What happens when a friend dies in her 20s – and you find out about it on Facebook.
Jocelyn let me use her Body Shop Fuzzy Peach perfume in the girls’ bathroom once when we had both sneaked in there to make feeble attempts at mascara application, but that was about as close as we ever got to being friends. Our lives were at once parallel and intersected – we went to the same high school and graduated the same year, and later we lived three train stops away from each other in Brooklyn. But when she died suddenly in a car accident last week, it didn’t seem right to do anything other than mourn. I might not have mourned for her, exactly, neither a friend nor an enemy but a fellow grad of a close-knit suburban high school, but I mourned for the mutual friends we had, the ones who started posting Facebook messages at 6 AM once the news broke about her death. A few days later, another death announcement started to circulate, bubbling up via social media and emails from long-lost acquaintances: our former high school principal Mr. Morrison (since retired) had passed away after a battle with stomach cancer.
Like characters in a favorite childhood book, Jocelyn and Mr. Morrison were both frozen, timeless, unaging. After high school, I moved to a new city and started a new life, but it still surprised me every time I found out that someone else in my peer group had also gotten older. High school girls who cut class to experiment with makeup are usually the kind of teenagers who are hiding from something, who are trying to change. They are the kind of girls who grow up and run away as fast as they can, who hide their faces under powders and creams until they can afford masks of their own. Jocelyn became a fashion designer; I became a writer. We lived in the same borough and never emailed each other. And when I found out that she had died I thought of all the messages I could have sent, all the notes I could have written. But there was only silence.
As adults, there are certain occasions that send us home again, and most of them are happy ones: holidays, weddings, births of babies. We return homeward, triumphant, with stories of progress. I went to my reunion in a black cocktail dress that my high school self would have sneered at from behind a book. Jocelyn was there too, checking her makeup in the bathroom mirror. I didn’t say hello.
Death is supposed to be for the old. One of my last memories of my grandmother is of her crying after coming back from her fiftieth college reunion and realizing that most of her friends were dead. And while it’s hard enough to cope with the loss of someone young, when it’s someone the exact same age and background as you who passes away it’s like being hit hard in the face with blocks of ice. Jocelyn wasn’t immortal, and neither am I. Neither are any of us, although we’re still in our twenties and have all our hair, even though we go to the gym and meet up with our girlfriends for sushi. Jocelyn can die, and so can we.