I met Maria Valdez sophomore year of high school. We had to do a project about Cuba in Spanish class, and all she really cared about was William Levy.
She started hanging out with Isela, and then with Miriam, and then with everyone else, until she eventually became a part of our friend group. She became one of our best friends.
It was a casual sort of friendship during sophomore year—a "come sit at our lunch table today" kind of friendship. We'd all plan to sit together at pep rallies and talk during class. We even did a Secret Santa that year, which kind of failed (the effort was what mattered).
Then, during junior year, we all became much closer. People in our friend group started getting licenses and jobs and cars, so we would go out often. Nothing too big—there was the occasional trip to the movies and an afternoon at a restaurant. We did another Secret Santa, but I think everyone found out who each person got. (It might have gone well, though; I don't remember.)
Senior year was our year though. By this point, we were all basically family (which included the good and the bad times). We even had a pre-senior year picnic kind of thing down at the lakefront. During homecoming week, we coordinated some outfits for certain days, and we found that our communication skills were on point. Our group chat on Facebook contained everything from memes to serious topics to fights.
While everyone was applying to colleges and doing senior things, though, Maria didn't do anything. She told us that her parents did not want her to go to college in the United States, and that they decided that she would be returning to Mexico after she graduated. She cried towards the end of the school year, as we started to gradually wrap things up in our classes. I guess she was overwhelmed by all the memories she was trying to hold onto, knowing that she would be leaving us very soon.
Then, graduation day rolled around. It was very emotional for all us, but I think it hit Maria the hardest. I think we all kind of had that little hint of "I want to go back to high school" once we graduated, but she really wanted to stay in high school because she knew she would have to go to Mexico once she was done. The summer cruised by, and most of us started school at our respective colleges. We fell out of touch for a while, until Maria made a Facebook event for her farewell party. It's time, I thought.
Her goodbye party was kind of lame. All she had was hot dogs and marshmallows and a fire pit without firewood. (Her mom resorted to throwing pages of a book into the pit.) There was ice cream though. I wasn't really there for the fire pit though. We were all there to say goodbye to one of our best friends.
She left us on Friday, September 23, 2016, wearing winter boots in 65-degree weather. It hasn't hit me yet that she's gone, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't miss her. She is one of the nicest people in the world. It's sad to know that our friend won't be available when we go out to eat as a group or have a bonfire or something. I'm confident that she'll succeed at whatever it is that she wants to do, no matter where she lives. She's just that kind of person. I hope that we are all reunited one day in the near future, but in the mean time, we'll miss you, Maria.