When I was 8 years old my parents, my little brother and I moved into a big house in Winter Garden, Florida. I had no friends, would be going to a new school and was really nervous. My mom told me that our next-door neighbor had a daughter named Lauren the same age and she took me over to meet her. I knocked on their door eagerly because I still am and have always been overly outgoing. I stood in front of my mom and there was Ms. Janet at the door and Lauren hiding behind her legs. Janet pushed Lauren to the forefront and I embraced her in a hug she didn’t want and informed her that we were going to be the best of friends. We left to walk back to our house and I told my mom “I’m not sure she likes me, mom.” My mom replied “sweetie she will love you. She just doesn’t know you yet.”
For a few days I’d run over to ask her to play but she wasn’t ready to be my friend yet and then one day I was so excited because our doorbell rang and there she was. Lauren came over to play and the rest was history. We were inseparable. Lauren was a gymnast and she spent her days teaching me new tricks. We would play in the dirt mounds behind our houses from the construction site. We would have sleepovers, have water balloon fights, and playhouse. My dad even let us walk to Walgreens down the street and gave us 20 bucks to buy whatever we wanted. We lived in paradise. It was Lauren and I against the world. My dad even called her his adopted daughter but I truly realized she was my best friend years later.
When we were 11 my parents announced their divorce to my baby brother and I. My entire world shattered. Reality struck so young. Everything felt like a lie, especially love. So I told my parents I was running away and ran all the way next door to my best friend’s house. I told her mom it was urgent because it was a school night and barged into her room. I told her calmly “I’m not going home today Lauren and I’ll tell you why. My parents are getting a divorce.” Lauren gasped and then the craziest thing happened. She cried and I didn’t. Then I held her while she cried and comforted her. Lauren looked up at me and said “we are going to your house and staying there” and we did. Lauren embraced my parents and cried with them and then we had a sleepover and cried ourselves to sleep.
Lauren wasn’t just my best friend, she was my sister.
We transcended through middle school together and experienced our first crushes, our first “heartbreaks” because our crushes didn’t like us back, our 13th birthdays, and started growing up a bit. That’s when we hit 9th grade and finally got to go to school together because Lauren had always been in private school.
Then everything changed.
Lauren and I remained close. Rode the bus together, coordinated classes together, and had lunch together but the one thing that changed was her choice of friends versus mine. Lauren was stunning so she started hanging out with the pretty girls and the older boys. Me on the other hand, I had braces and big ears and the closest thing I had to a first kiss was kissing the poster of Zac Efron on my wall. Lauren met this beautiful friend at gymnastics and she started to hang out with her instead of me outside of school and I wasn’t mad about it. I missed her but she was happy. Then I recognized the changes. She would run over to my house and tell me these stories about things I had never heard of before or experienced. Life was no longer enough for Lauren’s imagination, she had to explore and no one was going to stop her. Now here’s the thing. I don’t want Lauren to be remembered for the heart-wrenching things I am going to discuss because she deserves so much more than that. I want you to know that when she walked into a room she was the most bubbly soul, she could get me or anyone out of any bad mood and she would lie to you so that you wouldn’t worry. She was sunshine.
Lauren was smarter than any girl I knew. She had straight A’s, not one person hated her and she barely had to try. I’m not sure how I missed that something inside of her wasn’t aligning and her “party phase” wasn’t just a “phase.”
I saw Lauren post a picture with the girl I know encouraged a lot of her worst decisions. So I texted Lauren but she assured me she was being safe.
3 days later my friend called me while I was dog sitting and I heard the words deep in my soul I knew were coming. “Did you see Lauren’s Facebook.” My heart sank. I knew what she meant. Lauren’s Facebook was going to be flooded with RIP posts. I think I screamed and had a panic attack. I don’t really remember. I called my family and drove frantically to Lauren’s house. I can’t tell you much more about that day or that week because I don’t remember it. I remember feeling numb. I remember feeling like a failure and I remember underage drinking. I remember helping her mom pack her room and holding her mom crying. I remember giving a speech at Lauren’s funeral when it should’ve been a speech at her wedding. But mostly, I remember hating drugs and knew I would spend the rest of my life living each day like it was my last and making sure I would help other people so that maybe they could help someone they love or help themselves.
Lauren died of an accidental OD in a way that no one would want to see someone they love. When she was in need her friend didn’t come to her rescue. And the rest of my life I’ve spent wondering what if she called me or her mom for help? Would things be different? But I think Lauren knew she was leaving. No one could stop her. She was 20 and full of life. She would simply sneak out of her bedroom window or hitch a ride to the nearest party. She was a wild child with a free spirit and it was that simple.
Her mom dropped her off at the party she was at the last night of her life. She was playing the song “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry and she turned down the music and looked at her mom and said, “Mom I have a feeling that I’m going to die young.” Her mom replied “Why would you say that!” and Lauren said, “I don’t know, I just have a feeling.” Kissed her mom and hugged her, hopped out of the car and that was it.
I want whoever is reading this to know that life is so unexpected and time doesn’t stop for anyone. I want you to know how precious your life is and how important you are. Please live your life to the fullest, stay away from what is not good for you, do not be afraid to take risks to make yourself happy and cherish every moment.
The clock is ticking. We are not guaranteed a tomorrow, or even the next minute. So who are you going to be and how are you going to live your life?
Lauren Wilds, I love you with all of my heart. Thank you for reminding me to live every day like it’s my last and I can’t wait to be reunited with you in heaven.