Too much left unsaid: Shrouded in mystery, the death of a close friend leaves a lasting void

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Illustration of a girl sitting down
Photo By: Illustration by Daniela Garcia

It was a day I won’t ever forget. The day I met a girl so polite and friendly, so full of life, I knew that we would be friends forever.

But if only I knew that happiness would turn to sadness one day, I would not have become that close to her.

It was in tenth grade in my native country. Togo, that I met her. Aicha was black with short hair. She was beautiful, wearing a red dress, and walked toward me as though she was the coolest girl ever. I couldn’t stop staring at her. She was perfect to me.

Our conversations were silly and crazy. I couldn’t stop laughing around her. We’d talk about style, and she would never be shy to share her opinion. One of our rituals was going to the mountains three days a week. We used to do talent shows and other crazy stuff like wearing different pairs of shoes together. Once, when she found out I did something bad at home, she took my lunch money as punishment. We had our disagreements, but we always found a way to be cool about it afterwards.

We spent so much time together, that our friendship felt more special. We were like sisters. She became part of me.

SIGNS OF TROUBLE

It took awhile, but she eventually opened up about her father, who was ill and passed away. She also felt bad about never meeting her mother. I was glad she opened up, but everything changed about our relationship after she shared those personal details.

I never knew how recent her father had died because she would start to cry whenever I mentioned it, so I didn’t pursue it further. She also started acting weird around me. There would be moments when Aicha was harsh and distant, almost like she was trying to tell me something, but wanted to protect me from what I didn’t know instead.

About two years ago, my phone rang in the middle of the night. It was Aicha. I was surprised to hear her calling so late. Maybe she was bored? She started telling me how great our relationship was. It seemed odd, so I asked her if something was wrong. She laughed and said, “Nothing’s wrong. I missed you.”

I trusted her, so I didn’t push, but after she hung up, I felt a wave of apprehension. I thought something bad had happened, maybe related to her father or mother, but she was too scared to tell me. I just know that we had never hidden things from each other.

The next day at school, she was absent. I decided to visit her at home, where I found her on the floor in her bedroom. I thought she was sick, but she just shrugged it off as being tardy in the morning. She didn’t feel like going to school.

We spent the rest of the day together, talking about our futures and how she wanted to have a great family and work in a hospital. She also wanted to meet her mother who lived in Europe.

That’s when she said, “I don’t know how much longer I would be here with you.” When I asked her if something was wrong, she replied, “No, I could travel somewhere far” with a laugh.

Even as she was laughing, I was not convinced it was the truth.

‘A BAD DREAM’

A week later, everything got weird again. Aicha didn’t want to see me, answer my messages or take my calls. For two weeks, I tried to get in touch with her. But even when I went to her house and knew she was home, Aicha wouldn’t come to see me.

Finally, I decided to visit her after school again. As I got closer to the house, I started to hear people crying. I ran into the house—filled with so many different people I had never met, crying—and into the bedroom. She was laid out on the bed wearing a white dress with white socks and white gloves.

My heart started beating so fast, like I was having a heart attack. I leaned into her and said tearfully, “Hey, I am here to hang out with you. I want to laugh like before.”

She was not moving in her bed.

I couldn’t process what was happening. We were best friends! Why did this happen? I started laughing and sobbing at the same time while shaking her to wake up. I kept thinking, “We have lots of things to do!”

There was no reaction from me when four men brusquely put her in the coffin. I felt numb. This was a bad dream. That’s when I found a picture of us under her pillow with the words, “Friend forever, always has been and always will be. I am going to miss you.”

She was going somewhere far.

COPING WITH LOSS

I still don’t know how Aicha died. Before her death, I had heard rumors that she might have AIDS, but I don’t believe that. We were too honest with each other. There are so many versions of her death, I still don’t know what to think. I believe that it wasn’t natural, and that’s the reason she avoided me. I think she wanted to protect me from what she knew was about to happen.

Not having those answers about her death makes me feel weak and guilty, like I was careless and didn’t try hard enough to figure out what was wrong. I was too scared to hurt her feelings if I asked about rumors, or her father, or her mother. When I look back, I feel like she expected me to ask her those questions. But I never did.

Aicha is gone, leaving me alone in this sinful world forever. I grieve for her. I grieve that I can never be that happy again in friendship.

I try to be open with others and have a connection, but now I am careful about having another friend like her. I am too scared to lose again.

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