up this morning, an apparent overdose. The whole neighborhood is in mourning. Every twisted canyon road is lined with neighbors hugging and crying. The small town has come out, all 200 inhabitants, to share their grief and mourn the loss of another small town girl running to fast to try and catch up with the big city.

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