“i wish i could do better by you.”   —city and color

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post. I wanted to write it immediately, the day of, but I was too emotional and I couldn’t make the words that I wanted to make. Even now, I’m not really sure how I want to say this, or even what it is that I want to say, exactly. I have this feeling that there’s something… something that needs to be said, something that needs to come out… I just don’t know what it is.

This is going to be a long one.

So last week (has it really been a week? Time, lately, feels fast and slow at the same time. I can’t believe it’s been a week so quickly but at the same time each hour minute second has dragged on excruciatingly slowly, so it’s like, it’s only been a week? it felt longer)… right, so last week, on Thursday morning, my mom told me to pray for my sister’s roommate (H) and her family, because her 19 year old sister had died that morning. It was completely out of nowhere, and it seems so far removed from me, but somehow I was instantly transported back to last May: me, Brian, and Yoona, driving down the highway through Arizona, still on that post-event high, moods buoyed by the thought that we had just spoken to a group of high schoolers about something really important and that they had cared and that we were contributing to the overall good of the world in our own little way. We had ignored, I think, one or two calls from our managers by that point, because we had been presenting. I don’t remember all the little details. We might have listened to a message on someone’s phone or maybe we called back, I don’t know. Somehow it was agreed that, since we were in the middle of nowhere, Arizona, we would get to somewhere with a good internet connection and call them back. There was a thing with a quick pitstop we decided to make (we saw signs for an ostrich petting zoo and couldn’t NOT stop) and an hour later we were back on the road, happy (happy doesn’t even cover it) to had another completely random, and insanely great tour experience. I just remember being insanely happy that day. It was the last week of tour, we were finally done booking, we had a couple more events we were really looking forward to before reuniting with everyone back in LA.

That was probably the most painful part about everything. The thought that everyone was supposed to be together again later that week. Just a few days and we were supposed to see everyone.

Our manager called us again, but of course, thanks to our impromptu petting zoo adventure, we weren’t really near anything. Then Justin piped up and asked if there was anywhere we could at least stop, because they didn’t want us driving while they told us. Yoona and I looked at each other. Justin was always in the office, but he was usually busy with important Vice President-y stuff. He didn’t usually join in on Chi’s calls to us. I pointed to a sign announcing a gas station nearby, saying we might as well go there. I had to go to the bathroom, anyway. We exited the highway and pulled over at a gas station. I think we were expecting them to tell us something good or exciting. We had a successful mission, we broke some kind of tour record…

“Today is the darkest day in LiNK history,” Justin began. Yoona and I looked at each other. Something about the general euphoria of the day made it harder for me to take him seriously. He kept talking, and he sounded serious, and sad, but I thought it was a joke. I really, really thought it was a joke. I kept half smiling, looking at Yoona and Brian thinking “When’s he going to tell us why they really called?” and kind of wondering when he was going to say just kidding! and everyone would laugh. He was talking about an accident, one of the other teams, that we lost them. It didn’t register right away. I stupidly kept waiting for that Gotcha! moment, suddenly desperately hoping that it was a joke, a really, really bad joke. But then he was saying that we had lost the Heartland nomads and that the rest of tour was cancelled and that we should find somewhere to stay for the night and head back in the morning, that they were taking care of everything. Working with the police to figure out what happened, exactly, talking to the families, calling our remaining venues and explaining to them that something tragic had happened and that the nomads wouldn’t be able to come, after all.

The next two days felt unreal… from the merciless, unnerving quiet of the remainder of that first day, to having to be the first one to drive the next morning, on our way back to the intern house, to being overcome with tears and sorrow as we crossed the state line and were once again in California and feeling like everything in the world was wrong because we weren’t supposed to cross that line for another two days and we were supposed to cross it knowing that everyone would be waiting for us at home.. pulling up to the intern house, realizing we were the first team back and wanting to run away, reuniting with the interns and sitting in the house waiting for each team, every team but one to come back… It didn’t feel like it was real. I kept wondering if it was really happening, kept waiting, even days later, for Justin and Chi and Chelsea to call us and say “Just kidding, guys!” kept waiting for the last van to pull in through the gate, kept waiting for Karolina with her big smiles, Shane with his bad jokes, Calvin with his easy laugh… kept waiting and waiting and waiting

I got a few more details about H’s sister as the day went on. She had been in pain, she went to student health… at some point she took pain killers, she called her parents, they went to get her… very late at night or very early hours of the morning, they lost her. We learned more in the next few days. Internal bleeding, multiple organ failure. I saw a post on reddit about an ER doctor going outside after losing a 19 year old patient and the coincidence of the situation and especially the time it had been posted haunted me.

I feel kind of selfish? This isn’t about me. This is about H and her family. This is about my sister and her roommate, who is hurting. This is not about me. And yet, all I can think of is how sudden H’s sister left, and how much it reminds me of my friends. This isn’t about me yet I spent last Thursday and much of Friday feeling subdued, remembering my loss. This isn’t about me. This isn’t about me. This is not about me, and yet…

On May 5, 2014 I lost three amazing, incredible, irreplaceable friends. Sometimes I think that after people die, everyone who is left attributes all this good to them, whether it was there or not, like we all want to remember them better than they were, as idealized versions of their realities. But that wasn’t the case for those three. They really were incredible, the epitome of good in the world. I swear it. I’ve never known anyone as sweet and genuine and unfailingly positive as Karolina Mora. I’ve never met anyone as effortlessly cool and real and unafraid to be 100% himself 100% of the time as Calvin Voneravong. And even though we didn’t always get along, I’ve never known anyone able to joke about everything but still somehow be completely serious and genuine as Shane Wagers. They were really special people. They each had so much to offer the world. In the grand scheme of things, the five months I knew them wasn’t very much, though it was enough that I can say I’m lucky to have known them, and a better person because of it. I don’t know if I would’ve gotten through training without Karo and Calvin. They were always there, and if not for the conversations I had with them on some of my lowest days, I might have actually taken my family’s offer to just come home.

There are some days that I forget what happened. It’s the furthest thing from my mind and I don’t spare a single thought for three souls whose lives were taken too soon. And then there are days where something reminds me—a photo on facebook that pops up on my newsfeed, certain songs that now hold more meaning for me, the broken strands of a hemp cord bracelet on my desk—and it all comes back and I can’t believe that I forgot for even a second. And I feel guilty, partially for forgetting but also because I still have a life and they don’t and why should I get to live instead of them because if I’m honest any of them would have probably done a hell of a lot more with the last ten and a half months than I have so how is it fair that I’m still here and their lives are already done?

Endings. I hate endings. It’s weird and sad to think that one day someone is there and they’re facetiming with their family or sending silly snapchats to their friends and then the next day they just aren’t there anymore. Everything stops, but really nothing does because the world keeps spinning without them. The pain from losing my friends, the pain from losing my baby brother… I wish there was something that I could do so that no one else had to ever feel that way.

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