“Did she have a big spirit? I feel like she must’ve.”
Someone asked me that about you the other day and I said oh yes -- that you were the most life and energy packed into a person that I reckoned was even a possibility. It was the first time I’d smiled since I talked to Emily on the phone and found out that yes, it was true, that you’d left us. That yes, we really did lose you.
I remember the day we found each other, though. It was at that welcome picnic for grad school, you with your swag and royal blue v-neck and impossibly beautiful eyes that lit up the whole place. I thought you were way too cool to ever be my friend, and you thought the same thing of me, with my Lilly Pulitzer skirt covered in little lobsters holding martini glasses.
I am thankful that first impressions are deceiving, because yours and mine turned out to be a friendship that breathed the life right back into me. Proof to me, really, that God peppers our lives with little miracles that we mistake for ordinary days and meetings and welcome picnics, when really they’re something more Him saying, “Look. You’ve been through the ringer, and you’re pretty bitter about a lot of things in life, but this is a soul that you need so very badly because it’s going to help heal you and so I’ve put yours and hers under this picnic shelter on this day exactly for that reason.”
And that’s why it took me forever and a day to write this to you.
Because it means that the day has come where I had to say goodbye to you.
I’ll never forget it, not ever. I remember that it was windy and overcast. I remember that there were red and green and white pennant flags outside the church and I can still hear the sound of them flapping in the wind. I remember the creak that the door made when I pushed it open. I remember the smell of the room and the way the pew felt underneath me. I remember all the things your brother said about you. They’re imprinted into my brain along with all the other stuff I already knew. The story about how you tried to make bananas foster in a blender one time was a lovely addition.
A woman from your family sat beside me, and I recognized her from the funeral home the day before because she was the one who sat beside me watching your tribute video on a loop. I had my stuffed bunny rabbit sitting on my lap. She was crying, so I almost let her hold Bunny. And since I don’t know any of the things you’re actually supposed to do at Mass, I just wrapped her up in a big hug when I think I was just supposed to say, “Peace be with you.”
It was the same thing.
I had to say goodbye to you on that Monday morning, Mags, and it’s not something I ever thought I’d have to do. I said, “Goodbye sweet one. I sure am going to miss you,” as they rolled you on your way to finally be laid to rest. Woman from your family beside me looked at me and cried some more and she said, “So am I.” I wanted to sit in that room, on that pew forever, but you would have said, “Manda, no. That’s crazy. I’m gonna still be with you everywhere you go.”
And you will.
Maggie Daniels, you were a masterpiece. You were a force of nature. You were my person.
It was amazing. I felt so safe in life with you by my side because I knew you’d be there no matter what and help me with everything, and you knew I’d do the same for you. And that you believed in me no matter what. And that you always made me feel like I was enough and that I could handle whatever was in front of me. And that we’d have each other even if everything else went to crap.
And even in my very best moments, I feel so much more alone in life without you.
I’m sad about the dreams we had about our little trips and our little families, about forcing our husbands and children to all be the best of friends whether they liked it or not. About raising our families together. You would have been ahead of me so that I could get all my notes on how to be the best mom from you. It wasn’t even a dream, because that was just how things were going to be. So I’ll do all of that for you now. I’ll be the best mama. And I’ll tell my littles all of our stories, like when how their mom and Aunt Maggie took over the patio at Mellow Mushroom in Blowing Rock on the first day it was open after a huge snowstorm and made a game that no one could sit out there with them unless they ordered your favorite beer, and that every single person played along. (I’ll say juice until they’re older.)
Or the day it started snowing in Boone in the middle of March and so you and Emily and I packed up your car and drove to Savannah so we could spend a few days out on Tybee Island, taking walks and reading on the beach, and a few nights watching NCAA Final Four games at the bar at Outback. Or how you always saved a seat right next to you in class, and we’d ask everyone to please rank their favorite colors of Starburst, and if pink wasn’t their #1, they couldn’t talk to us today, except we always broke that rule every single time because there wasn’t a bone in your body that could ever stand to make anyone feel excluded.
You were magic, an absolute gem, and how lucky am I to have had some of your magic rub off on me. I’ll do my absolute best to make sure that I make every single person I meet feel as safe and held and loved and believed in as you made me feel every single day of our years together, and even now as I remember you.
I could talk about how it’s just awful that you're gone -- that whoever is responsible for this needs to be brought to justice and that it’s not fair and that my heart is just...ruined, but everyone already knows all of those things, and those are not the things you taught me to dwell on.
You taught me that no matter what, no matter how bad things got, how down we felt or how thick the darkness seemed, that the light was always on its way and that we just needed to hang on a little bit longer because it always showed up. That sometimes it feels like the darkness is winning, but that it is not winning. That God is real and He loves us. I can feel that when I think of you. It was always easier to believe in Light and Goodness with you around.
That there are things that are lost and things that are found. That life is as painful as it is magical. You can’t just have one or the other; avoid the pain and hoard all the magic, although knowing you felt as close to that as you can get.
That’s what I’m trying so very desperately to hang onto now.
I’ll lean on God and the faith we shared, and on all the things you taught me.
I am so completely uninterested in trying to figure out how to do life without you. It’s just not something I want to have to do. But we always said to just do the next right thing, and so I promise that I’ll figure it out.
I promise to not choose bitterness. I know it’ll come and go in waves, and so when it does come, I promise to not let it win. I promise that I won’t close my heart up and be mad at the world or at God or the lady at the grocery store who asks me if I’m having a good day when I absolutely am not because the pain is fresh and back again.
There have been some sweet moments in the midst of all the unbearable ones, though.
I finally got to meet your family while we were up in Ohio. Your little sister. She’s as radiant and amazing as you always said, and it’s been sweet to spend some time with her. I promise to stay in touch with her. We talked the day you left us and we both said that’s what you always wanted anyway, for us to be close. So that’s what we decided to do. It's like it was another moment where God matched our two souls up.
One of your students came up to me at the memorial in North Carolina and said she had a video of the time I came to visit you at school and we ended up rapping Nicki Minaj in that week’s talent show. You tried so hard to get that thing deleted.
I am so thankful that you were not successful.
Have watched it at least fourteen thousand times and it always makes me laugh (and that helps with all the rest of this tremendously.)
There was a little dinner party at the bed and breakfast after that memorial. You know how much I love dinner parties. I felt lucky to be in a room with most of the people on Earth who knew and loved you best, and thanked God, in all His illustrious graciousness, that I was counted as one of them. I sat next to Coach Lytton. I know how much you loved him and how much he made you feel loved and believed in. I wanted to thank him for every single little thing that he ever did for you, but instead we explained Arnold Palmers and chicken pie to your sister.
It was the same thing.
And then afterwards I sat out on the porch with your brothers and sisters and we drank wine and ate only the pink Starbursts in your honor. We smiled. We wished you could have been there. If I closed my eyes, it was almost like you really were. It really was something.
Emily and I talked about it, and we both agreed that you get to pick your age in heaven, and that even if you don’t, you’ve marched right up to God and plopped down beside Him and found a way to turn it into a game and be 22 anyway. You’ve also demanded to know His favorite color and vacation destination and theme song of the day, but to please make up His mind quickly, because your 3-on-3 basketball tournament is starting any minute and you and your dad need a third. God is the obvious choice, really. Probably very good at basketball. I’m sure you give him a run for His money, but I mean, He IS God, after all.
I’ll never ever stop missing you, I can promise you that much. There will always be a spot in my life where I wish you’d be. In my passenger seat, in my wedding, in my text messages helping me make every decision.
There will be plenty of hard days coming up, but also the day I'll get to see you again. You’re at home where you are now. That’s what helps me the most. I know you’ll be waiting right at that gate when I get there, and I know you’re saving me a seat just like you always did. I’ll wear my lobster martini skirt and we'll pick up right where we left off and it will be beautiful.
I can’t wait, Mags. It will be the most beautiful thing.
I love you a million pink Starbursts.