The Day Everything Changed

I’d like to share a story with you and then I’d like to ask you to take another step.

I went to Trinity Christian School until high school. Then I begged my parents to let me go to public school. Reluctantly, they allowed their sheltered child to attend Coronado High School. It was a culture shock. I mean, I was pretty sheltered even for a Trinity student, but for Coronado…forget it. I was in a foreign land where everyone spoke a different language and I was utterly lost. I was used to uniforms and lots of talk about Jesus. In this new world I felt like everyone already knew who they were and dressed to reflect that knowledge, and “Jesus” was what people muttered when I got in their way. I cried more than once and hid in the bathroom often.

I took a computer class that year and my assigned seat was next to a pretty blond girl with big blue eyes. “Of course,” I thought, taking my seat “I get to sit next to a model and she’ll probably hate me too.”

I was wrong.

Her name was Leah and she could be rough around the edges, but she was always nice to me. She talked to me and laughed at my jokes. She was a good listener and shared some of her story with me . She invited me to lunch with her friends a few times. She was just one of those honest-to-goodness sweet people.

One day I finished my work in that class early and decided to use my “free internet” time to look up lyrics to a song I really liked but couldn’t quite catch all the lyrics. Now this was in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Ninety Eight so internet access in the classroom was an emerging thing and while firewalls were in place they were rudimentary at best and A LOT of kids knew how to get around it and even considered it a game to pull up inappropriate material when the teacher wasn’t looking. Thus, we were all monitored very closely and if someone was caught looking up something they shouldn’t they were immediately sent to the principal’s office and the punishment was severe. Nbd for me. I wasn’t really the rebellious type and besides, sex and violence were not on my radar.

So, back to looking on the Yahoo for that song… yeah, i’m not sure Google was even around yet…

I typed: “One+Week”

Too many potential results.

“Song+One+Week”

Still too many results.

“Lyrics+to+song+One+week”

…ugh… Finally, I turned to Leah and asked her if she knew the band’s name…?  She did! “Sweet! Thanks!”

I typed it in: “Barenaked+Ladies” A red stop sign filled my screen and my search was sent to the teacher. My search for BARENAKED LADIES. Oh sweet baby Jesus.

This teacher did not like me and was grinning like a maniac as she approached my seat saying, “Well, Amber, I did not expect YOU to be the one looking for pictures of naked women in my class!” The most obnoxious guy in my graduating class was also sitting next to me and he started laughing and saying some pretty disgusting things to me and calling me names. I froze. I was used to being mostly invisible, and now everyone was looking at me, seeing me for the first time, and suddenly the girl who had never kissed a boy, been on a date, or held a hand was developing quite the reputation.

Leah told the creep off in very descriptive language, then told Professor Umbridge (not really the teacher’s name, but a shout out to my fellow HP nerds and a very appropriate reference) to look at my search history, which clearly showed my intentions. Then Leah joked about how ridiculously prude and sheltered I was and how I probably had no idea what they were all even talking about.

And that was the reputation that stuck. I am forever grateful that I survived high school relatively unscathed, and I fully recognize it is in no small part due to a pretty girl standing up for this nerdy girl at a time in our lives when it was always easier to laugh with everyone, than to stand up for someone.

This story has gotten a lot of mileage, (especially from my mom, who literally thinks it is the most hilarious story of all time), but I betcha Leah never thought twice about it. Never knew the impact of her words, of her choice, in that moment. I’ll not know if she remembered, at least not this side of heaven, because Leah died suddenly and unexpectedly a week ago. As lives do after high school we drifted apart, though we caught up briefly on Facebook. I do know that she was a mommy who loved her three kiddos deeply and I know that she was married and was happy.

Her family is grieving now and also tasked with paying the unexpected costs of a love lost too soon. I wish I had shared with her how thankful I am, even today, that she was bold and kind. But I am honored to share one small story of many stories that made her who she was.

If you would like to join me in going a step further, sharing a story or a donation for her family, here is the link:

http://www.youcaring.com/memorial-fundraiser/in-loving-memory-of-leah-carden-zenger/347445#.VUm7upVrY80.facebook

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2 thoughts on “The Day Everything Changed

  1. Hello Amber, my name is Amy and I am Leah’s big sister. Thank you so much for sharing this story about my sister. It means to world to my mom and I to hear stories like this. I know that she would have remembered that moment and laughed. Thank you so much for remembering her.

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