Sometimes there are people you meet in your life and it just feels like they have always been there. It’s a strange feeling because you just met them, but somehow its familiar, comforting even. It’s like you’re just catching up instead of getting to know someone. That is exactly how I felt when I met Erin.
It was freshman orientation weekend at Keene State when we met at the student center on campus. She and Lara were from the same hometown in the Berkshires and there was just an instant connection. We kept in touch over the next few weeks before we were to move into the dorms and once school started it was like an instant sisterhood. Our core group of friends grew over the next few months and even over the few years. People say your college friends are something special, but sometimes I feel like that’s not even strong enough to explain how much I love my crew. ‘Family’ doesn’t even really cover it – it was just that we were all so connected – so invested in each other – so grateful for our friendships — it was love no doubt. As our college years went on, our memories became countless. Our laughter was constant, our friendships were strengthened. We would practically eat, sleep and breathe each other so it was tough not to be! It’s friendships like those that define who you are.
This girl had a smile that would light up a room. Her piercing blue eyes could stop you in your tracks. She was stunningly beautiful but beyond that, her heart and spirit were beyond measure. She had a gift in her spirit that she would share with anyone who crossed her path. The kids she babysat for, the strangers walking down the street who she would always smile at, the classmates who always wanted to work with her, but more than anything – she shared it with us. Her crew. Our crew. Every single day. She could make you laugh until you cried. She could listen if you were upset as if you were the only person in the world. Her smile could turn your whole day around. Her sense of humor was hysterical and she knew just what to say at just the right time.
I had the chance to move to North Carolina for the January-June semester during our senior year and although I desperately wanted to go, it was a big consideration leaving my roommate and best friend for a whole semester. When weighing the options together she looked at me and told me I had to go – we would talk every day and it would be exactly what I needed. Since we had taken a semester off together earlier in our college career we were the only ones out of our friends who had an extra semester after we walked in graduation in May. She promised she would take care of finding our apartment for the following year while I was away and we would make up the time then. So I went. I moved to North Carolina and talked almost every day. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss her smile every morning the way we would drink coffee and chat before classes in our apartment.
Without any warning, Erin passed away that February 20, 2002. I was in North Carolina and one of my best guy friends Mikey called me with the news. I couldn’t understand, I couldn’t get my head around it. None of it made sense. I made the trip home to fall back into the arms of my crew to try and heal our hearts together. Graduation came and went. With great struggle I finally completed my final semester in the fall without her, but I did it. She would have been livid if I didn’t! She pushed me, I know she made sure I didn’t walk away from everything I worked for. So, with that, our lives went on with a great void there. It’s still there, every.single.day.
But, I am grateful and happy to admit there is something else that is still there every single day as well. Her warmth; her smile and her memories that live in our hearts. The way she still shows up in my life all the time. She turns my radio station to songs that mean something to us quite often. Street lights are always going out just before I get under them, just as they did for the first time the night I found out she was gone. She shows up in the smiles of my kids. The love of my friends. And the greatest gift she could have ever given me, my profession.
People often ask, “Did you always want to be a photographer?” And the answer is two folds. In fact I always have been a photographer. My little pink 110 film camera went everywhere with me. For birthdays and Christmas gifts, I was always asking for a newer camera (but didn’t often get it!) I was the one in the group of my childhood friends who was always taking the pictures. There was just something magical about documenting those memories for me. Even the silly ones. In college, I still was still the one documenting those memories. Little did I know just how valuable those moments would become. One of the most best things was when we dropped off our film at the local photo store where they shipped it out and we had to wait a week or two before they came in. When I walked downtown with Erin and the girls to pick up those memories, it was often an event in itself! The walk back to our apartment was always filled with laughter at what we captured!
Now, if you read my ‘About Me’ section, you know I always wanted to be a Mom. After that I also wanted to be a teacher. If I’m being honest, I didn’t even know you could even be a professional photographer and make a good living doing it! Had I known that and really explored that, I have no doubt that would have been my career choice from the get-go. But, I didn’t, and therefore I didn’t ever consider it. So, did I always want to be a photographer? Yes. I always have been, in fact. Did I always want to be a professional photographer? No, I didn’t know it was sustainable! Luckily for me I have been fortunate enough to find amazing people in my life to show me it is possible and I can make this passion my career. Every single time I pull out those college photos, I am reminded, yet again, Erin is still pushing me to live the life I dreamed of.
You see, that stack of photos I have now is beyond priceless. Yes, I have my memories in my heart of the most amazing friend I’ve ever had, but those pictures are different. They are the real moments. A glance at each print can put me right back in that space. I can smell her perfume, I can hear her laugh, I can feel her arms hugging me tight. Those stack of prints are all I have. They are the first thing (behind my family) that I would grab in a fire. They are the first thing I would take if I could only take one thing with me. They are my proof that she still matters every day. They make me smile, they make me cry. They make me angry that I can’t laugh with her next to me while we look at them. They make me realize just how amazing people like her are. They make me see, even when I struggle, she is still here.
So, Erin is the reason I am living this dream. She is the reason I absolutely know beyond a doubt why my job is so important. Those stack of memories in print remind me every time I click that camera with my clients that this -moment -matters. Life is funny and works in a ways we don’t always understand, but there is no doubt in my mind, things happen for a reason. I have said it before but I can’t stress it enough, we don’t know how much time we have on this Earth with the people we love, the people who help us grow, the people who shape who we are. Don’t you think it’s worth it to document that gift? Don’t you want to remember your grandmothers smile while she looks at your daughter? Don’t you want to remember the way your son reaches for your hand when you walk beside him? Don’t you want to remember the scrunched up nose your kids have when they laugh? I know we think we will remember. I know that feeling. But we don’t. We just can’t possibly remember it all, so please. Document it. Let me give you the gift to show you the way your love exists in this world. Let me be the memory keeper for your family if you’re too busy. Or at the very least, document any part of it yourself with your camera phones. I’ve never felt more passionate about anything – Make.the.time. I know what it’s like to have something taken for granted – to think you can call everyday – to think you will see each other tomorrow. But we never really know. Knowing I can give families a small part of comfort to know for sure these memories will be handed down for generations fills my heart with joy. It is that gift that she gave me that reminds me we are all connected. We all deserve the same sense of comfort. We all deserve to be documented, to be remembered. For the world to know we were here. She gave me this gift. She carved this path for me when I wasn’t looking, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Erin, I love you and miss you every single day. I wish I could have seen you play with my kids. I wish I could introduce you to the safe keeper of my heart. I wish I could sit with you at the ocean again. I wish I could hear your giggle one more time. I wish you could hug me and make me laugh when I’m crying the way you always used to do. Your spirit guides me every day. Your smile is felt in the warmth of the sunshine. You are with me, this I know; I just wish I could hear you again. For now, I will continue on this journey you gave me. I will walk this path and share my gifts the way you shared yours. I will celebrate your life and all you shared with us. You are and always will be a hero to me. I am grateful every day I was blessed enough to have you in my life. Until we meet again, I’ll soak in your sunshine and remember to your smile at the beach. I love you.