The words didn’t seem real to me

by Jenna Malley

I woke up at 5:30am to go to the gym with my mom at 6am. Don’t ask me why – I must’ve been crazy or something – but I’d been going with her all week, so I figured, why not?

After the gym, we usually went to Dunkin Donuts for the much needed caffeine jolt, but she’d stayed late to talk to her trainer, so instead we just went directly home so she could get ready for work and I could… well sleep more. It was my summer vacation in 2014 and I was only working three days a week, what else was I going to do?

I woke up a few hours later to a text from the local police department line about how a woman had been in an accident but that traffic surrounding the area had been cleared. The accident had happened sometime before 6am right near the Dunkin Donuts that my mom and I would’ve gone to.

I thought about how lucky it was that we had avoided the train accident, and then thought nothing of it. I got out of bed, showered, tried something new with my makeup that I was really excited about, and put on a comfy purple zip-up as I headed out the door.

It was August 15th, and one of my friends was leaving for college the next day, so a couple of us went to her house to hang out and help her finish packing. Her and her boyfriend were EMTs and spent the entire morning acting strange, saying how they’d gotten a call that morning that they were told not to respond to. My friends and I guessed that a girl in my grade had gotten pregnant and had a baby and they didn’t want people our age to respond to the emergency call and then gossip about it.

We spent the morning pestering them about who it was, but they just looked uncomfortable and wouldn’t say anything. We finally dropped it and moved on to discussing what we were looking forward to as we were all about to enter our second year of college.

Later on, I really needed that caffeine jolt I’d skipped with my mom

My friend and her boyfriend agreed, and the three of us went to a Dunkin Donuts near her house. It was while I was sitting in the back of her car that her boyfriend turned around and said, “Jenna, no one’s pregnant.” I hadn’t been talking about it anymore, and I found the comment strange. Off-putting.

He continued, “We think we know what happened this morning in that call, but we don’t want to tell you. We’re not sure. It’s not totally confirmed. And we don’t want to worry you. But the call we were asked not to attend was the accident this morning.” I started asking questions. Is it someone we went to school with? Is it someone I know? Were we in the same grade? 

I got a “yes” back to all of these questions and my heart started beating a million times per minute. My blood was moving faster than it was allowed to. Every vein felt like it was on fire. My whole body felt like it was sinking. I could feel myself getting flushed, and I was pulled into the parking lot for coffee, I whipped out my phone and Googled “local accident.”

I almost threw up when I read the words on the tiny screen

I screamed when I got to two words. The first and last name of my best friend.

I read the name a million times over, screaming, crying thinking it couldn’t be true. Knowing it couldn’t be true. How? How could this be real? To anyone else, this would’ve meant nothing. To anyone else, they would’ve read the article, felt sorry for the poor 19 year old that lost her life, and moved on with their day and their lives. I couldn’t do that.

My best friend, the girl that helped me get through most of high school and my freshman year of college. Kennedy, the girl that knew all my secrets. Kennedy, the girl that got the exact same score on a personality test as I did, something our psychology teacher said she’d never in all of her years of teaching. Kennedy, my best friend.

A news article had just informed me that my best friend had died by suicide that very morning at 5:32am.

The words didn’t seem real to me. I was NOT reading a news article in the backseat of a Jeep in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot telling me that my friend was dead. I screamed until I lost my voice, and then I screamed some more.

I remember my friend calling my mother telling her she had to come over and thinking “Why? It’s not real, it’s no big deal, I don’t need my mom.” But it was so far beyond real I couldn’t even imagine.

I checked my phone a couple minutes later to a message from a NEWS REPORTER of all people, asking if I could provide her with more information on “the girl that had passed” and apologizing for my loss. I deleted the message instead of telling her to fuck off. What if I hadn’t known yet? What if that NEWS REPORTER was the one that told me that my best friend had died?

I remember waking up the next day with a knot in my stomach, lying in bed for hours until I could no longer bear the heat of my room. I remember getting in the shower and screaming and sobbing that this was something that she would never be able to do again.

Screaming and crying that I didn’t see it, screaming and crying that I didn’t do anything. Screaming because I wish I had seen the signs. Crying because I couldn’t change the past.

The Memorial

I went to her family’s house and they told me they weren’t planning on having any sort of ceremony or funeral – they were understandably too in shock to plan anything. After leaving, I selfishly realized that I needed something. I needed that closure. I texted them later that evening asking if I could plan a memorial in her honor and they agreed to this.

I rallied her friends and my friends and in 2 days we put together the most hauntingly beautiful event that I’ve ever seen on my high school’s track field. We set up a vase with paper that people could write memories on to fill the vase with her spirit.

We assembled a “comfort” table with water, coffee, donuts, cookies, and tissues. The service started and I went up to the bleachers to go speak to everyone. It was only then that I realized the impact she’d had. I would’ve been ‘happy’ if 60 people showed up. It appeared that over 200 were there.

We played a 15 minute montage with pictures from her life and songs that will forever make me cry, we had an hour where anyone that wanted to speak could share their thoughts or poems or memories, and then we all walked up to the higher level soccer field, where I was left truly speechless.

My friends’ parents had set up 100 candles lit all in a circle. We all walked over and picked one up, with more people lighting ones that they’d brought, and more using the extra 100 plastic tea lights Kennedy’s family had brought. It was truly beautiful to see this much light in a circle, in a moment of silence, honoring the beautiful soul that was, still is, and will continue to be my best friend.

August 15th, 2014 changed my life forever

I lost the girl that helped me survive some of my hardest moments in life, and left me alone in some of the darkest times I’ve had since then. To clarify, however, I’m not mad at her. How could I be? It took me a while to realize that suicide is not a choice, and it’s certainly not a selfish.

I’ve talked to many people that have survived attempts in my own effort to get answers, and most will tell you the same thing: they don’t remember the attempt, and if they do, it wasn’t something that they wanted to do – it was a completely out of control bodily function. It was something that their brain said “do this” and they had to follow through.

I’m not mad at her. How could I be?

I suffer from depression and have contemplated suicide. I know how low you feel in that moment. Her actions were not selfish; she saw no way to escape her pain except suicide. That’s the harsh reality of it.

However, that doesn’t mean I don’t remember the day like it was yesterday, even though it was exactly 4 years and 51 weeks ago to this date. I can still hear myself screaming in the back of the Jeep, and still feel the aching in my body from that first shower I took after her passing.

Every little detail of that day is still with me. But I’ve learned to cope with the grief. I go to therapy still, and group grief counseling when I need it. I’ve found a medication regimen that works for me, and an emotional support animal that helps when nothing else does. I have a great support network.

It’s true – I will never forget that horrible day. But alongside it are the incredible memories that I made with Kennedy. And for those times, I’ll forever be grateful.

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Find Jenna at the AMAZING Campaign. AMAZING: https://amazingcampaign.ecwid.com/ Speaker Profile: https://mindingyourmind.org/ne/jenna/

2 thoughts on “The words didn’t seem real to me”

  1. Jenna, you are an incredible young woman, a beautiful friend to Kennedy. I’m sorry you lost your friend. The loss is clearly profound, but you are honoring her with words and your actions still. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

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