Forever 22

I got the email on a Sunday.

Me and Abbie in our treasured picture with Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

Me and Abbie in our treasured picture with Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

“I wanted to let you know that we do not have a fellowship to offer you at The Texas Tribune,” the email read. “You submitted a great application, and you were one of our semifinalists. All the best with your journalism endeavors.”

My heart sunk. I would rather be told that I was the worst thing that has ever happened to journalism than be told that I was so close to my dream internship.

I began dreading all of the people I had to tell. My husband, my mom and dad, my best journalism friend, Alicia. Then I thought about Abbie.

I cringed at the idea of having to tell her. We attended The Texas Tribune Festival in 2014 together, where we joked about schmoozing and boozing with Ted Cruz. We went to the Lubbock higher education Tribune event in the spring of 2015, where we tracked down Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith for a picture, almost too awestruck to even ask. The picture turned out blurry, but we didn’t care. We always described Smith as “sassy” and dreamed about being his “sassistants” someday. When I interned with Abbie at the Texas Tech Public Radio station, we poured through The Tribune to get our daily dose of Texas politics.

Out of everyone who would be disappointed to hear my news, Abbie would feel just as bad about it as I. So I didn’t tell her. I told myself I would break the news the next time I saw her, even if it would make me cry.

I didn’t know I wouldn’t see her again.

*****

“Abbie was involved in a bad head-on collision tonight in Lubbock. She was driving home to Hereford,” the text from Alicia read. “Abbie’s heart is beating on its own, but she is brain dead and a machine is breathing for her.”

“I’m in shock. Keep us updated,” I replied.

I really was in shock. I had nothing else to say. You can never prepare to wake up to a text saying your 22-year-old friend is brain dead.

I saw her every day for a semester in the spring. I just saw her a few weeks ago. And then she was gone.

So many thoughts ran through my head. I thought of the most trivial things that shouldn’t really matter in a situation like this.

I wanted to know what she thought about the second season of “Serial” and the recently released pictures of Prince George. I wanted her to teach me to braid my hair, something she was so good at. I wanted to talk with her about story ideas and projects that would be good enough to get us out of Lubbock someday.

The outtake. Picture by Pete Brewton, former Hub advisor, who was making us laugh, as always.

The outtake. Picture by Pete Brewton, former Hub advisor, who was making us laugh, as always.

Most of all, I wanted the pictures of us from my wedding that were on her phone. Abbie almost single-handedly drank all of the white wine at my wedding, getting on a first-name basis with the bartender. I remembered Abbie, Alicia and I having a hard time composing ourselves for a picture because we were laughing so hard. There were many outtakes, but we eventually pulled it together.

Laughter was a common occurrence the last few times I saw Abbie. I ran into her and her boyfriend, Ben, at Crickets the night of Homecoming. They were out with some of Ben’s old fraternity brothers, which was never really Abbie’s thing. But still, she embraced it, and I know she was having a good time.

She hung on Ben and laughed at everyone’s jokes. I was out with other friends, but every time I passed her, she would hug me.

“We really need to hang out soon,” she said.

The serious take.

The serious take.

“Yes, we totally do,” I replied.

We had no idea how little time we had left together.

The last time I saw Abbie was when we went with a group of journalists to see the movie “Spotlight.” She and Alicia sat behind me, but I would turn and get their attention during particularly good moments of the film.

Afterward, Abbie, Alicia and I were standing outside the Alamo Drafthouse, gushing about how accurately the movie portrayed investigative journalism. Abbie was fairly quiet throughout the conversation.

“I think it hit me more as a lapsed Catholic than as a journalist,” Abbie finally said.

We all kind of laughed, but you could tell something was on her mind. We went our separate ways, and that was that.

Sixteen days later, she was gone.

*****

You never expect to lose a friend at our age. We are only 22 years old. And she was the happiest I’d ever seen her.

Alicia Keene, Abbie and me at TheTexas Tribune Festival in 2014.

Alicia Keene, Abbie and me at TheTexas Tribune Festival in 2014.

I didn’t cry in the week between her death and her funeral. I was interviewed by multiple news outlets, attesting that she was smart, funny and a damn good journalist. I talked with my husband, mom and friends about what had happened. Through it all, I didn’t shed a tear.

During her funeral, none of it seemed real. Sitting on the pew with my friends, it still didn’t hit me that Abbie was in that scarlet coffin. A few tears fell, but I’ve cried more at other funerals. At the cemetery, as we put yellow roses on her coffin, I started feeling it. But even then, I think I was crying more because others were, not because of my own emotions.

To quote one of Abbie’s favorite movies, ‘Steel Magnolias,’ “I have a strict policy that no one cries alone in my presence.”

Almost two months later, I still don’t think it has hit. I’ve thought about texting her. I’ve wanted to tell her the dumb things my husband has done, the kind of stories that could always make her laugh. I’ve wanted to geek out with her about the latest “Harry Potter” announcements. I haven’t been able to listen to the current season of “Serial” because I don’t have anyone to talk about it with.

I’ve had close ones die before, but never someone my age. Abbie’s death has affected me in a way no other has. I haven’t been able to cope with it because I can’t make it a fact in my mind. To me, she’s still in her office at Texas Tech Public Radio, editing together her next story. I don’t know if I will ever accept the fact that she’s not here because we’re 22, and she should be.

The Spring 2014 Hub employees.

The Spring 2014 Hub employees.

Today is Abbie’s birthday. But she’ll never get to be 23. I’ll be 23 in two months, the same amount of time Abbie was from her birthday when she died. I can’t imagine my life being over right now, and I know she couldn’t either.

Happy people shouldn’t die. Twenty-two-year-olds shouldn’t die.

“In the real world, nothing happens at the right place at the right time,” wrote Mark Twain. “It is the job of journalists and historians to correct that.”

But there is nothing correctable about Abbie’s death, and there never will be.

About Sarah Self-Walbrick

Graduate Executive Director — Mass Communication Graduate Student, Class of 2017
Sarah, a Lubbock native, has two bachelor of art degrees in electronic media and communication and journalism, and is pursuing a master's in mass communications. She loves Texas, her husband and dog, and good storytelling.

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