Five years later
Remembering and reflecting on what the world lost that day
By Jaime’s friend Jordana Comiter
It’s been five years. That means 60 months, 260 weeks and 1,825 days since the worst day of my life. Yet, it feels like yesterday.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news of the active shooter at Douglas, exactly the panic in my mind as I imagined the worst for the hours that followed, and exactly the sound of my scream when I heard that Jaime was one of the 17 victims.
A lot went black then, but I could still tell you exactly what I was wearing, where I was standing, who I was with, what I did, and how I felt. At that moment, my world flipped, and a part of me went with her.
Today marks five years — five years since I lost my best friend and five years since I’ve felt whole. I miss her every day, though. People affected by gun violence suffer silently as the world moves on around them. This doesn’t go away. I don’t suddenly miss her on the annual mark. I face this loss every single day.
I still do hate Valentine’s Day, though. And here’s why:
I hate that a day that is supposed to be about love is the day I dread most every year. What is pink and full of love for others is a deep pit of darkness for me. I hate the way that others around me are upset about being single or not knowing what to get their partner while I’m upset about assault weapons. I hate the way that the giant, obnoxious “Valentine’s day” section greets me as I walk into CVS and Walgreens all of February, immediately triggering little reminders of that day. I hate that when I see flowers and teddy bears, like the ones I instantly saw as I got on the train for class this morning, I am reminded of the texts between Jaime and me about being alone forever just one hour before we would never talk again. I hate the way that when 7:40 pm hits, while others are off to their dinner dates and romantic meals, my mind is flooded with images of the moment I found out Jaime had been killed. I really hate today.
It’s a reminder of the darkest days of my life, and it brings back an overwhelming amount of pain and guilt that I’ve worked so hard the past five years to work through. The belief that because I wasn’t in the halls of that school I don’t have the right to be sad or anxious. The images in my head that infiltrated my nightmares for months. The feeling that I am letting her down because I haven’t stopped other kids from being shot in their schools. And on days like today, it’s easy to regress.
I have moved forward — I’ve graduated high school and college, traveled the world, formed incredible relationships, moved to three new cities, and more — but I have not moved on. I am doing all of these things to make her proud, to live my life for her and because I know all too well how fast this life can be taken away from me. But still, I sometimes feel frozen— like my life is moving so fast around me while I am stuck in 2018, at that moment when it all went dark.
Stuck in that moment when I had to be dragged from my car into my dance studio because I refused to go in on my own and the school days where I would spend each class with my head down on my desk to block out the noise. It took time, but I moved forward. I knew I couldn’t waste my life away lying in bed and giving up on my dreams – I am certain that is the last thing Jaime would have wanted. But still, there are days I am hiding so much behind my laughter. And I know no number of years passing will change that.
She was ripped from my life in the most inhumane way, and that’s not something that one ever gets over. I saw things no 17-year-old should ever have to see, did things they shouldn’t have to do, and read things I can’t ever erase from my mind. This grief has no timeline, and I know for a fact I’ll still be hurting just as much in another five years.
But I’m not just writing this to tell you about my growth or my grief. I am here to remind you — my readers — of the beautiful life that was lost five years ago today.
One of the things I’ve thought about a lot over the past few years is the eulogy I gave at Jaime’s funeral. When I read it back, there is so much I wish I said or expressed. I don’t think there is any world in which one speech can fully encapture the infectious spirit of Jaime Guttenberg, and I was a numb 17-year-old who couldn’t even process what was happening around me. So, I wanted to write this to tell you all just a little bit more about Jaime, for a few reasons:
First, for those who didn’t know her — to learn about who she was and to be reminded that she is more than a statistic and that a LIFE was lost when that assault weapon was brought into that school. Second, for those that did know her — a chance to remember and reflect on her character, and hopefully bring you a smile. I know those are far-fetched on days like today. Lastly, for me — an outlet to write and try to heal, to continue her legacy, and to say the things that I didn’t when I stood at that podium in front of hundreds of people who loved her.
Jaime was 14. She had just had her Bat Mitzvah and had just begun high school. She was so excited about joining DECA, moving up to the advanced dance group and it finally being her turn to be a big sister to a new member of our dance team. Her life was just beginning. She had hopes and dreams that far surpassed the sky.
Her heart was bigger than the sun. She cared for everyone around her, even the ones who didn’t give her a reason to. She looked out for the underdog and made sure everyone knew they were loved by someone. She loved unconditionally. She saw the world from a special lens — one that even at 14 recognized the injustices of the world and knew in her heart that she didn’t stand for it. She saw people for who they were, not for their ability, race, gender, age, or religion, something that not everybody her age had yet to figure out. Not even the sun on its brightest day could compare to the brightness of her true colors.
She was blood to me. She made me feel safe, valued and loved. There was the time I was acting weird and she had known I had been crying one Thanksgiving, and she messaged my sister on Instagram to ask if I was okay. There was the time I was devastated over a college decision, so she made a group chat with two of my friends to ask if they had heard from me or knew how I was doing. There’s the video of me dancing in front of her at the studio with her eyes following my every movement and the smirk that hit her face as I landed in front of her. There was the time she and her family adopted me for the drive to Nationals and allowed me to stay with them a few nights because my parents had to work. There are the many saved Snapchat messages of vent sessions between us that I’ve read so many times I have them memorized by now. She had my back, always. I didn’t need an entire support system, I just needed Jaime. I am thankful every day for the many memories, stories, screenshots, photos and videos I have reminding me of just how special our relationship was.
My biggest fear, though, is forgetting– her voice, her laugh, and how she made me feel.
Aside from looking out for one another, we just had fun. Making up dances in her parent’s bedroom, going on bike rides, pushing her around in the Target shopping cart, getting Cecile’s Ice’s together (me birthday cake and her mint chocolate chip, of course), sitting through her brother’s hockey games and me yelling at her to not buy the unnecessary purchase in Nordstroms. She made me laugh more than anyone. She put a smile on my face instantly. She made even the most mundane tasks fun. I would say the memories are endless, but I’d be lying. Because on this day five years ago, a guy with a gun took away the possibility of us creating any more memories.
She really was the little sister I always wanted. Watching her dance from the side of the wing, seeing the growth over the years, brought me such joy. And when the role was reversed, when I would catch a glimpse of her in the wings while I was on stage, that was all I needed to push through. It was that feeling of wanting to make her proud – the one that I still feel to this day – that pushed me to be the best version of myself.
In the last five years, so much has been done to honor her: Her parents have created a program in her name to give emotional support dogs to families affected by gun violence. Orange ribbons have been worn by dancers in almost every city across the nation. Students pursuing dreams similar to Jaime’s have received scholarships in her name. Hell, even Elton John gave a speech about her before singing Tiny Dancer at a recent concert. All of these things mean so much to me, they really do. I smile every time I know that a little dancer is trying to leap as high as Jaime or that someone Jaime admired, like Zendaya, knows who she is. The world knows her name, just like I knew it always would. But still, no celebrity post or amount of money raised will ever give what anyone who loved her wants most.
It breaks my heart that she wasn’t the last and that so many others have had to learn what this feels like. Just last night, I was thinking about how to prepare for today, when the news of another shooting hit my screen. It’s impossible to escape and makes it incredibly hard to find peace when every time I look at the news I am brought back to this day five years ago. My heart goes out to all those who understand this pain.
But I won’t dismiss that there have been amazing changes in the past few years at both local and federal levels. And Jaime has been an enormous part of that. In her eulogy, I said, “I know she was destined to change the world.” And even though she’s gone, she’s doing just that. The world lost a good one that day, but she’s still finding ways to leave her mark.
There is so much I don’t know about what the future holds. I know how quickly everything can change. What I do know, however, is that as long as I am here, so is Jaime. She is with me when I travel the world and look into the orange sunsets. She is with me when I make that unnecessary purchase. She is with me in my laughter, in my smile and in my energy. Hell, she is even with me when I can’t stop blabbering and interrupting, because anyone that knew her, knows that that was her thing.
I miss who I was before I knew how cruel the world could be. Before I knew all too well that bad things do happen to good people. Before I had to learn how to pick myself up from rock bottom. But I am proud of who I am today. I am proud of the strength I was able to find to move forward, and I know for certain, that it’s because of Jaime that I am where I am today. She is my guiding light. Now and forever.
The thing that gives me the most comfort is the fact that nothing was left unsaid between us. I know exactly what I meant to Jaime and she knew what she meant to me because I love you was said sincerely and often. It’s why I encourage everyone to do the same. Because the nature of this country’s gun problem is getting scarier and scarier and it’s only a matter of time until someone you love is next.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. But for now, I will continue to carry Jaime with me each and every day. To embrace all of the things she stood for and was – the kindest soul, the hardest worker, the most passionate human, and the life of the party. I will continue to live my life to make her proud, and I will continue to make sure she is never forgotten.
To my readers, tell your friends you love them. Never take a minute of life for granted. Laugh more and worry less.
And to J, everything I do will always be for you. There will never be enough words to explain how much I miss you. But as long as I am here, so are you.