Allysa and I met on the day we moved into the dorms our freshman year of college, and we lived together for four years. We grew from girls to young women together, and my friendships with Allysa and my four other roommates were as precious to me as my education. In fact, these friendships were an education; these were the years when I was figuring out who I was, and the six of us relied on one another to navigate our way into the grown up world.
I didn’t have close friends in high school, so Allysa was one of my first true girlfriends. She and my other roommates were the first and only people I lived with whom were not my family. But she became my family, and Allysa was the friend with whom I planned my future. We often took long walks in the neighborhood surrounding our campus, talking about our lives after college. We imagined what our marriages would be like, which careers we would choose, what our homes would be like. We talked about our future children, deciding on the perfect birth order/gender split as if we had the power to make it happen. I wanted a boy first and then a girl, and Allysa thought she might prefer to only have boys.
College ended, but the six of us made good on our pact of keeping in touch. While we were no longer involved in each other lives on a daily basis, the friendships endured.
Two years after graduation, Allysa was a bridesmaid in my wedding in May, and we all celebrated another roommate’s wedding in July. Two of us drove a few hours to spend the weekend with her in November. A little over a month later, my phone rang in the early morning hours on New Year’s Day. My dear friend had taken her own life. Allysa was 24 years old.
The loss was devastating, made bearable only by the support of my new husband and the four other women who were reeling from the same tragedy. I avoid revisiting those first few months of grief. I feel that focusing on the details of Allysa’s death and its aftermath of life would overshadow what I choose to remember: a bighearted, loyal and bright young woman whose friendship was an integral part of my life.
When my daughter was born — how I wished I could tell Allysa that having a girl first was just fine — I experienced the loss in a fresh way. She would never know my kids, and the world was denied the wonderful children I know Allysa would have raised. I mourned my friend all over again, and I grieved for her parents with a rawness that I didn’t know existed before I was a mother myself.
Allysa has been gone for 17 years. I don’t think about her every day, but I will remember her at unexpected times and a memory will make me smile. A song that she always sung with the wrong lyrics, her favorite color purple, a funny abbreviation she made up for a phrase or word. The friends that are in my life now – my other four roommates, the women I’ve met since becoming a mother – they are all so important to me, but they are friends of the person that I am now. Allysa was the friend of a different Dana, and I wonder how our friendship would have changed as time and life changed us. Allysa will always be young, and my friendship with her will always be one of two young women at the beginning of their life story. When I remember Allysa, I also remember the girl that I was – the girls we both were – sharing our dreams and planning our lives full of promise. Our friendship reminds me that this young woman, the one with all those plans and dreams, is still a part of who I am today.
My life isn’t exactly as we planned it, Allysa, but it’s pretty darn good. How I wish you were here to share it with me.