An Unwavering Flame
My friendship with Maddi truly began my senior year of high school. I originally met Maddi, who was a year below me, in second grade when she became best friends with my sister, Katie. We all grew up together, but I really only knew her through my sister. Yet when Katie became preoccupied with her first boyfriend, she did what most love-struck teenagers do and ditched her friends. Maddi and I bonded over Katie’s absence, feeling a kinship over my sister’s behavior. Thus began a series of lunches, drives home from school and gossip sessions between just Maddi and me.
Our friendship developed at the height of my neuroticism, courtesy of standardized testing, too many AP classes and poorly prompted college essays. Focused on getting into the best school possible, I did everything on the straight and narrow. Rule-breaking or anything mildly frowned upon was something that I steered clear of.
Yet Maddi by nature defied every single rule there was. She cheated on almost every exam, lied to her parents, stole from stores, skipped class, never did her homework, smoked weed before, during and after school, and sometimes swapped her prescription Adderall for recreational drugs. By everything that I stood for at this point in my life, Maddi was someone that I should have despised.
But I didn’t.
Perhaps I accepted Maddi’s behavior because I had known her for most of her life. Although we met when we were 8 and 6, respectively, she would always say that we had known each other since we were “out of the womb.”
“Maddi, I met you when you were in first grade,” I’d say.
“Yeah, that’s basically like birth,” she’d reply.
In reality, I disregarded Maddi’s behavior because I knew it wasn’t a reflection of the person she truly was. The important thing about Maddi, despite all of the poor choices she made, was that she never did them with malice. It’s not like she was a bad seed, or some troubled kid who was just acting out. Maddi did the things she did because she was fearless. She wanted to experience everything life could offer and was determined to get a bang for her buck. I saw past all of her faults and questionable reputation, because they all stemmed from her free-spiritedness, curiosity and intense passion for life. She was so much more than whatever was listed on her disciplinary record.
I stuck up for her when she got caught, often doing my best to convince the person she had angered — usually her mother — to go easy on her.
When it came down to picking the counselors for that year’s Outdoor School, the chaperones were reluctant to accept her application. Yet being the obnoxiously good student that I was, my evaluation of her carried weight. After days of convincing, Maddi was provisionally accepted, so long as she behaved up until we left for camp. Thankfully, she did.
Fast-forward to June 3, 2014. It’s my graduation night. She had stood beside me as I opened my acceptance letter to Georgetown, and now she sat between Katie and me in the car on our way to the ceremony. After three painfully boring hours, we all reconvened in the sea of green gowns and bouquets of flowers.
“You’re done with high school!” Maddi said in utter disbelief. After mingling with friends and family, it was time for the graduates to leave for the subsequent class celebration. I hugged my parents, Katie and Maddi, and we parted ways.
As they headed toward the parking lot, I felt the urge to turn around. Maddi appeared to be in no rush to get to the car. My parents and Katie were a few yards ahead of her, already out of earshot. In the midst of her sauntering, she saw that I had turned around.
“I freakin’ love you!” I called out to her. I remember feeling an overwhelming need to say that. She yelled back words that I couldn’t understand and danced off into the parking lot. The setting sun illuminated her red hair, which she had finally grown to love after years of dyeing it black.
That was the last time I saw her. Five days later, Maddi was in a car crash just a few miles away from our neighborhood. She had gone off on a joyride with a boy she was sort of dating. They drove up to the country roads that were notorious for their straightness and minimal police presence. On the way back down, in the midst of trying to catch air off one of the dips in the road, the boy lost control of the car and they spun into a telephone pole at about 110 miles per hour. The boy died at the scene, and Maddi was declared brain dead around 8 o’clock the next night. She left behind her parents, three sisters, a championship softball team and me.
I think about our friendship often, trying to figure out how I was lucky to have known Maddi the way that I did. No matter how many times she was sent to the principal’s office, assigned community service or had her phone taken away, I knew that she was capable of transcending what the rest of the world thought of her, and would go on to do something amazing with her life.
If it had been anyone else, I would have written them off as a screw-up. But there was something so promising and tender about Maddi that I couldn’t help but just love her. Not once in my life have I felt that way about anyone else — to love someone so unconditionally, purely and with such acceptance and unshakeable faith. And I will never stop loving her.