Chili and Cornbread

Mikaela - Niskayuna, New York
Entered on March 26, 2009
Age Group: Under 18
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I believe that people should cherish what they have and never underestimate the value of living. This must sound terribly ironic coming from a former pessimist, but my beloved friend, Taejah Bowman, changed my perspective on life. Taejah died in August of 2007, at age sixteen. A talented, beautiful, optimistic individual, Taejah had her whole life ahead of her. I cannot begin to express how cruel and unfair the world seemed when I found out what had happened.

Taejah never ceased to make me laugh, and she would come to school with a smile on her face, concealing all physical and emotional pain she withheld. Looking back, I feel disgusted with myself for carping about miniscule problems I had which, in contrast to the adversity Taejah suffered, seem like pathetic, petty complaints. I think everyone needs to remember that there is always someone, somewhere, in a worse situation.

At school, Taejah and I wrote songs together during music classes and, I admit, during gym. Contrary to my behavior around many other teenagers, I felt I could always be myself around Taejah. There was never any pressure to conform or to wear the latest fashion, despite Taejah’s obvious great sense of style. I still wonder if, secretly, Taejah quietly worried about her fate as much as the rest of us did.

She always appeared so strong and confident. Taejah barely came up to my chest, but her size certainly did not reflect the power of her vocal chords! I remember the first time I heard her sing, my jaw literally dropped in awe that a voice so big and strong could possibly come from someone so small. Whenever she sang, at least one person in the audience would whisper to their neighbor, “Damn! That girl has pipes.” I’m not sure what was most beautiful…Taejah, her voice, or her spirit.

Taejah had this incredible fortitude…a mindset that NOTHING could or would bring her down. I remember one time she was trying to cheer me up over some silly (but at the time oh-so-serious) romantic issue by running around me singing the lyrics “We must all stay together, like chili and cornbread!” She was so bright, bubbly, gregarious, and courageous. Every time I read what she wrote to me in my school yearbook, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.

I met Taejah in seventh grade, and as the years passed, she missed more and more days at school. Taejah was born with part of her intestines outside of her body, and ultimately died from health complications. I was a crying, sobbing mess when I was told Taejah died of hemorrhaging from an aneurysm. It didn’t seem possible…Taejah had just taken her permit test the day before and passed. I wanted it to all be one long, terrible, dream…but I came to realize that this nightmare was, indeed, reality.

Taejah lifted everyone’s spirits, and spread smiles throughout the room whenever she entered. I still ask myself today…how could this have happened? While the reality of it all has settled in over the past couple years, I still cannot seem to fully fathom that Taejah lived such a short life. I only hope that I, too, can somehow impact others’ lives the way Taejah did.

I believe everyone can make a difference if they take the time and effort to attempt to do so. Taejah taught me to treasure everything I have, instead of dwelling on what I want or what I don’t have. You never know when someone you love could suddenly vanish. Despite Taejah’s death, she will never be gone. I will always keep her memory in my heart, and we will always stay together…just like chili and cornbread.