This post is in honor of my beloved friend, Olga Marie Lopez. Today marks 16 years since her passing. I generally don't share this part of me publicly. I've shared it in a private setting with some of the high school cheerleaders I coached for the last 8 years. The life of my dear friend Olga has inspired and touched many. She was a kind person whose life was cut too short. Throughout my life, I have drawn strength from her positive and jovial outlook. I still feel the sting of her passing. They lied! Time doesn't heal all wounds. Time has allowed me to experience life with more appreciation and understanding that our mortal experience is but a short time.
I met Olga in junior high when I first moved to Las Vegas. We quickly became dear friends. For the next three years, we spent nearly every day together. We'd do things like, go to Carl's Junior and eat our famous star cheese burger, talk about boys, watch TV at her apartment, or sit in her room and braid each others hair. Her dad, Freddie, would bring home dinner for our sleep overs. On the weekends, my mom and step-dad would take us to Bolder Station for a fun night out. While my parents went to the sports book, Olga and I cruised around the arcade and movie theater, scoping out cute boys. We had some really great times together.
After my freshman year of high school, my parents bought a new house across town, resulting in me having to transfer schools. I was crushed. I felt like my life revolved around my friends. Throughout my sophomore year, we kept in touch and hung out on weekends. After I turned 16, I had the freedom to cross the strip to go and hang out with her and our other friends.
Olga and I attended a funeral for a fellow classmate, a few months prior to her accident. That night, her and I discussed what it would be like to die so young. I shared my fears with her about death and to my surprise she said she wasn't afraid to die. We were both Catholic and had attended church many times together, but she had perspective and insight in ways that I didn't. She felt things deeply and her emotions were often close to the surface.
A month before her passing, someone had spread a rumor that I had egged her car. Even though I didn't do it, Olga was hurt and confused. She didn't return my phone calls for two weeks. One afternoon, I was babysitting my little sister and there was a knock at the door. To my surprise, it was Olga! She gave me a smile, a forgiving hug, and told me she loved me. We talked about how much we missed each other over the last two weeks. Then we sat together laughing and reminiscing about the good ol' days. I will forever be grateful for that night. When she said good bye, our hug seemed to last a little bit longer than usual. I like to think that somehow her spirit knew that'd be our last hug. That evening taught me a great deal about forgiveness.
On Saturday, February 28th, she called to invite me to a party way out in Henderson. I had already committed to going to my friend Ashley's birthday party.
I arrived home around 11pm and went to bed. That night, I had a vivid dream where Olga came to me. She and I were at cheer practice in the school gym. I was on one side of the gym with my new squad and she was on the other with her squad. Her demeanor concerned me. She was upset. The closer I got to her, the further away she was from me. I called out to her and she turned and looked at me and said, "Lena, you won't be seeing me any more." I wondered why. And she said, "because I'm leaving, and you won't be able to see me any more." Then she began to cry.
Just then the phone rang. It startled me. I sat right up in bed. My eyes wandered to the left where there was a framed photo of my dear friend Olga as a child. (pictured above) I smiled as I looked at her photo and I said out loud, "I love you sweet girl!" Then my tired eyes wandered to the right and I saw the clock. It was just after 5am. When I answered the phone, I was surprised to hear the voice of my friend Ralph. I could've never prepared myself for what he was about to tell me. It wasn't real. It couldn't be. This couldn't be real because my mom was working in the UMC ER that night.
I stumbled down the hall and into my mother's room, whipped open the shower door, and screamed, "Mom, what happened last night in the ER! Did you hear of an accident??!!" She said she'd heard the call come in that four girls had been in a serious car accident and decided to leave work to make sure I was home safe and in bed. "No! This isn't real," I thought. I couldn't catch my breath. My mind was moving faster than the words that came out of my mouth. I fell to the floor and sobbed.
I was afraid to drive, but I knew I had to. I took the side streets instead of the freeway. I drove to her house. Her dad answered the door with tears in his eyes. He hugged me like I was his own daughter. Freddie led me to her room and then left me there all alone. Even though it was a bright and sunny day outside, the inside of their apartment was dark and somber. A place once filled with light and love, was now empty and void. In disbelief, I looked around her room, hoping she'd be there as I turned around. Instead I saw a photo booth picture of us on the wall, with the words best friends along the top. I crawled to her closet and saw clothes she'd borrowed from me. I didn't want them, I wanted her. I wanted her back.
I was under a dark cloud of despair, through the days and months ahead. I had lost my hope in humanity and in God. I was angry and wondered how He could take someone so young and beautiful from us. I started a new tradition, before her grave mound was even level. I visited her every week, sometimes, three to four times a week. I brought Carl's Junior famous star cheese burger and fries. I sat for hours sometimes in silence and other times I spoke to her like she never left. I shared the goings-on in my life. Even though she couldn't answer me, talking to her was healing for me. Olga's death led me to ask God for answers and understanding. I found faith. Those visits to her grave-sight are precious to me. I made a commitment to her that I would live my life to the fullest and never take advantage of my time here. Although I moved away, our conversations haven't stopped. She is with me.
Olga's short life forever changed mine. Now that I have my own children, her story will be something I share to better their lives.
In loving memory:
Olga Marie Lopez
April 19th, 1981-March 1st, 1998
Still have your picture in a frame
Hear your footsteps down the hall
I swear I hear your voice, driving me insane
Loneliness and heartache
Crying myself to sleep
Wondering about tomorrow
Won't you come back to me, come back to me?
For the sound and full lyrics to Brian McKnight, "I miss you." Click here.
I had this photo in my car.