I wrote an essay about my first real high school girlfriend that appeared in a Harlequin anthology called Crush last Spring. The essay was called What Good Is Sitting Alone In Your Room? and it was about a very wonderful and troubled girl, haunted by abuse and drug addiction and probably other things I wasn’t even aware of. After we broke up, she would occasionally reappear unexpectedly in my life for short periods, still wonderful, still deeply troubled. I always welcomed her, but she never stayed for long. She was a free spirit, wild and reckless, and I respected that. Eventually, I lost touch with her completely.
At the end of the essay, I wrote:
“I don’t want to give you the idea that I’m sad for Sally, or that I pity her in some way. That would demean her and what she stands for. You see, I was wrong about her not having inner strength. She chose her path and never wavered from it. And she has paid a hard price for that. The truth is, she is the type of person who brings forth so much of this world’s fierce, flawed beauty. I know my life would have been much more drab without her. And for that, she doesn’t deserve pity. She deserves gratitude.”
Her real name wasn’t Sally. I changed it because I felt that when you talk about someone who becomes a stripper and drug addict, you should ask them if it’s okay before you use their real name in public. And since I didn’t know how to contact her, I couldn’t ask her.
Now it doesn’t matter. Her real name was Meghan Smith and I recently found out that she died of a drug overdose eight years ago, at the age of 27.
I’m not sure now if I agree with the ending I wrote in that essay. I don’t know if I can still find any gratitude knowing that her choices cost her life. The truth is, now I am sad. I’m sad for her. I’m sad for her family. I’m sad for those of us who loved her and tried to help her and failed for whatever reason.
I believe that those we are privileged to love, we never stop loving, no matter what. Every person I have loved fully, deeply, still occupies a small part of my heart and always will. Sometimes it feels more like a burden than a blessing. But here is my hope:
When your heart breaks, it heals. And when it heals, it scars. That scar tissue is perhaps not the most attractive thing. But it makes your heart a little bigger each time. And some day, my friends, some day our hearts will be gigantic.