September always marks the start of a new year for me. A new fresh day planner bought, new pencils sharpened and USB sticks found. School mixers, buzzing energy on the quad stemming from a combination of hopes, dreams, people to meet, and a level of anxiety of the unknown (and the start of the never-ending 'to-do this year lists') mark the start of a new year. While the location for this fresh start in my life are now university campuses, that buzz of new relationships and excitement is certainly nothing new. After all- I have been in school since I was three.
One of my most memorable first weeks of school was when I was 12. My new school held a sleep-away camp to help kids from incoming feeder schools get to know each other. We were purposefully asked to sit next to someone who we did not know on the bus. I sat next to Alexis. We became fast friends bonding over god knows what 12 year-olds bonded over in the 90's. Obviously the conversation built strong enough ties that the friendship lasted the rest of her life and memories/lessons learned will last the rest of mine.
This September marks the one year anniversary since I found out Alexis died. I have been thinking about the lessons she taught me this past year as I reflect on the life she lived and the hole she left in my world. For many years, Alexis was the person I shared hopes for the new academic year and for our unfolding futures. While she isn't here to plan with anymore, the lessons I learned through our friendship will stay with me forever.
Here are my top 5 lessons that Alexis taught me:
1. Dreams change and sometimes turn into metaphors for how your life unfolds.
As a kid, Alexis wanted to write poetry on the side of a mountain. As an adult, she spent her life helping people to overcome their own mountains, journaling as she went along.
2. The people who love you will always be there for you.
No matter how many times you lose your phone or forget your email password or move from place to place, the people who love you will welcome you back if you are open to making those steps and reaching out to them. I have never known someone who lost as many phones as Alexis did. And I have never known anyone whose death has shocked so many people. The constant phrase I have heard this past year after confirming that she has, indeed, passed away, has been: "She made everyone feel important".
3. You should always have a cute purse for every occasion.
Alexis had a wall of purses on display for many years in her bedroom. In 2005 I sent Alexis a beaded purse as a birthday gift from India that looked like a butterfly. She always seemed to be just about to emerge into something new and even more beautiful.
4. There is a key to unlock every door. You just need to find the right one and have the guts to walk through.
Alexis had a skeleton key tattoo. She was on the fence for years about what kind of tattoo she wanted. When she decided this was the tattoo, she asked her mom to send her pictures of old keys from their house. She wanted to connect to the past while moving into the future. She was a firm believer in the concept that when one door closes another opens. She finished her undergraduate degree, worked for various non-profit organizations, did part of a social work degree before deciding that education was her true calling. She finished her education degree prior to her death. She believed that there were keys to success and happiness if you looked in the right place and had the right support to help you step through the door.
5. When someone dies by suicide or by overdose, your world is never the same. The death will change you. You will think about them and the person they might have become every single day of your life. It can eat you up if you let it.
RIP Noah. RIP Martin. RIP to all of the other people Alexis loved who left too soon.
The final lesson I want to share, while not part of the top 5 is one that I hope Alexis knew, and one that I hope you all believe deep down to the very depth of your being.
Some friends are more than friends. They are family. They are proud of you when you are not proud of yourself, because they see how brave and beautiful and amazing you are. They will love you forever, no matter what you do or what choices you make, even of they aren't the same choices as your friend would make. They will love you because you are worth that love.
Unintended consequences of COVID-19 are real. We lost our social supports during the past few years. Our healthcare and social welfare systems have suffered immensely. The sheer number of lives we have lost globally to the virus and to our management of the pandemic is catastrophic. Alexis was just one of these many losses and is part of the statistics that we read. To those who knew her, the void that the loss of her life has left will always be there.
Lexi, I promise you that I will keep working to make sure your legacy lives on and that people feel heard and cared about no matter who they are. And Lexi, I will make toasted tomato sandwiches with cheese at 11 pm and think of you- after all, a girl's gotta eat and it's always better late than never.