If there was ever a blog post that I thought I would never write…this would definitely be one of them.
The world suffered a loss this weekend. Journalism lost a rising star, Lehigh lost a student and leader. Me? I lost one of my good friends, Debbie. I could write some horribly sad entry, but I won’t. Debbie wouldn’t have wanted that.
I first met Debbie when we were part of the 2009 Orientation Staff. It was the last year that the Lehigh Life skit component was included, and like so many things that have had a great impact on my life, that’s where my friendship with Debbie began.
To anyone who was on staff that year, Debbie’s Lehigh Life performance was one for the history books. What was intended as a vignette to demonstrate the potential issues associated with underage drinking became an excuse for Debbie to shine. What other person takes the lyrics to “Fire Burning” to turn it into a warning about excessive drinking (complete with her own over-exaggerated motions.)
I sometimes wonder if many people knew Debbie and I were as close friends as we were because our relationship was always a quiet one. (Yes, take a second to process that I used the words “quiet” and “Debbie” in the same sentence.) At a point when I was still painfully shy, loud and exuberant Debbie was overwhelming. She played a huge role in my finally breaking out of my shell and bringing out a bit of a rebellious streak during training.
We lost touch when Orientation ended, a path that most staff relationships tend to follow. In an extremely fitting fashion, it was the world of journalism that brought Debbie and I back together a year later when we found ourselves sitting next to each other in our mentor, Jeremy Littau’s, Media and Society Class. Surprisingly enough, we rarely caused trouble…except when we felt the need to judge everyone around us, which was about every 2 minutes or so. (Be thankful both of us weren’t on Twitter at that time. You likely would’ve hated us more than you hate Jeremy and I.) Our reunion was short-lived when my dad passed away and I disappeared from class for several weeks. Debbie was one of the first people to reach out to make sure that I was okay and to reassure me that she would help me get caught up. When it became clear my absence was going to be longer than either of us anticipated, she continued our judgmental text stream like everything was the same. Every Tuesday and Thursday between 10:45 to 12, I got a steady update about all the hijinks taking place in class. She didn’t acknowledge that I wasn’t in the room; it was like I was sitting across from her as always. (Jeremy, I speak for us when I say #sorrywerenotsorry.)
Debbie and I racked up some quality library time when we both decided to
torment work with Jeremy for independent studies the following semester. While our judging had moved from the chairs in Neville to the tables of Fairmart, our conversations sometimes took a more serious turn. Sometimes the conversations were about #J391 and the fear of letting down our mentor, but most of the time, one had sensed the other was in a “mood.” Some days we argued. Nothing serious, just about who was going to change their major. (I liked to write, she liked to argue, we both made our cases. Yes, I always lost.) For Debbie, it was never about a major, it was about her future.
I sit at a table in Fairmart writing this post and I’m in direct eye line of the table that plays a starring role in arguably, my favorite Debbie story. It was finals week and for those of you unfamiliar with the hell that is Fairmart, it becomes a more cutthroat arena than usual. Unless you’re here the first day of finals, acquiring a table is as easy a feat as winning the Hunger Games. People will try to save tables or mark their territory with books when they leave to go take an exam, sleep, etc. However, one table didn’t quite get the memo. The table had piles of crumpled up paper, scattered wrappers and two pencils.
Enraged probably didn’t even begin to describe Debbie. After bitterly exchanging some venomous texts from our less than desirable locations, it was time to make our issue public. Debbie posted a picture of the offending table to Facebook, warning the culprit that it was only a matter of time before she claimed the table. (Looking back, this seemed like a reasonable approach given how many connections Debbie had.) While we waited for the then-named “stupid idiot” to return, Debbie left them a note. I don’t remember the exact content of the note, but I do remember the firestorm that resulted. I remember Debbie being a combination of angry, upset and entertained by the idea that she was being labeled as a racist. For someone that was so comfortable in her own skin and just wanted to help others feel the same, the accusation was laughable. So much so that it was the subject of one of the last conversations I had with her.
Within hours of her death becoming public knowledge, the true impact Debbie had on this campus became blatantly obvious. Every person had a different story to tell, but they all centered around the same Debbie: genuine, larger than life, obnoxious, sarcastic, tells it how it is Debbie. Her death reiterates that the Lehigh community is so much more than that, it’s a family. Everyone is dealing in their own way, but it’s understandable to see someone upset or to be comforted by a perfect stranger (like I was today. Thank you!)
I struggle with a lot of things. I struggle with the sheer idea that she’s not here. I wonder who’s going to help me write antagonistic notes during finals or help me irritate Jeremy on Twitter. I wonder who’s going to yell at me that I’m no fun because I never went to Sotto’s karaoke with her. I wonder who’s going to try and switch my soda because she swore by Diet Coke. More importantly, I struggle with how to grieve. Crying just seems natural at this point, but then I hear Debbie yelling at me, either to punch me in the face or something far too inappropriate for this entry. (She always said appropriate was a word she wasn’t familiar with.)
When my dad passed away, I struggled with the idea of signs. I was desperate for any clue that he was still around. With Debbie, it’s a lot easier. I can still hear her. I hear her yelling at me as I cry. I hear her making fun of the kid that was singing to himself as I walked to work this morning. And like Sarah, she appears to have taken over my Spotify account. I made it for weeks without ever hearing the songs “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” or “Gold Digger,” but I was treated to those songs multiple times (with different covers) during my two hours at work this morning. Message received, Debs.
There’s very little I can say that hasn’t already been said; Debbie was a fabulous person. She was one of a kind, and the kind of person you can only hope to come across in a lifetime. She was self-motivated, but never selfish with her success – she would have her hand out to take everyone with her, if she could. (I’m one of, I’m sure, several people she convinced to consider and/or apply to Columbia for graduate school.) The more, the merrier. Always.
I know Debbie knows I’m struggling. She always knew and apparently, still does. Thanks, Debs for every single person you sent to check in on me. It appears we’re still going to have our usual struggle about who needs to take care of who. Twitter will probably be devoid of our usual shenanigans; #garlicknots just don’t seem as appealing as they usually are, but we’re working on making you on trending topic. (Edit: You did it. This is my surprise face.) Your story in the Brown and White has already had over 10,000 views, Miss Popular.
I won’t be at your funeral on Thursday, Debs. There isn’t enough Advil in the world for me to handle the screaming I’d hear if I did go. Instead, I’ll be sitting in Media and Society. Just like old times.
P.S. Thanks for the angry librarian yelling at the student who left her laptop charger to save a table. Nice touch with the pink scarf.