Saturday, July 7, 2007

Soul Sister

"Her face was young but her eyes were old"

Sara Maureen McDevitt was not only a straight-A student at St. Matthew's Elementary School, but also the captain of her neighborhood soccer team. She played the flute beautifully and sometimes sang in the church choir. She was also an altar server, a crossing guard, and a much-sought-after babysitter.

This is the first time I have talked about her in 20 years.

Sara and I became best friends in the sixth grade, when labels like "best friend" held tremendous meaning. We would trade pin-ups from magazines like Tiger Beat and 16 in conversations like, "I’ll give you this Michael J. Fox for that Johnny Depp." We created our own book club, where we read a new book every week and then told each other what we liked about it. She gave me my first journal, a pink and purple paperback book decorated with teddy bears. The cover said My Diary. I wrote my first story in that journal.

Sara died when we were 12 years old.

It was July 1987, a few days before our friend Lindsay’s 12th birthday. Sara and I talked on the phone that morning about what gift to get her. We decided on a cute new blouse because Lindsay loved cute clothes. I wasn't allowed to take the bus by myself yet, but Sara was. So we decided she would go up to Towson to buy the blouse and I’d pay her back later.

That afternoon, as she got off the bus and started crossing the street to get to the shopping center, Sara was hit by a truck going 65 miles per hour in a 40-mile-per-hour zone. The force of impact threw her body 90 feet from where she was standing. Sara was killed instantly. The driver was never caught.

At Sara's wake, a bunch of us who were her friends huddled together in a corner of the funeral parlor. We whispered about whether Lindsay and Ed would get back together. We talked about this new thing called a compact disc that is supposed to be way cooler than cassette tapes. We were 12. We didn't even notice that it was a closed-casket viewing.

The funeral was held two days later. It was raining pretty hard and the funeral parlor handed out black umbrellas at the gravesite. Everyone shed tears but me. Even the girls who could only gossip at Sara’s wake cried inconsolably at her funeral. I laid flowers at her grave but I did not, could not cry. Only two weeks had passed since we were on the boardwalk at Ocean City, making goofy faces for the InstaFoto. If I had cried, it would've meant she is really dead.

The summer ended and I started seventh grade. Lindsay and Ed did get back together, but only until she started liking Michael. Adam and Peter were the first ones to get CD players. I got my first bra. I also got a new best friend named Kelly who wasn’t into Tiger Beat or 16 and wanted to spend more time at the mall than at the library. Life was happening without Sara.

Today, Sara sticks her tongue out at me from a fading InstaFoto. I can almost smell her coconut sunscreen. I imagine that if she had lived, I would have eventually convinced her to stop straightening her wildly gorgeous afro. She would have been the one to teach me how to apply mascara and pluck my eyebrows. Later, she would have pushed me to read my poetry at Louie’s CafĂ© on Open Mic Night. We would still go out for coffee whenever I am in town visiting my family. She might have become a superstar on the women’s soccer circuit or first chair flute on the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

But Sara is dead. She and I will never fight over a boy in the eighth grade, like Lindsay and I did. She will never go to a different high school than me and lose touch, like Kelly did. She will always be 12 years old and remain perfect in her possibility.

Sara will always be my first real muse. But she will never know that she was the first person to tell me, "You should write more. You're pretty good at it." She will never know how much that still means to me.

Sometimes we have the most to say about the people we never talk about.

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