Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Happy Birthday Jaycena

Today marks 21 years from the day I became an Aunt.  When Jaycena was born I did not have a lot of experience with kids.  I had been the last child in my family, and never had little brothers and sisters to boss around or look out for.  I was away at University and so she was a few weeks old when I got to meet her.  She had big eyes and a lopsided grin, and already hated it when her mother tried to style the little bit of hair that she did have.  It took many many years, but she eventually developed a fondness for the curling iron, much like her mother, that I would have never expected in those early days.  She was really the first baby I ever really got to spend time with, other than a few babysitting attempts that ended with the parents of the kids gently explaining how I had put the diapers on backwards on their children in the few hours that they were out.  I was just barely out of high school when she was born, and so I grew up alongside her, both as aunt and adult.  The very first time I had her all to myself I snuggled her into my arms in a way I could look her in the eye, and I instantly loved her more than I had ever understood could be possible.  I knew everyone in our family felt the same way, and everyone else lived closer to home and could see her virtually whenever they wanted to.  The only ace up my sleeve was this.  I looked at her big baby eyes and told her that pretty much everyone else was married or had significant others, but I wasn't, so I maybe I would love her more than anybody else.  It was a stupid thought.  Life and love don't work that way, there is always room for more love and that never takes away from any other love, as I found out as I started accumulating more nieces and nephews.  I know each person in our family loved her to an indescribable depth.  But maybe she understood what I meant, because she always made me feel 100% loved as well.  I know each member of our family  formed unique and special bonds with this little person who showed up and changed everything forever.
As she learned to toddle around and talk, she lit up the room.  Grandpa was so happy to have the TV room to himself after all of his kids finally moved out that he went to the city and bought some behemoth TV (seriously, I think it's 70 inches or something).  In no time, it became like a Roman amphitheatre for 2 year old Jaycena, standing there staring up at Barney, the giant purple dinosaur.  She loved TV.  She would ask to hit play over and over, and to this day I still know the words to some of the Barney songs.  (And the bird in the egg, and the egg in the nest, and the nest on the branch, and the branch on the tree, and the tree in the hole, and the hole in the dirt, and the dirt on the ground, and the green grass grows all around all around, and the green grass grows all around).

Jaycena brought our close family closer.  Grandparents and Uncles would drive out to visit if her parents had not been out enough that week.  It was not uncommon for them to see each other 3 or 4 times a week even though they lived 45 minutes apart.  She was a flower girl when my oldest brother got married, gingerly stepping down the aisle with her stuffed bunny under one arm as she never let that thing out of her sight.  When her little brother was born, she watched over him carefully, as she did with all other children.  Other kids and younger kids were always drawn to her.  She would always be the careful one, somehow coordinating all of the fun, and she could always be trusted to not get in trouble.  I remember trying to cross the street at the crosswalk in the city with her once and she let out a shriek and refused to go.  With big toddler eyes she looked up and said "Mom says I must never go onto the road."  I explained how this was a crosswalk and we were allowed, and that the red means we cannot cross but the green man comes on we can go.  When it turned to green again after our chat, I stepped out into the road, her little hand in mine, expecting her to follow, but instead got a shriek...and was told again that "Mom says no."  In the end, I had to pick her up and run through the crosswalk, her shrieking in protest the whole way.  She would never do the wrong this, she just wasn't designed that way.

I have never seen such a responsible and wise young girl.  In a way, we were just used to her being a little wiser than her years.  Every once in a while when I was immersed in my life far away in the city I would get a phone call and hear a little voice on the other end asking me when I was coming home.  She would know exactly when my last trip was and when it had been too long.  "I don't know, when should I come home?"  And she would tell me that it was a long weekend in two weeks and she had an extra day off of school, and have made the plans in advance.  On one of those trips I was drove to my sister's to pick her up and was driving back with her to her Grandma's after dark.  Having not travelled the back roads for many years, I wasn't sure where the turn off was on the secondary gravel backroads -- it was a shortcut I was not used to.  I asked my little passenger if she knew which road went to Grandma's.  She peered out over the dashboard, and when I asked if maybe it was the next one she nodded.  We followed the road for about 10 miles and it ended in a dead end in a field.  She looked over and up at me, and I could see a little bit of panic rising as she said dramatically  "We're lost....and you're almost out of gas!!!"  Sure enough, the fuel light had gone on about a mile or two back and she had noticed.  "We're gonna dieeee!"  I laughed, and said we would just head back and it would be fine...but added "I thought you knew the road to Grandma's"  She shot me a look and wailed "I'M ONLY SEVEN YEARS OLD!"  Touche.  She just always seemed so aware, I sometimes forgot how little she was.

Was, I said.  You see, Jaycena was killed in a car accident on March 28, 2009.  Her friends Laramie and Brooke died with her.  Jaycena and Laramie were 16, Brooke was only 14.  As they turned off the main highway, a 17 year old boy who was speeding and driving on the wrong side of the highway marker took all three of them away from us.  Someone asked me once if I had forgiven him.  I stopped to think and replied that I had never had to concern myself with that, as he has never said he was sorry.  I think people assume that to be bitterness, but really, all of my emotions are spent on love and grief for the girls, there just isn't anything left to feel when it comes to the boy.

Jaycena, Laramie, and Brooke
Jaycena, Laramie, and Brooke had many things in common.  They were all exceptionally pretty girls.  They were all high spirited, all of them funny.  All three were in different schools, yet all three were known to be the one with the mischievous grin, the one with the most energy and spunk, all three had many friends.  Note that I say friends as opposed to popular.  While they were indeed popular, they seemed to know innately that friendship was more important than popularity, and they had each touched so, so many lives.

I often talk about Jaycena when she was quite little, but at 16 she was an incredible little lady.  Sometimes teased for never getting very tall, she had a huge personality.  The tributes given by her friends spoke volumes about who she was, and had always been.  Kind, smart, funny, genuine...the kind of friend who would hold your hand and help you face your fears.  The kind of personality a teacher knows is too big to easily contain in a classroom, but is also too positive to actually scold.  She was a girl who made things happen.  She loved animals.  She loved photography.  She taught me how to take a selfie, and it was her photos that inspired me to pick up a camera on my own and try to capture beauty as she did.  I could use endless words and never paint the picture clearly enough, never touch on he hundreds of stories I want to tell, and never articulate the possibilities she was denied.  And so I thought I would scatter pictures through the blog that she took, choreographed, or edited.  A glimpse of the talent she had.  A tiny sense of what has been taken.  All of these photos are hers.

The world would be a markedly different place if she were still here.  It would be a better place for everyone who ever knew her, for I know she is grieved very deeply by many people still.  I sometimes feel that we are all still connected -- be it that a piece of her lives on in our hearts, or that because so much of our hearts went where she went that we are connected with something barely tangible, but very real.  And so I feel that she knows we are celebrating her birthday today still.

It marked the beginning of the best of times.  It takes me back to a time when I didn't know there would be an end to the best of times.

Happy 21st Birthday in Heaven.  Still love you today, always, and forever </3

"Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of the heaven, blossomed the lovely stars,
the forget-me-nots of the angels."  -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow