a life toward soccer, pt 3
The TIAS Diary Project continues with the 3rd part of a series put together by Los Angeles artist Noe Valladolid. This is his life story, his soccer story in words and pictures. For the first installment, I referred to it as a stab at a TIAS comic book. Then I called it a graphic novel. And here part 3 takes another turn, into the honest unknown.
A Life Toward Soccer, part 3 (Danielle)
by Noe Valladolid
Her name was Danielle. We don’t talk about her. My friends, my boss, and my former co-workers—none of us want to talk about her. We should. We need to remember. I know that every now and then they remember.
They remember all the good times because that’s all we ever had. That’s all we ever knew. There were no bad days. Her smile, sweet, genuine and sincere. Her energy, spirited and infectious. I think about her more often than most. It’s rare that I can go into work and not remember her. Her story was going to be one for the ages. One of the many success stories that passed through the computer lab where we worked. She was not supposed to be forgotten, but you won’t find her name anywhere. She doesn’t show up on Facebook, Google or even MySpace. She left us before any of us laid digital fingerprints.
It hurts to get old. Not the physical part, it’s slow and negligible for me. The memories are what hurt the most. I’m forgetful, but I don’t forget the bad as much as the good. I don’t forget half of what I wish I could, but I never wish to forget Danielle, even if it hurts.
For everything she meant, she should never be forgotten. She was everything that girls aspire to be: smart, funny, and oh-so-pretty. She was everything that young women emulated in a role-model and what adults longed for in hindsight. Independent, athletic, kind and filled with unlimited potential. It hurts to remember everything she was and could have been.
I will never know the whole story. None of us ever will. Instead we are left with questions. That is the one thing I have come to understand about friends and family that live through a suicide. The terrible thing that took Danielle from us. We will never have closure. We will never know why. Questions and a bit of our heart that will never close. That is all we have now. Why didn’t I see it? What did I do wrong?
You should have seen her go. On the soccer field she was the envy of all of us, student computer lab techs that had been at college for a year or three longer than her. Some of us were athletes. Some of us were soccer players not ready to concede to Danielle. She was the kid. The upstart. She had a long way to go before she would impress us. Or so we thought. We challenged her in our ways. We wanted her to reach the greatness that was inside of her. The greatness that was obvious to everyone that saw her. To everyone that met her or even got her to smile. My brother had strong feelings for her, but he never said a thing. He never would get a chance. Others like George would tease her like and older brother, not like those cruel teens on Dateline. She became the little sister of the lab and we all watched out for her. She might have never known.
Our co-worker Ericka was like the big sister, the mentor and rival all rolled into one. Always meeting Danielle with a challenge, Ericka was competitive, in school, in cross country and just about everything if you were to ask her brother. She was not willing to hand over the lab duties to a kid until she knew she could handle it. Danielle would come in to work, sometimes in her favorite soccer jersey. Her hair pulled in a tight ponytail, her cheeks flush from running, her skin tanned from afternoon practice. She loved soccer, she loved it all her life. She was making her mark on the college team and would have probably been a star at the university level.
Ericka would throw her elbow down on the desk at the front counter with a loud thud. She didn’t care if she startled the students working on their assignments. She wouldn’t wait for Danielle to put down her backpack either. Arm wrestling was one of the ways they bonded. Ericka would not concede that the girl fresh out of high school would usurp her status. Not at work and not in school.
It was happening and we all knew it. It was only a matter of time before Danielle would get the better of Ericka. It was written all over her face. With their hands pressed against each other and George acting as a ref, the computer lab turned into a mini Las Vegas. Fierce determination drew on their faces as their blood pressure rose and eyes dialed in on one another. Their fingers lost color as they tried to crush each other’s will. Their forearms and shoulders strained as each refused to yield. Some matches lasted several minutes. Ericka would get the better of her, but every time it took longer for her to win. It took something out of her. More than she let on. Danielle was the future and she knew it.
Danielle had a real sister. They looked so much alike. We only met her once after the accident. That’s how I want to remember it. It was an accident. It hurt to look her sister in the eye and tell her that we cared about her at work. That we were all friends in the lab. That she was like our little sister too. I gave her the drawings I made of Danielle. The caricatures I used to post on the wall so that students knew who the staffers were. She took the drawings, said thanks and left. It felt hollow.
Everything felt empty after Danielle. All we could do is wonder how we could have been better to Danielle. How we could have been kinder and more compassionate. To make her feel more like family than a co-worker. Not to make her feel like she was being annoying or trying too hard to fit in. She had it all. yet maybe she didn’t realize it. Maybe she was never told. The warning signs were there. We didn’t even pick up on them. We thought she was growing up and finding her own voice.
Danielle was independent. She wanted to prove that she was mature beyond her years. She wanted to be treated like an adult even if it were painfully obvious that she had a lot more growing up to do. It would be another four years before she could legally drink or vote but she managed to move into an apartment with a friend. She had a junky, little used car which she was proud of. This was when most her classmates (and most of her co-workers) were still living at home and getting around on the bus. I don’t remember ever saying that was a good idea, that I was proud of her. Instead I told her that she should be careful, the world was not always a kind or forgiving. She put bright highlights in her hair, reveling in her independence. She wasn’t complimented by any of us, only criticized for ruining her perfect jet-black hair. When she bought a guitar and told us gleefully that she was learning to play we thought she had taken on one too many projects. She asked if I could teach her to play. I had never learned chords, only notes in my years of playing cello in the orchestra. I fumbled through her music book and showed her how to find the notes on the guitar. She was impressed that I was able to make some of the songs sound familiar even without chords. I told her to take a class but if she had any questions she could always see me. She seemed uncertain, took the guitar and left. It was one of the last times I vividly remember talking to her. It left me feeling that I should have congratulated her, I should have shown more interest and been a kinder “big brother.”
I was writing for the student newspaper at the time. It happened suddenly and the editor in chief was deciding if we could run the story. He was asking the other editors if they could write something about “that suicide girl.” I was laying out a page across from him. I turned red. She had a name. I wanted to throw my computer at him. To yell her name out loud and punch him in the face. He kept on talking about the content on other pages, who was gathering photos for the board meeting, who was covering the big game, what about the front page? I gathered my things and walked out. I could no longer write in an atmosphere were everything was trivial and newsworthy at the same time, even the death of a classmate he never met. She deserved more respect from the EIC and my classmates. I got my degree in journalism but never wanted back into the paper business. They failed to remember her. They failed to care. Not me. It’s a rare day when I go into work and not think of Danielle.
all words and picture by Noe Valladolid, author at 1Up.com