I met Jaia Lacey in the fall of 2007. She was quiet and reserved and she smiled–she smiled adventurously. Jaia quickly became one of my best friends and subsequently a part of the family of friends that I’d established in my first semester of college. This was a family that happened to me, one that I didn’t know I needed until I got it and that is why this story is important.
Jaia and I talked about two things–where we came from and how we got to where we are.
Where we came from?
We both came to OCU in an attempt to build a new life. We thought we were running away from something but instead we found ourselves running towards something. We were running towards a type of freedom that you don’t see very often. The kind of freedom where you’re able to make your own decisions and flourish in the success or failures of those decisions.
We somehow in the midst of the stress of being college freshmen formed a family. At most, there were usually six of us, but at its core there was four of us…the core four. We did just about everything together and when it mattered, we were always there for each other–the way family is. I could tell you so many stories about us, I mean hundreds of stories but I don’t have the time. I could tell you about the time we tried to walk across a frozen lake and I fell through the ice. Or the time we went skiing and stopped at a little chinese restaurant on the way home. Or the time we drove out to a house in the country and made spaghetti and played hide and seek. Or I could really flip the script and tell you about the time I was sitting in a living room with these people who were my family and I came to the realization that these relationships had run their course and it was time for me to move on with my life. Yeah that happened.
But my relationship with Jaia didn’t end that day but it did change. The group was different now, we had different priorities and I had to look out for my own interest and as selfish as that sounds, it was the best thing for me at the time. I stayed in touch with Jaia over the years and we saw each other when it was convenient. She went into the workforce and I continued with school. Our lives grew and changed and all the while we managed to keep tabs on one another.
How we got to where we are?
I remember in college whenever Jaia would have a problem she would come and find me and usually I was practicing piano. She would sit on top of the piano, hair swept to one side, black rimmed glasses framing her freckled face. She would usually sing whatever song I was playing but before long, she would spill her guts. Whatever the problem was she was always ready and willing to listen to my take on the situation and sometimes, mostimes, she just needed to be listened to. Like most of us, there is always one thing or another on our heart or mind and sometimes it can be just as liberating to have someone listen to whatever it is that we have to say.
This conversation came about out of the most unconventional way. Jaia is married now and has a beautiful baby girl. Her life is a lot different from when we first met. Today she lives in Chicago and while she doesn’t have a whole host of friends there she is still loved by all the people she touched along the way. You see we talked about the influence we’ve had on each other’s lives along the way. We talked about how if we had 5 seconds to go back our 16 year old selves what could we say to them to have our lives today turn out the way we want them to and both of us unequivocally decided that the influence that we had on each other’s lives and the influence of our friends was far more valuable in shaping us into who we have become. Our paths don’t cross the way they used to but we are still the best of friends.
Jaia is this bubbly person that wears her heart on her sleeve. She yelps and squeals when she’s excited. She cries and she sings and she is full of life. And despite the nature and circumstances of her life she still smiles. Jaia respects people and their differences and most importantly she loves fully and deeply. She stands up for people who can’t stand for themselves and she resigns herself to knowing that no matter how things end, she has done her absolute best. She’s a fighter through and through. She’s strong and brave and when she isn’t trying to dye that long wavy hair of her’s Mary Jane red, its golden.