I attended high school over 20 years ago and my memory has really got to be among the worst in my class. There are some things though, more specifically, people... that remain vivid. I had a friend named Dawn who my brother refers to as ‘red dawn’ because of this beautiful head of thick red hair that she sported, along with that unforgettable smile. I remember when she spent the night once, I asked her why she always slept with a hair tye in and she said it was because her hair would get in the way while she was trying to sleep. I never had that problem with my very thin scraggly hair. I also remember that Dawn dressed nice for school too. She had these kaki pants that fit her figure perfect and I on the other hand, was too tall, skinny and butt-less for any pants to fit nicely like that. Back then we certainly didn’t have as many clothing choices as we do today. It was like the 5-7-9 show and that’s it. I wasn’t thrilled about even going to school back then so a sweatshirt and jeans under my suede fringe coat was a dress up day for me. Watching Dawn walk down the hall, I remember thinking that she actually put thought into what she wanted to wear.
I am sure there’s a lot missing from my memory but what I do know is that I adored her and was jealous of her at the same time. Looking back, I think that comes with the age. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back and do those teenage years again. Anyway, in a huge hurry to begin my life of independence, I graduated high school a year and a half early and lost touch with Dawn. Outside of those high school years, we only talked maybe twice.
Fast forward about 20 years… and in 2011, Dawn Smith Steber passed away. I heard the news through friends – after the fact - so I wasn’t able to go to her services, nor did I know that she was sick for so many years prior. It wasn’t until just recently though that I learned she passed from a 5 ½ year battle with breast cancer. I may have been previously told this information, but it never registered.
I am angry. I am angry that I didn’t stay in touch with her. I wasn’t there for her. I didn’t know what happened to her. I am unsettled over this. I want to talk to her. And as strange as this sounds, I wonder why I lived and she didn’t. She was the better person. She was sweet and kindhearted to everyone and beautiful and smart. She did everything right. College, marriage, kid. I did everything backwards. It’s not that I think I am bad and she is good. I am just torn inside and generally pissed off at this disease. I now know that this anguish they call “survivor’s guilt” is real. I can’t seem to shake the thoughts of my friend who is gone. I dream of her at night and she crosses my mind constantly during the day. Today, I went searching through old photos hoping to come across her picture but had no luck – only made a terrible mess in my basement.
I will close this post with a message to Dawn: If you can hear me, please know that you were more than a passing friend or an acquaintance from school. You were important to me, your friendship mattered to me and I am sorry that I didn’t make it a priority to stay in touch. PS If you have room enough in your wingspan for one more, I always wanted an angel with red hair to watch over me.