Brenda Berringer, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, March 10, 1994
by Jamie Rinehart
(Burleson, Tx, USA)
Thirty Minutes of Wonderful
By: Jamie Rinehart
“I would rather have thirty minutes of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.” That quote from the movie, Steel Magnolias, sums up the entirety of Brenda’s life. I can still envision her long, blond hair blowing in the wind like a flag that catches the breeze and gracefully waves. I can still picture her big smile and see her bright, blue, eyes dazzling through her oversized, white, sunglasses when the sun would hit them just right. I can still hear her laughter echoing down a hallway or weaving its way through a room. She was the friend that I invited over and my mom would ask, “Are you sure you don’t want to invite someone else?” not because she didn’t like her, but because Brenda possessed an overenthusiastic energy and a big voice. My mom just didn’t quite appreciate Brenda’s spirit like I did. More than anyone I understood her uniqueness; it’s what enveloped me with the idea that Brenda and I would be friends forever. My sides would hurt from all the laughter she created with her silliness. No one could lighten the mood or snap me out of a funk better than she could. Every moment with her was an adventure. In fact, Brenda pushed me way out of my comfort zone by challenging me to try new things and forcing me to live life deliberately and boldly. Whether it was insisting that we climb up the grassy bank of a busy highway just to get a better look at the neighborhood, or coaxing me to be the leading role in the talent show, she was there cheering me on each step of the way. Little did I know that this vibrant, young girl, who I met in second grade, would be such a big part of my life, even after her death.
Friday, March, 1994, I’m sitting in Coach Harmon’s English class hanging on her every word as she reads to us from her worn out copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Just as Scout is about to endure her second uncomfortable moment with her first grade teacher, Mrs. Caroline, a knock interrupts the steady stream of words flowing from my teacher’s mouth. A young man, wearing jeans, a white t-shirt, and ragged, converse tennis shoes is slouching in the doorway holding a note in his hand. Of course, I know he is here for me. We are traveling out of town for Spring Break, and my mom promised to get me out of school early today. However, I do wish that Coach had been a bit further in the story, because I wanted to know just how much trouble poor Scout was about to be in. Nonetheless, excitement shoots through me as I think of all the time I will be spending with my best friend, Brenda. See, I had gone to school with Brenda, in Oklahoma City, for most of my elementary/middle school years. Then, my freshmen year of high school, my dad received a promotion at work which required us to move to Texas. Even though miles of highway separated us, Brenda and I remained close. We spent holidays taking turns going back and forth to one another’s homes, and we met at Lake Murray camp for a couple of summers after I moved. Now, rounding the corner, at the top of the stairs that lead to the school’s main office area, I see my mom and dad. All the joy on my face disappears as I quickly observe that both of my parents have been crying. I whisper to myself, “Oh God! Someone is dead.” I slowly approach them as though my feet are stuck in sticky syrup and I have to pull hard to lift one up and then the other. My dad put his arm around me and carefully guides me out of the school’s main door. Standing outside, I stare at my parents, one and then the other, waiting for them to inform me of whatever tragedy that has brought us to this moment. My mom’s face is wet from the giant tears that are rolling down her cheeks as she tries to speak. Her mouth slowly purses to formulate sentences, but her voice is absent, so she looks to my dad for help. His eyes red and swollen are beginning to water. Repeatedly, they look at me, and then back at one another. After what feels like an eternity, I finally shout, “What, what happened?” My mom gently reaches out, tucks my hair behind my ear and utters “Brenda died last night honey. A drunk driver jumped the median on the highway and hit her car; she died instantly.” Hearing my mother speak, simultaneously, the words echo in my head and I yell inside my mind, NO! I just talked to her last night, she was fine. Suddenly I feel sick my knees are buckling, and I can no longer stand. Just before I hit the ground, my dad scoops me up and holds me tight as I sob in his arms. Then, like scenes from a view master, the rest of the afternoon flickers past. Things begin to happen quickly and somehow in my blurred state I arrive at Brenda’s parent’s home.
Mrs. Berringer, Brenda’s mom, hugs me so tight that breathing is a struggle and my ribs hurt. Then Mr. Berringer and her two sisters take turns hugging me. I keep saying how sorry I am, it is
all I can get out. We cry and reminisce for a couple of hours and all I can think is how odd it is to be in Brenda’s house, knowing that she isn’t, and will never be again. As I prepare to leave, Mrs. Berringer asks if I want anything from Brenda’s room. Hesitation sweeps over me because inside I am thinking there is no way I can go into her room, the very room that we once had sleepovers in, staying up all night and talking. Even though inside I’m saying no, my head must be nodding yes, because Mrs. Berringer, extending her arm, replies, “Go ahead sweetie, I’ll wait here for you.” Slowly I trudge to the back of the house, down a long hallway leading to Brenda’s door. Arriving at the door, I pause and take a deep breath before stepping in. Her room is exactly as she left it. Clothes strewn on the floor, her bed un-made, and her closet door open with things spilling from it into the bedroom. I know exactly what I want and after a few minutes of looking I see it, her navy blue baseball cap with white embroidered letters that say NY. Her Yankee’s cap, worn in because it was her favorite, is resting at the foot of her bed. I pick it up and as I pull it close; tears stream down my face and my heart begins to ache, it still smells like her. I carry my treasure out of her room hug everyone once again and head for the front door. Just as I am about to depart, Mrs. Berringer asks me if I will speak at Brenda’s funeral, she pronounces that it will mean a lot to her, and she knows this is what Brenda would have wanted. Once again fighting back tears I smile and say “I’d be honored.”
Sitting in the church I am numb and still in shock from the few days preceding. The whole thing is surreal to me; I just can’t believe this is my reality. I keep feeling myself floating up above my body and looking down on the whole situation like it’s a bad dream that I can’t wake up from. As I wait going over the speech I prepared, in my head, my mom nudges me and tells me to look around. She wants me to notice how many people are packed in the church. Scanning the church I recognize that every pew is filled from left to right, people are standing along the sides of the church, and the back church doors are open for people to stand in the foyer. Any stranger or onlooker would think this was an Easter Sunday mass. Looking again around the room, I am in awe at the sight of the vast amount of people that have come to mourn this seventeen-year-old girl. Had she really touched that many lives in such a small amount of time on this earth? The music interrupts my thoughts and I sit straight up in the pew. The priest speaks first, then some friends that Brenda went to high school with, then her older sister, Jenny. My legs feel like they are made of jello as I lug myself to the podium. In that moment, what I said is not important, because words could never express the depth of the emotions that filled my heart. What was important was what happened next. Sitting and reflecting on the things that had been said about Brenda in the church today, and remembering the stories people had shared with me over the last couple of days, I gained a certain amount of clarity. Everyone who spoke about Brenda shared the different ways in which she had positively affected their lives. Somehow she had a made a necessary change in their lives when they needed it most. They all mentioned her big heart, her selfless nature and her knack for looking out for the downtrodden. I knew these things about her already, but it was interesting to hear about her from other people’s perspective. Before now, all I could do was question God, why had he taken her when she had so much life left to live? Why had he chosen someone that could have done such good in this world if she had only been given more time? One last time, sashaying the room with my eyes, a thought occurs to me, God took Brenda home because she had done more with her life in seventeen years than most achieve in a lifetime. She had touched each and every life in that room, and she was tired. God took her home to rest because she had fulfilled her purpose in our world. In her seventeen years, at some point, she had been each of our “thirty minutes of wonderful”. I began to understand that today we would all leave the church with our cherished memories of the precious time we had shared with Brenda, and we would all be grateful for the time.
Today, when I look around this world and see goodness, kindness, sensitivity, bravery, or selflessness, thoughts of my sweet friend flood my mind. I named my little girl after Brenda Marie so I would always have some part of her with me. Every once in a while when I see a girl with her blond hair blowing in the wind, or hear an energetic laugh that encircles a room, it still makes me smile.