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‘I would not be who I am without her’

I met Laura LaPlante the summer of 2002, on the sun-parched fields beside ConVal High School, both of us adjusting and readjusting our sneakers, waiting for cross-country running camp to begin. As I recall, no one knew Laura. She had just switched school districts and was a bit of a mystery. That quickly changed. Five days later, everyone was talking about the petite, polite girl, already outracing many of the boys.

I started my freshman year at ConVal with Laura that fall. We had many of the same classes, mostly honors classes, because Laura, it turned out, also had an overachieving streak. At times I resented her; she was my competition. Another ambitious student, highly intelligent, articulate, with a gift for running I could never hope to match.

Did we become friends, then, by proximity? It’s hard to say. The odds have never been in our favor. We were, in many ways, opposites. I was politically liberal, agnostic; she was conservative, Catholic. I’d go on to pursue an MFA in creative writing; she went to law school. And so forth.

Yet Laura and I did develop a friendship, a friendship that outlasted our high school graduation (I gave a speech at the ceremony; she was voted “most likely to succeed”) and subsequent moves across the country, a friendship rooted in the bond of being two small-town girls with over-sized plans. Two girls who loved where they were from, as much as where they hoped to go. A friendship that has made Laura’s loss, this past week, all the more painful.

The mixed blessing of growing up in a small town: We become composite people. The closeness that rural New Hampshire cultivates, demands, is a gift in the quality of relationships that subsequently arise. But closeness is also a hardship when those relationships are lost.

I now live in Phoenix, Arizona. Or to be more specific, I live among identical condos and parking lots and strip malls, in a region people are more likely to describe as “the place they live” rather than “home.” Being so far from the Contoocook Valley, in the wake of this tragedy, has made the heartstring tug of our community all the more evident. Like so many others, I feel a sense of incompleteness in Laura’s absence. I know I am not the only person who can say, “I would not be who I am without her.” In my case, Laura’s presence, as both confidante and adversary, always pushed me to reach higher, try harder. In that way, she became a part of me. In that way, she is so much harder to lose.

How, then, to fill the gap wrenched open by her absence?

I have been doing my best to fill it with memories, reminders of a complex friendship, of intertwining lives.

Here’s one: Two girls, lacing up sneakers, opening the door to an August afternoon. Two girls, running up-down-up-down on rolling hills, past farm fields fat with lolling hay, along back roads sun-dappled, pot-holed, dusty. Two girls, one winded, one not. Two girls, rinsing in the silk-cool water of Norway Pond, before walking barefoot through a downtown street silent enough to seem abandoned, then back home with hands sticky from ice cream. Two girls, combing their hair still wet, still smelling of pond water. Two girls, meeting up with boys (skinny, tongue-tied) for a trip to the movies, maybe the drive-ins, or maybe two girls ignoring boys entirely, two girls lazing on a dew-wet lawn, long after the shadows have blurred into blackness, and only the crickets are also awake. Two girls, lying on their backs, gazing up at the stars, talking, talking, talking about who they would become.

Allegra Hyde lives in Tempe, Arizona. She grew up in Peterborough and graduated from ConVal High School in 2006.

Beautifully written, thank you for sharing your memories.

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