Every now and again, a person comes into your life that changes it forever. One of those people came into mine when I was eleven. Her name was Angie Samuelson.
Angie and her family had moved into town from Iowa the summer before sixth grade. I remember seeing her for the first time on the first day of school that year and even then I didn’t think I had ever seen anyone so beautiful. She had the brightest blue eyes and the most wonderful smile and she instantly became a big topic of conversation for all the boys in school. I wish I could say that I remembered the first time we spoke but I don’t, but over that next year we became friends and as much as I wanted her to be my girlfriend, I never asked. I think just about every other boy in school did but she never said yes to anyone. In fact, she didn’t have a boyfriend at school until the seventh grade. It was December 3, 1991 and the lucky boy was me.
Honestly, it really couldn’t have come at a better time. My parents had recently divorced and I had spent a large amount of time feeling very sad, so when I finally got enough courage to ask Angie to be my girlfriend and she surprisingly said “yes”, I never thought I could feel so happy. Even at twelve I was a hopeless romantic, as I’m pretty sure it only took about a week for me to end one of our wonderful grade school phone conversations with “I love you”, which at twelve means “I really don’t have any idea what real love is, but I somehow want to tell you that I really, really like you.” I even went so far as to buy her a necklace for Christmas, because that’s what I thought you had to do for your girlfriend. But I didn’t want to buy her a cheap one, so I used all the money I had saved up from my paper route and had my mother take me to a real jewelry store so I could buy her something really nice. I remembered from one of our earliest conversations that her favorite color was purple so I decided to go with an amethyst. My mother tried to talk me out of spending so much money but I bought it anyway. We had a school dance a few days before Christmas and after spending a few minutes trying to get the box out of my pocket (no seriously, the box got stuck when I was trying to be slick about it and I spent three or four minutes in the middle of the gym during a slow song trying to get it out) I finally gave it to her. After her laughter subsided from my stumble, she did let me put it on her and gave me a small kiss on the cheek. It was one of my favorite days.
Over the next few months, we would do what “couples” in the seventh grade usually do. We would hang out for a few minutes after the basketball games or go to the movies. I distinctly remember our first movie date. We went with some friends to see “Father of the Bride” and then went next door to eat at Maid-Rite. It was another good day. She even reciprocated the jewelry gesture. I had gotten my ear pierced the previous summer (which her dad hated), so she bought me an earring for Valentine’s Day. But then disaster struck. She broke up with me. Oh my God, I thought my life was over. Looking back on it, the conversation that took place at that age was hysterical. Naturally, it happened at recess. And of course, she wouldn’t be the one to actually break up with me. It was her best friend Michelle who told me that Angie loved me, but just didn’t like me anymore. It’s amazing how adult we try to sound at that age when we really have no clue what we’re talking about. In any event, I was devastated. After I made a spectacle of myself and made sure that she saw me take out the earring and throw it on the ground, I spent the rest of recess and all of Mr. Moore’s science class bawling my eyes out. I kept it together for the rest of the day, but then went home and continued to cry and cry and cry. But what most people don’t know is that I spent an hour after school searching for the earring, which I never found, which just made things worse. My life was over (so dramatic).
As it usually happens in grade school, we both were “dating” somebody else within a month or so. Shockingly enough, those didn’t last either and the summer before eighth grade, we got back together. We actually did talk on the phone nearly every day for a while, but we really didn’t see each other that much and to exact a little revenge, I broke up with her a few days before school started back up. I know, quite the classy move. Shockingly enough, she got over it and throughout our eighth-grade year, we each had another significant other but we were able to become friends again and we would randomly hang out here and there. We even shared a wonderful dance at the graduation festivities and the picture below is one of my favorite pictures in the world.
As we entered high school, I think I realized that there was nobody I would ever want to date except for her, so I asked her to the homecoming dance our freshman year and she said that she would love to go with me. So I started to make plans for that evening, only to get a phone call from her about two weeks later telling me that she had to go to St. Louis that weekend with her family. Again, I was devastated. I think it was then that I realized that maybe the concept of being with her just wasn’t in the cards for me. I actually never asked another girl to a school dance again. But I always had her on my mind and that’s what high school became for me. So over the next four years, she simply became my best friend. I would rather just be her friend than not have her in my life at all. I watched her date other guys that I didn’t think were good enough for her or just didn’t make sense to me. I would date here and there and Angie and I would just talk to each other about those relationships or just talk sometimes for hours on the phone about anything. I was going through some tough times with my father and she would do her best to help me get through it. Sometimes, we would just go for a drive and she would tell me about what was going on in her life as well. That’s what friends do for each other and she was my best friend, even if I wasn’t hers.
Graduation day was on my eighteenth birthday and even with all the hoopla surrounding that day, she made it a point to wish me a happy birthday and that night at the lock-in, the two of us separated ourselves from everyone and just walked around the school talking about the past and what the future held. It was just another one of our classic talks and it was good to know that no matter how much things had changed for both of us, we would always be there for each other. And this continued into college. We both decided to go to Illinois State and our dorms were actually right next to each other. She was so cute her first night there. Her roommate was actually a mutual friend from high school and they were both very nervous about being away from home. I had gone to their room just to hang out for a while, but as I was about to leave, Angie asked if I would stay, so I did. She said she would feel better with me there, so I slept on the floor right next to her bed. For the next few months, we would hang out when we could. We were both dating other people, so we would do what we always did and talk to each other about the problems we were having. It was seemingly the same as it always was but it wasn’t. I had come to the realization that there was nobody in the world like her and the boyhood crush was gone. I was truly in love with her.
I think I’d known it all along, but I never wanted to admit it to myself, or anybody else for that matter. Even up to this moment, I’ve only actually told this to a handful of people. When it comes down to it, however, there was only one person that should have been told. But I never told her. I was so scared of what she would say or that I would lose her as a friend. I had gotten to a point in my life where I was so completely lost that I didn’t feel that I was good enough for her. She was doing so well in school, had joined a sorority, and seemed to have her whole life in order and I was just one big mess. I didn’t think there was any way that she could ever feel about me the way I felt about her. The only time I ever thought there was even a hint of a future came on one of our best nights together. We had gone for a drive and while we touched on a few things that were going on at the time, most of the time was spent remembering the old times from grade school. We talked about the dances and the breakups and all the fun we ever had back then and it was so wonderful. The kicker was when we began to talk about the necklace and I vividly remember her pulling back her hair so she could get to the necklace she was wearing and she actually had it on. I could not believe that after all of those years had passed, she had actually kept it. As I walked her up to her door, we were still talking about it and I told her how I remembered how she had kissed me on the cheek after I gave it to her. We then talked about how when we were “dating” in grade school that we had never even kissed each other on the lips. We laughed about it, I said good night and we hugged. I turned to walk away and even made it a few steps before I made myself turn back around and just go for it. Just once. She had turned to go inside so I simply said “Angie.” She turned and I don’t know if I’d ever seen anyone look as beautiful as she did at that moment. I asked if she was sure we had never kissed and she was certain of it so I walked up to her very slowly and put my hand on her cheek and we shared one soft kiss that will stay with me for the rest of my life. We looked in each other’s eyes, I said good night one more time and I left. We never spoke of it again.
The years passed and we would still see each other from time to time but nothing like the times we used to share. I would endure some hard times and went into a deep state of depression that lasted quite a long time and I knew that my window had passed. She had graduated by now and was starting her real life. I moved to Florida and Angie and I just lost touch. I didn’t know where she was or how she was doing and I never took the time to find her again. I would think about her often and wonder if I ever crossed her mind. I would tell myself that I was going to track her down just to say hello but I never did, even when I moved back from Florida. I had a different life now, one that didn’t have her in it, and I told myself I was okay with that. I was certain she was happy with someone and that’s how I justified it. If I was never going to be the one to make her happy, then I hoped that someone else had. I had moved on from believing I was ever going to really be with her, but I could never change the way I felt about her. I always knew I would see her again at some point in passing. Until I got that phone call.
I was sitting on my back patio and my cell phone rang. It was from my friend Maureen, another friend from grade school, and I figured she was just calling to catch up as we would chat from time to time. But what I heard next I was never prepared for. Angie had died. I sat in disbelief for a few minutes as Maureen explained to me about the cervical cancer that had taken my dear friend. She asked me if I would be okay and I remember some form of “no” coming out of my mouth before thanking her for calling and hanging up the phone as my head dropped into my hands as I began to cry uncontrollably. I simply could not comprehend what had just happened, and even to this day I still hope that at some point I will wake up and know that Angie is still here. That someone as kind, intelligent, funny, and beautiful as Angie didn’t have to go through what she did in the end. That her wonderful parents, Craig and Mindi, and her sisters, Laura and Sheena, don’t have to feel the hurt they do every day for the rest of their lives.
It was five years ago today that Angela Marie Samuelson was taken from this world and it still hurts. I’ve done many regrettable things in my life and for the most part, I’ve been able to forgive myself for them. But the regret I feel when it comes to Angie is something I’ve tried so hard to get past and haven’t been able to. I regret never telling her how I really felt about her. To be as much in love with somebody as I was with her and to never let her know is unfortunate. I know she didn’t feel the same way about me but I wish I would have told her. But that pales in comparison to the guilt I feel for not being there in the end as her friend. After all the times she was there for me when my life was in disarray, I wasn’t there for her when she needed it the most. I know she had the love and support of her family and friends, but one more wouldn’t have hurt.
With that being said, I now know that I’m going to be okay. As I sat down to write this and started reliving all the events that I’ve mentioned here, I had an epiphany. First of all, I’m guessing she probably knew how I felt about her. I’ve spent the last five years thinking about all the things I didn’t say or all the things I didn’t do, but after really thinking about it, I think that’s what the look in her eyes was that one wonderful night. She knew. And secondly, she would have been the first one to forgive me even if I couldn’t forgive myself. That’s just the kind of person she was. She was the best friend anyone could ever ask for and I’ll always be thankful that Angie came into my life. Whether it was a dance or a midnight conversation or one unforgettable kiss, I’ll always have those memories in my head and I’ll always have her in my heart.
I miss you every single day, Angie. Even after you’re gone, you’re still my inspiration to be a better person each and every day. You touched the lives of every single person you ever met and each of those people are better for knowing you. I want to thank you for always being my friend and I pray that someday we will meet again, even if only for a moment. Just to tell you that I love you.