I can’t help but put my feelings on a page about this particular day. I don’t think I have ever written about it or let myself write anything about it. It’s not poignant. It’s what I remember.
Today is always a hard day. Today is no different than it was 5, 10, 14 years ago. I think about Nate Fleming because he was the one I personally knew. I remember he kissed me the previous weekend. I remember walking with him after class that week and wishing him luck that weekend, both of us hoping he would get some court time. I remember where I was when I first heard that an OSU plane crashed. I remember talking to my good friend Cody, his cousin, to see what he knew. I remember seeing Nate’s basketball composite picture on the news under the words “Crash Victims” that night before crying myself to sleep. I remember seeing his roommate Fred in church the next morning and not being able to say hi to him like I usually did. I remember not seeing him waiting for me after chemistry lab the next week.
The days and weeks that followed were physically painful. The grief was palpable and made my whole body hurt. I started questioning my path in life. I started questioning everything I had been working toward thus far. This was not the first time I had dealt with a true tragedy. What made it so hard? It hit close to home that’s why. He was young and full of potential. He was a new friend that I enjoyed seeing. The heartbreak has been slightly alleviated every year but for some reason it’s more difficult today. Maybe it’s harder this year because I have become friends with Nate’s sisters whom I really like to be around and think a lot of. Maybe it’s because I live in the neighborhood down the street from where he grew up. Maybe it makes me remember him more.
I remember Nate’s funeral. Seeing his sweet family, including Cody, weep in the front pew. I remember the hymn A Mighty Fortress is Our God that was played. I remember wailing on the drive home in my car. I had never felt so alone.
I had never had a panic attack until that semester after the deafening blow of that plane crash. It was hell. It felt like I was sealed in a tomb and couldn’t even try to get out. I was barely able to breathe, let alone speak. It made me feel small and that there was nothing left for me to do or become. That is when my anxiety sprouted roots, in the parking lot of the campus library. I realized how temporary we are and how emotions and relationships are fleeting. In that moment I quietly felt fear, remorse and anger.
That loss propelled me forward. I felt just as insecure and insignificant but also knew I still had the gift of life. I was still here living on for a reason after these fine 10 men had been ripped from the world.
The thing is, I will always remember the good stuff I knew about Nate. That makes me happy on this day every year. I remember how stinking cute he was. I remember how excitedly he talked about everything. I remember how he made anyone who was with him feel like the only person in the room. I remember how smart he was and how mad I would get at him because chemistry lab was a breeze for him. I remember wishing I knew him better. I remember not seeing him waiting for me after chemistry lab that week.
Nate was not a regular figure in my life nor was I in his. But he was still a friend. Someone whom I admired for how he lived and affected everyone around him. Miss you, my friend.
On this day and every year after, remember the 10.