(Snagged this shot from Little Flower’s website!)

Phew. I mean, PHEW. Like right now, I’m sat, staring at my mac screen and exhaling great big gusts of air–that’s the level of phew we’re talking here. I’ll say right from the get-go though, this was fun! Despite the braces, puffy baby face, the refusal on my part to wear my glasses in pro photos and awkward dance poses, it was so fun to look back to a half a lifetime ago and remember. Sure not all of high school was smashing, but a lot of it was. I didn’t partake in most of the things I wanted to or was capable of – theater, sports, instruments – but I’ve accepted long ago that those extracurriculars simply weren’t meant to be *for me. *Not because I didn’t try, I did try sometimes. But I had a really horrible grade school experience and some of those folks carried over to Little Flower and well, I wasn’t confident I could survive the torment in such the tumultuous teenage years. And if I’m being completely transparent, I was too busy having sex.

There, I said it. My first real boyfriend was when I was 15 and by 16, well, life and priorities changed. And that’s all I’ll say for now on the subject. Maybe one day I’ll write a blog about why a girl should definitely think way way more into such big life decisions at the raging, ridiculously young age of 16. But, hey, I don’t regret a thing. I am who I am and that’s that.

But let’s move on from the teenage sex talk.

And onto these silly photos because I know that’s why you’ll all here for, if you are, in fact, here (thank you!). So let’s do it up and be unapologetic about how mind-blowingly hilarious it is to see baby J in all her emotionally unstable, free-floaty, not-really-innocent glory! But with heart, too. You’ll be getting a lot of that, so be warned.

Freshman year (1997-98):

OH MY GOD what was I even? How did my mother let me choose that dress?! The shoes aren’t *that *bad, but wow. Anyway, it was Fall of 1997 when I attended our winter formal (in a short dress – eyeroll) with my first best friend, Luke (I MEAN) and we had the best time together. He’s a total goof with a voice too deep for his own good and of course I had a crush on him. Had he not moved away when he was 7 to live in New Jersey (SO FAR AWAYYY…sigh), we would have dated far sooner than we did. Which, we did, when we were older and fresh out of high school. But it was brief “romance” because he joined the Army almost immediately after 9/11 and didn’t want me to “be his woman waiting at home.” For the record, I wouldn’t have minded. Alas, it was over before it began and he went to Iraq and I still barely slept for a year. He was deployed two more times after that first and is still an active member of the military, nearly done with his training to become a drill sargeant in a few short weeks. All in all, stand up guy then and an excellent man now. He’s happily married to a wife as cool as he is and they have 3 beautiful children. We chat every once and again though not often enough, but he will always always be my first bff and dance partner.

Sophomore Year (1998-99):

Godspell! The only theater production I ever went to see during my time at LF. It was excellent and very well done and it was fantastic to see some of my friends up on that stage or in the pit playing music. Great night all around.

Now I bet you’re wondering where the photos of Sophomore me are (or not, either way)? Well, I couldn’t find any and I believe it might have been on account of how ill I was that year. Long story short, I had my first brush with a panic disorder and an eating disorder at the start of the school year and missed two weeks right from the start. It was hell and I was 100 lbs soaking wet but I made it and that’s what matters. Perhaps I’ll locate some images the next time I’m sorting through my parents albums but for now, that’s all there is!

Junior Year (1999-2000):

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Junior year was a lot of fun, I remember that clear as day. I was in love, had a job, had a good, close knit group of girls and not many cares – *after *the hell year before, of course. Anyway, it was my first real time feeling and experiencing so many things and coming to know who I was and what I was capable of handling or doing. And suffering reveals our true natures, does it not? So that is why I hold this year of new and exciting in such high regard. If I had to rate it on a scale of 1-10, it’d be a solid 8.5. That’s not bad for a wild teenager like yours truly.

Senior Year (2000-01):

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And there’s a snapshot of my year. Letters written from a friend and myself (there were plenty more but I won’t bore anyone more than I already have). And photos of prom night and post-break up and two girls I love still to this day. Of whom I’d like to introduce you all to now. Well, one more than the other.

Yvonne is on the right – a witty, smart, funny girl who saw me through class excursions, our parents-free senior trip to Disney World (WOOO) after graduation and more laughs than I could ever begin to repay her for. She’s still in my life on Facebook and every once and again we check in to see what’s what and I love her for that. She’s a light from a past that held a lot of darkness for me, and I’ll never ever forget her for that.

Beside her is Nikki. Nikki was exactly what you see in that photo – gorgeous, bright, funny, kind, good-natured and loved like it was the only thing she was born to do. She struggled with manic depression and panic disorders around the same time I had my own brush with demons, only hers were far worse. She was institutionalized and missed half of our sophomore year – I missed her every single day but knew she made the right choice and so I was content to wait as long as it took. I recall asking for her, calling her parents house to get any update I could, but it wasn’t my business (teens don’t realize this until we’re not teens anymore) and soon I stopped pestering and lived in concern until she returned. Which she did. And I have this beautiful photo of us that I cannot find and I hate my lack of organizational skills for it. But I will locate and post it here because that day is so clear, it’s as if it happened moments ago and not 18 years on now; when she came back, we embraced like the air had found us after a long submerge beneath hurricane-ravaged seas.

At least for me, that’s how it was. For Nikkie, those seas never stopped raging. And in February of 2014, 13 years after we had last seen one another in person, she took her own life. It’s hard still to type this because she was this ethereal being and a light so unique and *real *that my heart breaks all over again revisiting her death. It’s not a reality more often than it is. Because when you graduate from high school, you expect not to see the people you’ve shared the last four years of your life with on a regular basis. Typically. BFFs are different but soft bffs (the ones you’re unable to face a single weekday/class session without) are there 9 months out of the year for four years and then you move on with life. But you don’t love them any less. The hope that they’re always out in the world doing good and living their life is there, always. And for me, Nikki was that. I knew the problems she faced and how deep they plagued at her soul so I wasn’t surprised by what happened, but sadness doesn’t cover the spectrum of what it felt like hearing that news. The world is far more dim with her not being here, and that’s simply fact.

I’ll stop now because I didn’t intend for this blog to end on such a dark note, but that’s life sometimes, isn’t it? The beauty and the pain and the learning and the growing. And sharing. Connecting. Becoming close with people at the risk of having your heart smashed. Sharing your life with family and friends and loved ones knowing how impermanent it all is. But that’s why it’s special. And Nikki taught me that. So, I’ll dedicate this blog to her in the hopes that wherever she is, she knows her life meant far more to others than she might have ever realized.

And I’ve just decided that this entry is incomplete. Without that photo, and others, it won’t be truly done.

Expect more very soon. And thank you for journeying through this with me – this has less rhythm than rhyme but I trust you understand why.