Sunday night, I had a dream about my childhood best friend, Alicia. As children, we were inseparable. We did everything together. We went to the same school and we were in the same grade together. We took dance classes together. We spent the weekends together, sleepovers, and staying up late. She was my best friend. We shared secrets and danced to the Spice Girls. We promised each other we would be friends forever.
Alicia switched schools during the beginning of our 8th-grade year. I remember being so upset, but we were determined to continue to stay friends forever.
Every time I see this poster, it gives me chills. The feeling of seeing this image still feels too close to home and it still bothers me. The first time I saw Alicia’s missing poster was on television. I just came home from cheerleading practice. I was doing normal things, that a normal teenager should be doing. I walked into the living room. My dad always watches the news. There she was. There was her mom, and her dad standing in the kitchen of the house that I spent every weekend in that house. I remember being so shocked and so scared. I can still see myself standing there staring at the television. Alicia was taken by an internet predator. She was 14 years old when she was taken. The FBI found her 3 days later at her abductor’s home in Virginia. I will leave out the details.
When she was found, her picture was on the front page of our local newspaper.
A few minutes or maybe even an hour after this photo was taken. I received a call from Alicia on my parent’s house phone (in those days, there was a landline and sometimes you could have multiple phones connected to one number). I picked up the phone and I heard her voice. I remember being so happy that she was safe. I couldn’t wait to go over her house and pick up where we left off. I wanted to know everything! However, my mother had other plans. My mom picked up the upstairs phone and interrupted our call and said, “Alicia, we love you. We are so happy you are home safe, but Danni will not be able to come over anymore.” I had to end the call on that note. I didn’t understand my mom’s reasoning at the time. Why was she doing this? What was I going to do without Alicia in my life? I had other friends at school, but Alicia was special to me.
Alicia and I did not talk again until I was 19 years old. Facebook was the new social media platform We became friends through the social media platform. We messaged each other and talked about how we need to meet up and talk. We missed each other and we were a huge part of each other’s childhood. Alicia came to a Halloween party I was having. We sat in the dining room and talked for hours. I completely ignored the rest of my guests. Alicia and I wanted to try to become close again like we were as children, but I was about to enter the party girl phase. I was meeting new friends at CCAC, and I was friends with a few girls that worked at a nail and tanning salon I went to at the time, and I was meeting people through them, as well.
The first time I saw Alicia speak and share her story was in 2008. This was before I turned 21. Alicia founded the Alicia Project and was shared her story with students at various schools. She wanted to help create awareness and provide information on internet safety. During Alicia’s presentation, she shared with the students, her missing poster. Every time I see this poster, it gives me chills. The feeling of seeing this image still feels toAlicia turned 21 the next year in 2009. This picture was taken on her 21st Birthday. I was hoping she would come out with me. I wanted her to experience Barroom with me. I wanted her to dance with me like we did when we were kids. Alicia declined. I was hurt, but I understood. Instead of ending the night doing what she wanted, or sticking around to talk to people that she was friends with from Point Park University. I made the decision to go out to Barroom. Nothing got in the way from me going to Barroom not even my best friend from childhood’s birthday. o close to home and it still bothers me to this day.
After Alicia’s presentation, we went to dinner with her family, where this photo was captured. I remember reminiscing with her family about all the trouble we used to get into as children. Those memories are still so alive in my mind. I can remember almost every one of them. The saddest part is that Alicia doesn’t always remember things quite like I remember things. I wanted her to be the same way we were when we were younger. I wanted us to pick up where we left off. I wanted there to not be this huge gap between us. I wish my mom never picked up that phone that day and severed our communication.
I took Alicia with me to our old grade school. This is where I was completing my field experience for student teaching. I thought I wanted to be a first-grade teacher. At one point, we snuck off and took pictures in the school gym. We took one picture of us on stage together. There is a video of us somewhere singing The battle hymn of the republic with our class at the top of our lungs. Alicia and I were in the front row, center of the stage. Her dad kept telling us to sing a little louder, so we screamed. We tried to recreate the same moment in this picture. Probably one of my favorite memories of us reconnecting.
Once I turned 21, I started to party and go out to dance clubs in the station square with my friends from the tanning and nail salon. Every weekend I was out partying and drinking. I was meeting new people. Meeting new guys. I was picked to be one of the 25 hottest girls at barroom and dance in VIP. My 21st birthday I was in the VIP section of Barroom. I was making connections. I thought I was so cool. When I would go “out”, I would dress up in cocktail dresses and heels, put on some makeup. Some of the girls I was out with would wear next to nothing, heels, and tons of makeup. I enjoyed my party girl phase. This was normal. Partying, dancing, drinking, kissing boys, giving out your number, being flirty, and making new friends. This was all normal, unapologetically normal. I was 21 and I was a party girl.
Alicia turned 21 the next year in 2009. This picture was taken on her 21st Birthday. I was hoping she would come out with me. I wanted her to experience Barroom with me. I wanted her to dance with me like we did when we were kids. Alicia declined. I was hurt, but I understood. Instead of ending the night doing what she wanted, or sticking around to talk to people that she was friends with from Point Park University. I made the decision to go out to Barroom. Nothing got in the way from me going to Barroom not even my best friend from childhood’s birthday.
I had to realize that my friendship with Alicia was separate from my going out friends, so Alicia and I other things together like go to Chuck-E-Cheese and play games win tokens and had enough to buy these huge lollipops. We tried to be those same goofy children again. It worked it was fun. We laughed and ate pizza. It felt like we were close again.
After Chuckie-E-Cheese, we went back to her house and took pictures with Dexter. Alicia knew me outside of the party girl phase. She knew me. The real me.
One night, in January of 2010, Alicia and I went out for what was supposed to be a girl’s night. I tried to mesh my seemingly two identities together. I was caught between wanting to be a flirty party girl and the woman that I knew that I was underneath the club dress. I just had to find out who that woman was and I had to make mistakes and kiss the wrong boys in order to grow. Alicia and I went to the ugly dog saloon. I had a couple of beers and we ran into some friends. However, a guy showed up that was no good for me. He would flirt with me and tell me all the things I wanted to hear. He had his demons and he wasn’t good at all, but I was intrigued by men with issues at the time. I liked to be strung along by men. I enjoyed the attention they gave me. If I am being honest, instead of going back to Alicia’s and ending the night with a sleepover, I hooked up with someone in a car outside her house. It was a bad decision, but it was mine to make. It was a guy that I was seeing off and on, who strung me along. That guy and I were off on for longer than we should have been, but I don’t regret it. It was a mistake that I have grown from and it happens, it’s normal! Alicia has held this night against me and has talked about it numerous times to me. I am not sorry. I was young, a party girl, and made a dumb decision. Sometimes I am dumb decisions over and over again, but they were mine to make and I learned from them and I am a much better person today, but I am still flawed. I am not ashamed to own it.
2010 was a bad year for me. A relationship that I was in turned toxic after we got engaged. I struggled in school. It was not good. I stopped partying and going out once I got into the relationship with my ex-fiance. He was not the one. we were not a good match. Alicia was there for me to give me the best advice possible, but even she knew I was not in a good place mentally and emotionally. I said something to Alicia that I should not have, because she was happy with someone she started seeing and I was miserable. This was the first time since we were children that I was jealous of Alicia. The relationship ended with my ex-fiance before my spring semester of college started.
After breaking off my engagement, the party girl lifestyle didn’t seem right anymore and it didn’t seem to fit. I wanted to surround myself with a different group of people. I wanted to figure out what type of woman I wanted to become.
In January of 2011 I met up with Alicia and some of her college friends. The last time I saw them at her 21st birthday I was in full-blown party girl mode and I didn’t make the best impression I am sure. That night with Alicia was so much fun, I still dressed up a little and wore really cute heels, but it was low key and it was exactly what I needed.
At one point Alicia moved to Chicago, then to New York. We lost touch for a while, then we would get back in touch. It was off and on. Social media is how I was able to follow her and see what she was up to. She is a jet setter, an advocate, sometimes I see her on television. When she would come back home, she would not always have the time to get together.
When I started dating Andrew, I made a conscious decision to learn from my mistakes with guys in the past and really to make a relationship work with Andrew. He made me a better version of myself. He did not play games or string me along. He is sweet and kind. He is gentle and selfless. He is everything that I wanted to be. Drew and I talked about everything in our past lives before we met each other. No stone was left unturned. He still loved me and wanted me unconditionally. Andrew and I got engaged in April of 2014. It was Easter weekend. Alicia got engaged in February of 2015. We Face-Timed with each other and showed off our rings. She agreed to be my maid of honor, and I agreed to be her matron of honor. We made this vow to each other when we were children that we would be there for each other.
Alicia was there for me at my bridal shower…..
I was there for her when she tried on her dress at David’s Bridal, and I put on some bridesmaid dresses. She couldn’t decide which bridesmaid’s dresses would be best, a light pink or a grey. So I put on both for her to see.
She was there for me during my Bachelorette Party…
and we sang karaoke…
Alicia was there for me on my wedding day, standing next to me for one last picture before I was a Mrs.
I surprised everyone that day. I was not a bridezilla. I wanted everyone to feel beautiful and wear a long dress. The bridesmaids were all in sangria except for Alicia she was special to me and my maid of honor, so she was in pale pink. I wanted a stress free relaxing day. I loved my wedding. I wouldn’t change anything about that day. I would do it all over again the exact same way.
The weekend of Alicia’s shower, I met up with her to try on some sarees for her Indian wedding. Growing up, I was raised in a very noncultured household. I did not have much of an open mind about diversity and culture until I attended Robert Morris University. RMU was my first experience with diversity. I did not know what all goes into an Indian wedding, and how it is different. I did not understand the culture, but I tried for Alicia.
The sarees felt so cool to weird. I admit it was a little awkward at first. I felt uncomfortable and weird, but Alicia made me feel at ease. This was a big thing for me. I have never done anything like this before.
Her bridal shower. I wore a big hat for her.
Alicia had two weddings back to back. One on Friday, and one on Saturday. The one on Friday was the Indian ceremony. The girls got ready in the banquet hall part of the temple. This is where the ceremony would eventually take place at one point. People were coming up the escalator to the banquet hall and walking in on the girls getting ready. Alicia asked me to tell everyone to go downstairs, so I did. There was no wedding planner, or anyone around to tell anyone what to do or to keep everything on schedule and I didn’t know the traditions. It was hectic and so stressful.
At one point I find out that the ceremony starts outside, and a groom is going to approach the front of a temple on a horse and the wedding guest follows the horse and drums and dance their way to the front of the temple. Okay, well why are people come up the elevator then if this is how it is supposed to go? and why do I need to be the one to tell them to go back downstairs? I had an attitude after a while, because I was so annoyed. Alicia didn’t seem to care how stressful this was on me, and it didn’t seem to matter that her guests had no clue what was happening. The burden fell on me, and when it was not to the way she wanted it, then she got upset. I don’t know what human being would have handled that differently.
While we were outside dancing on the front steps, the photographer placed us in a certain formation, which Alicia thought drew too much attention to me. She did not say anything at the time, but her dad approached Alicia and took her hand and brought her down a couple steps, so she would be centered appropriately.
Once the ceremony started inside the temple. Alicia wanted us to walk down the aisle carrying a lit candle (in place of a bouquet of flowers I guess). I asked her what do we do at the end of the aisle, do we stand or sit? I had no clue. She said she wanted us to stand to the side of the altar. I asked one of the groomsmen if it would be okay if we stood alongside the altar. He said, “Well it is tradition to sit.” I didn’t know this. I said, “I understand it is tradition, but it is what the bride wants and is asking if we could stand alongside.” He said, “Okay, but it is tradition to sit, so we are going to sit.” I said, “okay, fine, I will let her know.” I told Alicia that it is tradition to sit and they don’t want to stand, so we are to sit in the front row. When it came time for me to walk down the aisle, there was one man standing in the middle of the aisle, the photographer asked the man to move, so he could take pictures and so I could make my way down the aisle. I took a blew out my candle and took a seat. The ceremony was so involved and so cool to watch. There was fire, fruit, and we were able to throw rice at them. I have never seen anything like it before.
After the ceremony, there was some time in between, so Drew and I went home got changed, and spent some time to ourselves and relaxed a bit, before going to the rehearsal for the Christian wedding. We were told to be at the United Methodist Church at 4pm. We met with the wedding coordinator and then I got a facebook message from Alicia saying they will be there around 5pm or 5:30pm. They got held up taking pictures. I completely understand that, but your family is here asking me where you are? I notified her cousin, whose children were the ring bearer and flower girl that she wouldn’t be here until 5:30pm or 6pm. Alicia sent me a facebook message. She said, no one is checking Facebook today, so how are we supposed to know? I just shrugged my shoulders and said, that is how we have been communicating.
The wedding coordinator placed us into a formation at the altar and Alicia was able to decide on the formation. I wanted to talk to her and tell her how uncomfortable I was today and how hard this whole experience has been, but I wasn’t sure when I should have that conversation, or if we should have the conversation. While we were at the altar, Alicia wanted us to have candles and our bouquets. I asked her, “How was that going to work?” She said, “You can ask nicely instead of judging it and turning your face up at the idea.” I said, “Well I am not I just think it needs to be addressed, and I am saying the same thing everyone else is thinking.” I wanted her to think this through, so there should be a little table in place so we can set our bouquets down, I am going to have hers and mine, and a candle? I just wanted her to make sure she addresses these things, so tomorrow we are all prepared. Yes, I could have said it nicer, but I was over it.
At the rehearsal dinner, Drew originally wasn’t invited, but the bridesmaid’s boyfriends were invited, just not my husband? It was hard to swallow. Sambit, Alicia’s husband reached out to Drew personally and said, that Alicia misunderstood and he is more than welcome to attend. Alicia and have talked about this, and she apologized for the misunderstanding. However, Alicia’s parents were at my rehearsal dinner, and I didn’t say anything. I just let it ride. My parents weren’t at her rehearsal?
The next day right before Alicia’s Christian wedding, we finally had a few minutes to talk about what happened yesterday. She told me that she felt she didn’t get the pictures she wanted because I was in the way. I said, that was how the photographer placed us, if you didn’t like it, you could have said something or changed it. She didn’t say anything but asked me to not be so rude today, like I was yesterday. I told her I wasn’t trying to be rude, that is my personality when things are out of control, and you do not have someone there to control it, then don’t complain about how it is being handled, or how people are reacting. It was a mess yesterday.” She said she didn’t even what was happening yesterday.” I said, “So you turn your back on your flower girl’s mother, instead of trying to find a solution. You just walk away and leave it for someone else to handle then complain about how it was handled? it wasn’t up to me do those things yesterday. She said, “I did that because I just didn’t know, so I didn’t get give an answer.” I said, “it was rude, Alicia.” Truthfully, she should have said, I am sorry I just don’t know, that would have been better, than nothing. I also told Alicia that I wasn’t going to apologize for something that she didn’t handle correctly, and left it for someone else to handle. She asked me to promise her if I would be nicer today. I said, “Alicia, I am not a mean person. I do have a personality though, and I am different from you, just because I do not handle things like you do, doesn’t mean I am wrong. I am not going to apologize for being me. I am not apologizing for you not getting the picture you wanted, because you didn’t say anything, but we can move on from this point and you will have a beautiful day.” We hugged and we left it at that.
We are not the same children who grew up together. We have changed. I am flawed and I am okay with it. I don’t need to change who I am, and she is who she is, but we if have to respect Alicia for who she is, then she needs to respect me for who I am, a flawed complicated, complex, intelligent, and outgoing woman.
Right before I went down the aisle, Alicia took my hand and squeezed it. I told her I loved her and she looked beautiful. I took place at the altar. I watched Alicia walk down the aisle, and thought how this moment could have been different if we didn’t lose those 6 years of our friendship. I thought how much better this moment could be if we actually went through every phase together. I thought how much more important and honored I would feel to be her matron of honor, but this just wasn’t the case. My eyes teared up when I saw her walk down the aisle. The bouquets and the candles worked out beautifully. There were a few moments where she and I shared a glance as I fixed her dress. I truly do love her. I just can’t apologize for my mistakes, or myself anymore.
At the reception, I asked the DJ if he could play Jewel “Foolish Games” in the background softly when I give my toast to Alicia and Sambit. There is a memory behind that song. It always reminds me of her. The song is actually about a guy who is egotistical, but the lines in the song:
“You took your coat off and stood in the rain,
You’re always crazy like that.
And I watched from my window,
Always felt I was outside looking in on you.”
She truly was her own little crazy person as a child. She had such an imagination. There times where I felt like I was on the outside looking in on her. because she had this gorgeous hair, as a child and as an adult, but when she was younger it was always in curls. I had pin straight hair, and I was a bit thicker as a child. She was a pageant queen.
After dinner, I went over to my husband and sat on his lap. I couldn’t wait to be with him and to dance with him. He loved me for me, no matter how I handle things, good or bad. He still loves me and wouldn’t change me, flaws and all.
Throughout the night, people left after dinner because it took so long for the dancing to begin due to the fireworks for Pittsburgh’s bicentennial celebration. Alicia’s reception was at the LaMont on Mount Washington. The view for the fireworks was pretty awesome. After the fireworks, and the legendary dance. I asked Alicia for my grandmother’s pearls back. I was ready to go home. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I didn’t know if there was any going back for Alicia and me.
After her wedding, we didn’t talk for a while. I would try to text her, and it would be one-worded responses. I did see her at a restaurant with her family. I approached her and talked to her. I asked her why she hasn’t responded to my messages and she said she has just been busy. I knew it was an excuse. She wasn’t ready, and maybe I wasn’t either, but at least I was trying. She reassured me if I ever really needed her, she would be there for me.
Sometime last year, we reconnected and talked about things and we wanted to try to move past it without having to rehash it again. I struggled with this. I like to talk it all out and then move past things. We have so much history, and it seems so complicated between us, more complicated than it should be. We texted off and on for a while and were on good terms again. Then we lost touch and got caught up in our own lives.
Recently, I had a dream about her on Sunday night. I woke up and wondered how she was doing. In the dream, we were talking in person. I don’t remember where we were though. I wanted to message her. I messaged her on facebook, and we ended up messaging back and forth. She said she thought about me the other day. We used to be so connected and it feels like we still are in some ways.
That evening, we Face-Timed and talked about everything again and there were some things I said to her out of anger, in a negative time in my life that upset her. She didn’t realize how stressful things were at her wedding but didn’t apologize for anything. I feel as though I did the most apologizing on Facebook. I told her how she brings up my past and the choices I have made with men, and how that is not who I am anymore, but that was normal behavior. I know it is not her version of normal, because she went a different direction, and did not get to experiences things like I did, but I can’t apologize for it.
When we got off Face-Time, I felt okay. I felt good, but we made a promise to stop talking about how things were before in comparison to how they are now. She wants me to not compare her to how she was back then to who she is now. I get it. I am sure it is hard, but Alicia as a giggly child is how I know her. She and I were robbed of the chance of being able to know each other as teenagers. I don’t know Alicia the teenager. My teenage experience doesn’t include memories of her. Her teenage experience doesn’t include memories of me. I do not know the things she has been through in order to recover.
There is what seems to be for me this significant gap in time that she missed out on with me, that would probably make sense as to why I made such poor choices with men, and she would be a bit more understanding of what I had to overcome, even if it doesn’t compare to hers.
I was robbed of the chance of being able to experience going to the dance clubs with her and dancing on the dancefloor to loud club music. I feel as though if I would have had Alicia with me I might feel as though things would have happened a bit differently for me. I am not saying I wouldn’t have met new friends, but I would have been a bit more true to who I am, instead of testing the waters with people, who would be part of my 21-year-old self, who just want to go out all the time.
I have grown, developed, and matured as much as she has but in a different way, and it almost doesn’t seem to count. I find myself having to prove that to her. When in reality, I shouldn’t have to prove anything to anyone! I do not know if I can do what she is asking me to do. Honestly, I am spread thin with working full time, grad school, and being a wife and a daughter. I miss her. I miss her dearly. Truthfully, I am not sure I can get to know her again without feeling allegiance to Alicia the child. I want to try, but I can’t do it if I have to prove myself constantly and make excuses for my personality, or my mistakes.
My eyes are tearing up as I write this because I never wanted this with us. I never wanted us to have to end our friendship. I wanted so badly to defy my mother and run to her. I was 14 and my mother knew what was best for me, and I accepted it. I was a cheerleader. I was not taken. I had friends. I had a social circle. I had things normal 14 year-olds had. I tried so hard to be a “good” kid, but I did mess up at times. I did make the wrong decisions. I did have hard times as a teenager, and Alicia wasn’t there to witness the growth. She just knows of my poor choices from party girl phase and uses that as her basis. It is accurate, so inaccurate. I feel disgusted that she sees me that way.
Alicia, when you read this and I hope you will. I have come so far, truly. I have seen so much and been a part of so much. It may not be to the caliber you have. The only difference is I am forever going to remember you as the best friend I had as a child. My gorgeous friend with the blonde curly hair, who seemed to have this crazy imagination. I am always going to remember you that way. I don’t see you as the girl that was taken, or the girl in the missing poster, or even the girl on the front page of the local newspaper. It will be hard for me to let that little girl go. I am going to try because I miss having a friendship with you, but it hurts that you see me as the party girl, who has made bad choices with men when you shine so bright in my memory.
I hope you are able to acknowledge my journey, or maybe even ask me about it. You have missed so much. Please bear with me as we embark on this new friendship.