A young woman’s life came to an end a few days ago. She deserved more time, and so did the people who loved and lost her, including her family – and mine.
Tiffany and Emily met in elementary school, and I think I met her for the first time at Emily’s tenth birthday slumber party, back when we lived on the other side of campus. She was the smallest of the girls who came over, I think, but she put the fun in “fun-size,” and was a bundle of harmless energy. At one point, the girls took turns fooling around behind my drum kit, randomly banging around like kids do. Most of the girls hit the drums as though they were afraid the drums might hit back. Tiffany was much more suited to it.
Middle school came soon enough, and Tiffany and Em stayed friends, riding together to school dances and hanging out as they went through high school as well. They were tight enough to refer to each other as “Wifey,” collaborating on class projects, and genuinely liking each other through years that can be desperately lonely. Where Em was focused on writing and art, Tiffany was more inclined to the sciences, and when it was time for them to do a project on lab safety, the video they made (at our home and across the street on campus) allowed them both to shine and to be goofy. God knows you need someone with whom to be goofy at that age, and I’m glad they were able to do that.
As the years passed, the girls both wound up at the college. I had Tiffany as a student in one of my Freshman Comp classes. She told me she wasn’t much of a writer, but like more than a few kids, she was better than she believed. She worked hard, participated in the class, and earned a good grade. If I had more students like Tiffany, my job would be much easier, and more pleasurable. I’m grateful to have taught her.
She majored in biology and minored in chemistry, so she spent a lot of time in the science building, but I’d run into her from time to time when she was in our building for her humanities courses, or just the way one does in a town as small as Newberry. She wasn’t just a hard worker in the classroom either – she held down jobs all the way through college, whether it was taking the breakfast shift at a local fast-food joint or working at the Coroner’s office later in her career. And through it all, she was upbeat and determined to do well both inside and beyond the classroom.
Naturally, she and Em stayed friends. In fact, they were sorority sisters at Newberry – of course they were. It couldn’t have been any other way. They loved and supported each other; they had to be sisters.
Even after Em graduated and moved to Maryland, and after Tiffany graduated and stayed here, she and Tiffany remained friends, staying connected via social media the way pretty much everyone does these days. When Emily brought her girlfriend to Newberry for the first time, introducing her to Tiffany was an essential part of the whole business. Fortunately for us all, Tiffany approved. And that was to be expected as well – she and Em loved each other, and you want the people you love to be happy.
But now, we’ve lost her, and though we know life is tenuous, it feels especially wrong to lose someone who carried so much love and so many smiles, with so much energy and intelligence. And of course, because she grew up with my own daughter, I ache for what is gone, and even more for Tiffany’s family and her other friends. She’s gone and not gone, because even as we mourn her loss, we who knew her carry her smile and her enthusiasm even now, even while it hurts.
She deserved longer – and we deserved to have her longer, but we can only have what we can have, and are forced to carry that as best we can.
Tiffany Johnson was 24 years old. She was my daughter’s friend. She was a piece of our family. She was a student of mine, and she was a gift.
She was a good kid.