|Cheer pom poms and feet int e shape of a heart. Photo found here.|
Whenever I see a navy blue shirt, my mind wanders off…
I was 14 years old, awkward, confusing, all-changing 14! I was very shy and didn’t have a clue who I was or who I wanted to become… (Probably like most 14 year olds). I had decided, in 8th grade, to try out for cheerleader at my Jr. High. I was excited about the possibility of making new friends and coming out my shell a bit…this also scared me to death. There were tons of adorable, and talented girls my age who auditioned and I believe they narrowed it down to the top 12 or so (there were 6 spots on the squad, if I remember right). I made the first cut, but my partner (and now one of my bff’s) broke her hip during auditions, she was heartbroken, as was I. Little did I know, this was only the beginning of an experience that changed everything for me.
My sweet friend Kathie had to drop out, because, well, she broke her hip (ouch) and she was replaced by another young lady, Stacey I had gone to school with Stacey for many years but we didn’t know each other well. Stacey’s beautiful, she had this long black/dark brown hair and beautiful eyes, and was just the kind of girl everyone loved. I was slightly disappointed we were partnered up, because I didn’t know her well and I was already scared out of my mind. Because Stacey came in late she had to quickly get her campaign posters up, learn the audition routines and prepare a project for the audition process.
I remember helping her after school hang her posters in the halls. I recall one of the posters so distinctly, it said, “Get in the SPIRIT, vote of Stacey!” (The student body voted for the cheerleaders at our school). The poster had a little ghost on it; it was a cute little poster. After we hung her campaign posters we went to her house to work on the audition routines, we worked on the routines and cheers until the sun started to go down. That night, we did practice, but we also connected a little and I got to know Stacey a bit better.
We sat on her bed and she showed me some stuff in her room, I remember exactly what her room looked like and remember her being a big Utah Jazz fan; she had various Jazz memorabilia throughout the room. I also remember her having lots of pictures of her family and friends-she was really proud of them. At one point we were in her front yard, practicing cheers on the lawn. We sat down for a break. During that break she told me about her older sister and how she was a cheerleader at Granger High (a local high school). She loved her sister and clearly, wanted to be just like her. She told me her dream was to be a cheerleader at Granger like her sister and that’s why she was auditioning now, so she could be ready by high school. The last thing we did before I went home for the night was pick out our audition outfits. We were auditioning in pairs and were encouraged to wear clothes that looked nice together, because we would be filmed for the school to see. Stacey had this navy blue top that she brought out right away (our school colors were blue, white and gray). In my memory I can picture the shirt exactly. It was navy blue, short sleeves, had a turtle neck and what made of sweater-type material, not a fitness/cheerleader/workout shirt AT ALL. I remember thinking, that’s a weird shirt to pick, I think we may have even argued about it a bit, but Stacey insisted on wearing it. So we coupled it with some white shorts and we matched well the day of tryouts.
The night before auditions I had a horrible nightmare that haunts me a bit til this day. I feel I shouldn’t share my dream but I believe it helped prepare me for the day ahead…
It was the big day, the big audition day and we were all pretty nervous. After school we met in the gym where we would be filmed, one pair at a time, to be shown to the school. Stacey was SO quiet waiting for our turn, and I’m pretty sure I was freaking out inside as well. I don’t remember this time because I’m sure I was going through every arm and leg motion a billion time in my mind. It was our turn and we walked into the HUGE gym (I remember that it seemed gigantic). As we were on the side of the floor, waiting for our cue to go on, I could literally feel Stacey trembling behind me, she was just shaking and I could feel how nervous she was. I reached back and touched her arm and asked her if she was okay, she said she was fine. We went on the floor, camera’s rolling, and did our dance routine. I was intensely focused, trying to remember everything myself, but I could see out of the corner of my eye that Stacey was off, really, really off. It was like she forgot the entire routine, but I just kept moving, trying to focus but confused at her movement at the same time. We went into a kick and all of the sudden Stacey falls on me, almost knocking me over. I immediately kneeled down to talk to her, but I was really confused about what all just happened. One of the coached leaned over to her and said, “I think you fainted, sweetie.” A quick smile actually crossed my face, fainting I could handle! I remember asking her if she was okay, she replied, “Yes, I’m fine.” I held her hand, which I remember just being sweaty and shaky.
Suddenly the hand I was holding just went limp and at the same time her eyes rolled back. I could instantly sense panic in the air. The room became so dark and just like the movies, it sounded like everything I was hearing was jumbled and a mile away. “She’s not breathing”, “CPR”, “call 911,” “We need help!” “Stay with me!” “Hang on Stacey!” “Open your eyes!” “Come on, come on…”
I think at some point, one of the coaches was trying to pull me away from the situation. I remember feeling frozen and then suddenly I was against the gym wall. I sat there, in silence for what seemed like forever while they administered CPR and we waited for an ambulance. The ambulance finally arrived and the paramedics started frantically working on her… The whole time I felt like I was dreaming and my body no longer had any working muscles, it ceased to function and I was trapped in my own body.
After a short period of time (or million minutes in my mind), someone had called me mom, she got there about as fast as the ambulance did. She pulled me just outside the gym doors so I was out of that gym and not physically facing this new reality. I just remember sobbing and sobbing, not at all understanding what was happening. I remember being close enough to the ambulance that through a small gap, between my mom and another woman who were trying console me, I could see Stacey on the stretcher, for a split second. I was quickly taken inside to a different part of the building, away from all the chaos and all the events unfolding outside.
I remember sitting in that dark home economics room, under a set of shelves, in the fetal position in absolute silence. My mom was there and held me, that’s all I remember, I don’t remember feeling much, just numbness. A paramedic did come and talk to me about what happened and checked my vitals (for shock I suppose). I remember asking him to not lie to me and tell me if she was okay. He said she was going to be okay. I felt no relief in his statement, in fact I knew he was lying. I stayed in that quiet room for a while and it literally felt as though the world just stopped spinning.
At some point all of us who were there for auditions were taken to a bigger room to be de-briefed I suppose. I didn’t go into that room, I refused to walk in there. Being around all those people was more than I could even bare at that moment. I sat just outside the door, face in knees and tears streaming down my face. My French teacher, Donna came to my side and her and my mom took turns doing everything they could to calm me down. I’m sure they both felt so much pain themselves but were so attentive to me the whole time. I remember the tears just stopped at some point and the emptiness and darkness set in thick. I have no idea how long I sat there, but I do remember turning my head to see the cheer coach walking down the hall, toward the big room. I could tell the moment I saw her that everything was not okay like the paramedic assured me. I think I already knew this, but her face, the way she carried herself, the pain in her walk was all that needed to be shared.
In the big room she told everyone that Stacey had died on arrival to the hospital.
The room erupted into cries, yells and every other sound I hate now. I knew then and there that our world’s had changed. Our view on life would never be the same. As teenagers, we were experiencing one of the most earth-shattering, adult moments of our young lives. We would never see the world the same, or look at each other the same. Everything changed that day, we all suddenly had to grow up really quickly and had to learn how to cope with “adult” trials. We were 14, how in the world could we be experiencing the death our 14 year old friend? It wasn’t imaginable in any way!
It was a very, very painful time period in my life, and for all the girls and faculty that were at the school that day. A time when my body was changing, I was trying to discover myself, was attempting to figure out my own little personality, challenging certain beliefs and trying to locate life-long, lasting friendships. It was confusing already and this, well this, made these decisions seem so much more important, almost crucial.
Stacey had a hole in her heart. It’s hard to imagine that girl didn’t have a whole entire heart, but she didn’t and because of that she was gone early.
I worked hard for years after this to heal my own heart, although I didn’t have a literal hole in it, it felts like it had been ripped out of my body, re-shaped, put back in and now it beated differently.
That night before Stacey died, when we sat outside her house talking about our dreams for the future, I remember feeling so scared and overwhelmed about life. But not Stacey, Stacey seemed calm and excited about the future, she seemed hopeful and even joyous about it. Stacey simply said she wanted to be a high school cheerleader and a mom, those where her two goals and I sensed our dreams were similar. I think about her often and reflect on this particular day, and time in my life, quite frequently. It was what my husband calls, “a life changer” year.
I look back on this particular day in my life and reflect on what I learned; in one single day my perspective widened deeply. O learned how fragile life is, cliché as is sounds, within second “the world” can come crashing down on us. I learned that small moments can turn into big ones in a flash. I learned that God has a plan and reason behind what He does, we are where we need to be, when we need to be there. I learned that prayer, and therapy, lots and lots of therapy, can help one move forward. I learned what it means to lose. Lose a friend, lose a spot on the cheer squad, lose a friendly smile you took for granted. I learned that heaven is really not that far away. I learned that pain, that feels like it is going to eat your alive, will subside. I learned that moving on takes time, A LOT OF TIME. I learned that we all have an incredible ability to heal that which we think is impossible to heal. I learned that memories, life-changers seep deep into our souls and exist there forever. I learned that these moments can transcend tragedy and become a light for your life. I learned that we have, in us all, the capacity to handle more than we think we can.
Whether it’s divorce, death of a loved one, loss of a friendship, loss of a child, infertility, cancer, health issues, money troubles, mental health struggles, physical pain, illness…we can heal. The pain is incredibly real, and it never fully goes away, there remains a scar but there does become a time when that pain is more manageable. I don’t know if time heals all wounds, but time teaches us how to see these wounds as assets and because of that, we have the incredible power to face the future with hope, even a speck of it.
I don’t know why Stacey wanted to wear her blue sweater on the day of auditions so badly, maybe it meant something to her. I don’t know all the answers, but I do know that we all have the capacity to heal. That we are put in places and around people for a purpose.