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God Help The Girl
By Zack Budryk
The search light in the big yard
Swings round with the gun
And spotlights the snowflakes
Like the dust in the sun
It's Christmas in prison
There'll be music tonight
I'll probably get homesick
I love you. Goodnight.
-John Prine, "Christmas in Prison"
It was Christmas 2010, around 11:30 p.m., and it was snowing.
I was trying to wait by the phone and my laptop with equal readiness when a call came in. I picked up, and a Richmond police officer told me he’d been over to the house and everything appeared to be fine.
Not two minutes later my best friend messaged me on Facebook.
“YOU CALLED THE COPS, YOU FUCKING RETARD?” she typed (caps in original). I tried to explain that I was terrified for her and when I hadn’t been able to get in touch, I feared the worst. She told me her phone had died, hence the lack of response, then announced she was deleting her Facebook account. I tried to ask her not to, and was told the message was undeliverable.
Abigail (not her real name) was a freshman in high school my senior year. We met entirely by chance in fall 2006; we were both waiting in front of school for the bus home when I noticed this tiny, reed-thin brunette girl I’d never seen before reading a book about half her size. It was Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, a 2004 doorstopper that had made waves with its central argument that the Bush administration had decided from the beginning to invade Iraq and affect “regime change” rather than exhausting all diplomatic options. I was impressed, and struck up a conversation with her. We talked when we saw each other the rest of the school year, particularly when she learned that my tendency towards autistic sensory overload meant I had permission to sit out our high school’s pep rallies, offensive spectacles best described as an arena-sized version of an overcrowded subway car.
But it was summer 2007 when Abigail and I really hit it off; Facebook in particular and social media in general as a means of communication with people one already knew were fairly new concepts at the time, but it was a lot of fun and it kept our mutual tendencies toward in-person awkwardness from being a problem.
It was a time in both our lives when it was helpful to have a confidant outside our daily orbits; I was starting college as a disabled person, an unfamiliar, frightening experience squared, and Abigail was, well, a girl who was a sophomore in high school, and all the small-scale heartbreaks and cruelties and feelings of endlessness that went with it. We had similar pop-culture interests, senses of humor and political views as well, and it was around November 2007 that I realized she was the closest thing I had to a little sister.
Over the next few years we were in touch constantly, with occasional in-person meetups as well (such as seeing Juno together New Year’s Eve 2007). The next January, when I asked my eventual wife Raychel out, Abigail was waiting with bated breath along with me and announced that it was time for a “happy dance” when she said yes. She continued to counsel me as I navigated the most serious relationship I’d ever entered, lightly teasing me and dubbing me “Captain Catholic Boy” for how slow I wanted to take things starting out. I, in turn, did the best I could to support her through high school as boys and the college application process broke her heart, and I was cheering in her corner in early 2010 when she was accepted to Virginia Tech.
Things changed a little that August when she headed off to school; I was in the position of providing the same support for her she’d provided for me three years ago, only she was faced with the far more daunting prospect of moving three hours away. She had a similarly difficult adjustment process to mine, which I did my damnedest to help her through, but for someone as smart and tough as her, I knew it was always going to work out in her favor.
Fall and winter 2010 were some of my favorite times in recent memory. I got all A’s for the first time in my college career, I had scored an internship at my favorite local city weekly and, vitally for a film nerd like me, it was a great season for movies. I saw Abigail for the first time since she’d left for school the weekend after Thanksgiving; we met up for a movie in the city and, in an odd parallel to the book that led to our friendship, the movie in question was Fair Game, Doug Liman’s dramatization of Valerie Plame’s outing as a CIA operative. After, we met up with Raychel and the three of us went to my favorite diner in the city, the Village Café, before Abigail headed home for the night.
At the rate we were going, I expected to have a great Christmas as well, but something felt somehow off from the beginning. I’d just gotten my wisdom teeth out a few days before and I was still in a bit of pain, and my grandmother, a reliable presence every year before, had died late that summer, and her absence was palpable. When we got home after spending the day with my parents, I struck up a conversation with Abigail online and found she was in a particularly depressed mood. A year ago, she’d spent Christmas with her then-boyfriend, she told me. She was the one who’d initiated the breakup, but she regularly found herself regretting it. I tried to talk her through it but, perhaps unsurprisingly, words could only help so much. Suicidal ideation came up, as it had before in talks with her, but something about the cold and the late hour made it loom larger. Soon after, a friend of hers from Tech got in touch with me. He told me he was extremely worried about her, and asked if I would check in with her. I complied, asking her if she was safe. She signed off without answering and visions of worst-case scenarios started dancing in my head. I called her but couldn’t reach her, and so, unsure of what else to do, I called the police and told her I was worried someone I knew was suicidal, giving them her address.
A few minutes later, I got the call from them and the message from her.
I didn’t hear from Abigail for the entirety of 2011. I felt the hole shaped like her in my daily routine, like it was a separate friend who’d replaced her. She resurfaced in 2012, and for a while it was like things would be the way they were; she was even a groomswoman at my wedding. Soon after, however, she cut off contact again. I have not seen her or spoken to her in over three years.
Maybe that night, in its cold, angry finality, was where it truly should have ended. People will leave, after all. Even sisters. And one of the hardest things I’ve learned is how little people care when your explanation is “I thought I was saving you.”
A few weeks later, that January, I sent Abigail a text regarding a DVD I’d sent her as her Christmas gift earlier in December, which she’d promised not to open until Christmas. “I just wanted to let you know that if you want to open the present it would be all right,” I wrote. She never responded.
#Real #Christmastime #SadEvents #OldFriendships
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