Tuesday, June 7, 2011

She didn't ask me "Do you remember Shannon Lawrence?" Such a question would have been preposterous. We had all grown up together. Of course I remember Shannon Lawrence.

When I was in the second grade, I knew her third-grade brother Justin. We were in the same 'aim' class, and I remember that I asked him, once I'd seen the rosters for our classes in the coming year, if he thought his sister would like me, and what his sister looked like, so I could make friends with her right away. He told me she looked just like him, except her hair was longer. I always smile at that memory because I knew her instantly.

Here and now, in my class of first-year students, there is only one who did not attend either of "my" elementary schools that typically feed into the middle school. But I knew her name the moment I saw her, because we call them by last name anyway, and she is unmistakably the younger sister of one of my second-year boys. Like him, she is kind and hardworking, and pretty sharp. I sat across from her at lunch last week and thought about Shannon and Justin. 

On Monday, I called on the older-brother student in class and he made me laugh.

I used to go to Shannon’s house to “play,” before we were even old enough to call it ‘hanging out.’ We had sleepovers, we played Amazon Trail. She came to my birthday parties and I went to hers. She took me to my first concert (it was the Backstreet Boys). In middle school, we gelled into the same group of friends, who worried and whined and were extra-dramatic together. She was always the most sensitive of us, the most tearful when it came to that. Sometimes I wanted to take care of her, sometimes I wasn’t so good. I was jealous that she was prettier than me, I wondered why she and her brother could get along so much better than I and mine; I did not want her home life because I knew she took it hard. Her parents divorced when we were in the 4th grade (which was not an uncommon thing, in those days or in these, but my parents were still fine, and so were L’s, so how could we really understand?), and we wondered, in 7th, why she hadn’t got over it yet.

I remember school projects and movies at night. I remember cakes and snacks and homecoming dresses. We got ‘lost’ in the woods once, in her neighborhood, and ended up on some other road. I remember her laugh, her brown eyes, her brown hair. I was looking at pictures of her last night and was a little bit amazed how familiar she looked to me, even though we haven’t spent much time together in so many years. I was a little bit surprised by how clearly she was, even in her newer photos, the very same girl I knew when we were children.

Once, I had dinner at her father’s house. It was very close to my own, walking distance, even, a rarity in suburban Georgia. Her stepmother made pasta, and we played hide and seek with her brother and stepbrother in the dark of the house while her father and his wife sat on the porch and allowed us the run of the place. After we tired of it, she and I jumped on the trampoline, then lay on our backs on the bouncy surface, talking. We were old enough then to be hanging out, wondering aloud about the future, thinking about boys.

Her stepbrother sat next to me in chemistry class. I wondered if it were okay to have a crush on her older brother. She went to the same church as my homeschooled friends, she was friends with L’s group in high school, and I drifted (though not lazily) between those friends, and the anime-nerd clutch that formed freshman year. We didn’t hang out as much, though. In college it was even less; I guess being away will do that. And we had different lives, by then, different perspectives and ambitions. I mostly saw her at gatherings of L’s group, but I was always happy to see her.

L has always kept me informed of things going on back home. She did it in college, and she does it still. Somewhere in the course of our conversations, she tells me about the latest family news (I’m an honorary cousin), and updates me on the friends I haven’t seen. I never met Shannon’s boyfriends, I only heard what they were like. I knew about what Shannon was up to only in the same vague background way I knew anything about what happened to the class of 2004, who was in school or out of it, who had a new job, who had moved where.

I remember pictures of her on facebook, pregnant and smiling, when I was finishing college. She looked beautiful still. She was still heart-of-gold sweet and good Catholic Shannon, too, and no matter how painful or difficult or awkward the relationship with that guy was, she was never going to not keep the baby. We may have all had our own opinions on the guy, on the situation, but so did she.

The last time I saw her, at L’s birthday party the summer before I left for Japan, she held that beautiful little girl and said that things with Chris were bad, but she didn’t regret all that, because Emma was the best thing that ever happened to her. She wasn’t just saying that, I saw it in her smile. I never fully understood that situation; I was never part of it, wasn’t really in, anymore, wasn’t deep enough in that group, in her life to get it. We only spoke briefly, she held her baby, and her love was clear. She would do anything for her kid. I thought, even though this situation isn’t ideal, I bet she’s a good mom. I bet she was.

When she got pregnant again, I was in Japan, and quite literally in no position to say anything about it. Like I said, we had our own opinions; anyone who could hurt a gentle soul like her (I don’t wish to report poorly recalled hear-say about threatening or abusive behavior, so I’ll say only that he wasn’t good enough to her, for her)… well.

When L called me at work after lunch on Monday, she said “So you remember Chris,” adding a line or two of ‘our own opinions’ to refresh my memory. I never met him; I only knew and disliked him from legend. L didn’t frame it like a news story, she didn’t use legal lingo or form a passive sentence. She spoke slowly because the line from skype to my cell phone wasn’t the very clearest. She told me all the information that was available. I checked later, when I got home from work. The news articles didn’t have much to offer.

We spent a little time in silence, because what can you say. When I hung up, I went back inside and printed two more worksheets I had been about to send to printer, then I looked at the clock. I canceled my dinner plans, went to the door, put on my outdoor shoes, and walked as though I were going to the elementary school for some reason. I walked through its parking lot and straight down to the river, where I walked along the bank. I didn’t greet anyone, I didn’t smile at them. Why should I have to smile at everyone all the time, why should I be expected to give a genkina aisatsu right now. It was too much, just too much.

I had put money for a water bottle, in case I needed it later, and some go-ens in my pocket. I intended to go to Iwa Jinja, big and solid and peaceful as it is, but I never made it that far. Somewhere along the riverbank, I walked down the slope and to the river’s edge. Bamboo was poking through the sand. It was sunny. I crouched in the shade of some little trees and promptly began to cry. It was kind of nice, really.. I never feel far enough away from stuff, at home. In our apartments, your neighbors can hear you chuckle, let alone howl. But down by that lonely riverbank, there was only rocks and rice fields to hear me. I thought about how we grew up together. I thought about what she became, and what I became, and what she might have become after now. I realized, at some point, looking up at the green of the leaves through my naked eyes that it was an absolutely gorgeous day. I sat and remembered, and cried. When it was 2:45, I washed my face in the river and walked back to school. I asked if I could go home on the four o’clock.

I didn’t know how to say anything to my co-workers about it. I very literally don’t have the words. Is it enough to say “My friend back home has died.” ? That’s what I told one teacher as I was leaving today, by way of explaining why I wasn’t very genki all day. But that doesn’t say half of it, that doesn’t say anything about fear and violence and damage done. That doesn’t beg the question, how will you persuade those children that everything is going to be okay, that the world is an okay place, and if you manage to do so, are you just lying to them anyway?  The only person I said it to as a sentence was my next door neighbor, and every clause, every extra detail that fell from my lips felt like a grotesque pantomime of news-giving. I fell off into a whisper, embarrassed to be even trying to say it out loud. “Last night [it was midday in the US, which means the middle of the night here], my friend back home was brutally murdered, in front of her two children, by her baby-daddy.”

I don’t know what any of those words even mean.

I know she was beautiful, and so sweet, and so good. I know this because I saw it, I grew up with it, saw her grow into it, in some ways.

The last time I saw her, she was beautiful, she adored her daughter, and she was doing okay. Therefore, if of course I remember Shannon Lawrence, this is the Shannon I remember.
The last time I saw her.


  1. I'm so sorry, EmLem. I'll be thinking of you and her family this week.

  2. Nice page to save for Emma and Peter to read some day when they start asking questions. Thanks for your love for her through the years.

    Randy Lawrence
    (Shannon's Dad)