Tomorrow is the six-year anniversary of the passing of my childhood friend, Leigh Anna, and my neighbor, Tad. A drunk driver took their lives.
In six years, so much has changed. I am so wildly different than the teenager I was six years ago. Huntsville is a notably different city than it was six years ago. Life has continued to change and alter the courses of those who knew Leigh Anna, yet I am confident that we all agree: April 17, 2009 does not seem like six years ago. It seems like yesterday.
However, on April 17, 2009, I was heartbroken, full of rage, and questioning everything. In six years’ time, I think we have all accepted that we can’t change what happened that night. What I have also accepted is that Leigh Anna did change my life, and she continues to change it, six years later.
Here are six things Leigh Anna taught me. I still don’t have total grasp of all of these things; however, I am at peace with the fact that I might never totally grasp these things. This just means she is still teaching me today and will continue to do so as I strive for these in the future:
- How to accept others. I was a moody, angsty preteen. However, when situations that would normally cause me to flip my lid, dye my hair black, and blast My Chemical Romance on repeat arose in Leigh Anna’s presence, the outcome was significantly better. I to this day let people get under my skin way too easily. Not Leigh Anna though. She approached conflict with love. I remember being thirteen years old and having a fanatic classmate tell us that if we had ever lied, we were going to Hell and that we were not Christians. Looking back, I can’t believe how outraged I was…this kid did not have a logically compelling argument, and he obviously had some problems. But thirteen year old me was livid. Leigh Anna instead asked the kid where he went to church and what some of his favorite verses were. She created common ground and completely disregarded his offensive claims. If she could do this at age thirteen, surely I can be doing this at age twenty-two.
- How to accept myself. Leigh-Anna had amazing self-image. She was in no way vain or narcissistic. She was just proud of the body she was given, and really didn’t understand or tolerate body hate. In high school, many of us took a physical education class with a rather polarized teacher who was known for her bad temper. She did a segment on nutrition and eating disorders. As an activity, she had students go around and voice a physical attribute that made them self-conscious. When it was Leigh Anna’s turn, she told the teacher she was confident with her body, and that she wouldn’t change it if she could. This infuriated the teacher, who continued to question Leigh Anna about her body until finally giving up. The thing about it is that Leigh Anna wasn’t trying to be difficult; she simply didn’t get it. She was a great friend to have for this reason. She didn’t participate in body hate conversations, and while with her, she wouldn’t let her friends fixate on their insecurities.
- Every lyric to any Missy Elliot song. No cars. No boys. No 10-page research papers. Hellz yeah, we memorized Missy Elliot’s discography. That’s the sole purpose of middle school years. So when we finally did have cars, and we were trying to impress boys (while procrastinating on the 10-page research papers), you know we were showing off our fly rap skills.
- How to live in the moment. Growing up, I wanted to be doing whatever Leigh Anna was doing. If Leigh Anna was grounded, I saw it fit to stay home and ground myself. Why? Because regardless of the circumstance she was in, she was 100% committed to that moment, and that is one of the most beautiful qualities a person can have in a world where people constantly disengage and go into virtual social media land when they can’t deal with or handle events of their lives. She faced things head on, and sometimes that takes guts.
- Black eyeliner can smell your fear. Everything I know about eyeliner, I owe to LA. I know she’s above me doing her little scrunch nosed smile every time someone compliments my cat eyes.
- How to love. This largely plays off of #1 and #2. She was such a loving person. She’d forgive even the most frustrating of people; it’s possible this is because she simply didn’t know how to stay mad. If there is an animal in this world that Leigh Anna has come across, it has a pet name—probably containing some combination of the words: angel, cupcake, sprinkles, baby, muffin, or punkin. She didn’t just love people and animals though; she really loved life. She saw the beauty in everything, and for this reason, she was such a compassionate soul.
I love you, Leigh Anna. In 2,190 days, there hasn’t been a day you and Tad haven’t crossed my mind.