There are those people you meet. You don't get to spend a ton of time with them but you know that you will always hold a special place in your heart for them. Jessica was one of those kids for me. Jessica like myself had a chronic degenerative illness, unlike myself she had never known anything other than a life being sick.
I met her while working at the Westcott Community Center as a volunteer coordinator and teaching arts and crafts to the kids coming there. Jess was one of those kids, and we bonded over our total love of animals, being less than healthy, and being devoted smart asses.
Jess didn't come in a lot, she was a young kid, so while I loved seeing her I didn't try to get overly involved in her life because she was a young kid, I was an adult it would be more than a little creepy to be saying "this is my 11 friend" as a 28 year old woman. But I would see her out and grill her about our mutual interests, swap stories about animals, soak up her whip smart sense of humor, and laugh at her smart ass comments.
We were friends, with a unspoken kinship that was not obvious. I remember one day going into work and sitting in the office, my migraine had gotten the best of me and I was throwing up in the office. It had been the third day of throwing up for me and I was tired and in pain and on the verge of tears.
Jess walked in looked at me and said "Oh come on, at least you didn't crap your pants!" I immediately started laughing, wiped my face cleaned puke off my shirt and said thanks.
I remember after a while she started high school, got a boyfriend and had more stuff she was doing, I had a new job, surgery, and my own health crap that took my entire attention and we fell out of touch. I saw her infrequently and her dad often and made sure to ask about Jess and he would relay messages to me.
Today I found out Jess had cancer two years ago and had died. Her dad had tried contacting me via an old cell and house number and Westcott email that no longer worked and assumed I moved. He said "I am so sorry, I wish I could have gotten in touch, I know she wanted to see you, I am so sorry."
I must have gone through all the stages of grief in about a minute and got stuck on anger. Jess was a kid who I was excited to see what she was going to do. In her too short life she proved being kind was always the best policy, laughter can make anything better, being funny is infinitely more important than being pretty (her words not mine, I used to joke that I was drag queen and therefore gorgeous) and that when life Jess quote "Gave you the shaft" you had a choice to make each day a good one, or sit in the dark crying and feeling sorry for yourself.
In short, Jess was just a awesome, cool, smart, funny kid who should have been around longer.
It feels like her life was like a short match, lit, burning bright, catching your attention then suddenly snubbed out by a dick known as cancer. Not cool man, not cool (another Jess saying)
I only remember Jess being serious about being sick once. We were sitting outside on a picnic bench at the WCC watching the kids play football. One of the younger kids asked Jess to play and she said "I can't do that, but I will cheer for you!" the kid smiled and walked away and I sat next to her not saying anything just enjoying the warm weather. Suddenly she turned around and said "I know what they are thinking, you know. " I asked her what she meant. She said "I know I am sick, I know I might not going to grow up to be an old lady. This is not some BIG secret." I asked why she was talking about it and she flapped her hands like it was not important and continued "I think about it, when I see those older girls in college, older girls in high school. I try to think of myself being a college kid...I don't want to think about it, but I do." I made some sappy remark about how no one knew how long they were going to live and that I could be hit by a car tomorrow or struck by lightening. She laughed and said "Yeah, thats true, life can be *snaps her fingers*! but we may be OK you and I because we already got struck once! No waiting for something bad to happen, it happened, so deal with it."
This tiny person who never ceased to make me laugh, never ceased to call me out for being grumpy, and always showed nothing but kindness and humor was struck twice by lightening and that pisses me off.
I wish I could channel Jess right now and find something positive out of this but the truth is that this is a loss, it does not make sense and it doesn't seem fair.
Jess was a friend, who had an illness but loved animals and had a sense of humor that gave me LIFE. She believed in being kind, she believed in being smart, and she loved big and found enough to share with a person she barely got to spend time with, I feel lucky that I got to meet her and get to know her for the brief time she shared this world with us.
That said, screw the zombie apocalypse, the real apocalypse are these illnesses that are taking lives and doing it fast. I think it is time to as Jess would say "Put on my big girl panties" and make a go of this Kind Outreach thing. The last thing we need is another charity, but we need money for these charities. Charities that help people with rare diseases. When is the last time people donated as much money to a charity as they did Kickstarter for a Veronica Mars movie? (Don't get me wrong I am stupid excited about that movie...but lets be real Diseases vs Movie, diseases should win)
So Jess, I am ticked off that you were taken off this planet, because this world needs more people like you, but I hope that you inspired people to be better, to do better, and to laugh often and be kind.
I know that what you did for me, and for that I am happy I knew you.