Central Michigan University has an endless amount of amazing opportunities and recently I was fortunate enough to be a part of one. The Mary Ellen Brandell volunteer center offers an organization called the Service Ambassadors. This group is made up of spontaneous volunteers for some pretty awesome projects. There are no meetings or standards to…
The first time I saw him I was just fifteen. It was August of 2013 and high school football was just starting up for my sophomore year when my good friend Ian introduced me to him. “Hey Julia, I wanted you to meet my friend Duncan!” Ian said as the most handsome man stood before me with bright blue eyes, blonde hair, and a grin that stretched from ear to ear. When we both looked at each other, we gave one another ‘the look.’ You know the look I mean, when you first see someone so breathtakingly perfect? That look. Both being awkward teenagers, after this moment happened we nervously said hello to each other and later stalked each other on Twitter. On the first day of sophomore year, Duncan sat directly in front of me in my English class where we had another awkward hello. That night, Duncan messaged me on Twitter and that is when the giddy middle-school-crush-texting started. Duncan and I fell hard for each other and everyone knew it.
On Friday October 4th 2013, there was a home football game at my high school and I was on the sidelines dancing for my school. Before the game began, the dance team performs the school’s fight song and some other chants to get the students rallied up. Immediately after I was done performing, I was turned around facing the field when my teammates began yelling my name and tapping me on the shoulder. When I turned around to se what the hassle was about, in front of my eyes was Duncan on the other side of the fence smiling up at me holding a sign that read “Will YOU Be Mine?” in one hand, with a bouquet of flowers in the other. I instantly jumped towards him and said “YES!” From that day on, I was his and he was mine.
The next couple of years that we spent together were the happiest times of my life, and the highlight of my high school experience. Duncan and I shared so many memories from sophomore and junior homecoming, to trips to Cedar Point, meeting each other’s families, going to church together, getting Chinese food at least once a week, having a photographer take pictures of us, going to each other’s football games and dance competitions, celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, going to parties, volunteering at Muscular Dystrophy Camp, to simply watching movies and laughing together all the time. Duncan and I were inseparable. We were so in love. And then tragedy struck.
Thursday August 6th 2015 was the worst day of my life. I guess I should elaborate on that a bit. Duncan and his two best friends, Anthony and Dom, took a trip up north for a few days. I was getting ready to host my student government’s annual retreat about an hour from my house.I think it is critical to take the time to say if you ever knew anything about Duncan, it was that he worked at a boat repair shop and loved recreationally riding dirt bikes, motorcycles, four-wheelers, trucks, cars, boats, jet skis, etc. While he was up north with his friends, they began taking some trails around the woods with some dirt bikes and four wheelers and had bonfires and slept in tents and just were being guys. The next morning, they began repeating their day before. They started their day by making breakfast over the fire, and then they pulled out the dirt bikes and four wheelers again. Something wasn’t 100% working with the four wheeler and I am not even sure what that was but I know that it was bad.
I was with my student government at our retreat who it happened. It began with a text from my mom saying “call me when you can.” Once given the opportunity, I gave my mom a call. My mom doesn’t typically disturb me when she knows I am doing something for my extra circulars but this phone call was different. It was strange. All my mom knew, she explained. “Duncan got hurt up north today. He hit a tree and I don’t know how badly he is hurt but I know that something is wrong.” I didn’t think much of this phone call as it seemed as though Duncan had broken a leg or an arm or something. The worst I thought would have happened was that he would be so upset because he wouldn’t be able to play football his senior year. I was so horribly incorrect. I was doing a group activity with my student government when I got two missed calls from Anthony. After the activity I called him back and walked up to the stage that was in the room at camp to get away from the people talking. The next activity required everyone to separate into the people who’s grade they were in. That being said, everyone from my student government had left the room. It was just us seniors now.
When I answered the phone, I knew something was very wrong because Anthony was crying and boys don’t cry over nothing. After asking what happened to Duncan many times, Anthony could only spit things out like “He’s not okay,” or “He’s not going to make it.” I couldn’t fully process what I was hearing so I sort of forced him to give it to me straight up since I just was not wanting to understand what was coming out of his mouth as I started crying in panic. “He’s gone.” Those two words came out of his mouth and my retched screams were to immediately follow. My two best friends came up on both sides of me and asked me what was wrong. “It’s Duncan.” I got out under my breath of the screams. “What about him?! What happened?!” they asked. In that moment, I couldn’t get anything out besides “He’s dead.” I know that this was not the way I would have told anyone else if they were to ask me, but I simply didn’t know how to explain it any other way at this time because I didn’t want to think it was real and I just didn’t know what was going on.
I don’t remember much of that day beyond that point but I remember I could not stop screaming and crying. My two best friends got me a ride home with them so that I could be with my family and cope the ways of my choosing (which was just curling up in a ball and screaming until I fell asleep).
That month was a blur. Filled with his was, his funeral, his burial services, and reality of it all, August was a month that I never wanted to relive. School was right around the corner and I honestly was nervous. I was nervous that I would breakdown within the seven hours of my day that I was there and that everyone would feel bad for me or just look at me and the last thing I wanted at that point in my life was even more attention and sympathy than I already had by showing up to school. It was hard. But I showed the world that I was strong enough by putting on a smile and acting like I was okay. I saved the breakdowns for when I got home. It worked out that way for a while. Then I began getting called down to each and every councilor and psychiatrist in the building simply for them to all tell me that I was depressed and had high anxiety.. obviously. At a certain point I emailed my school’s principal to specifically ask their employees to please leave me alone while I am just trying to get through a lesson in my classes and keep up with my academics rather than be pulled from my classes and get upset, then miss what I was supposed to learn that day. He agreed that it was a bit inappropriate that I was being taken out of multiple hours of school work and that since I am comfortable in class without having to talk to anyone, he was okay with discontinuing the unwanted counseling and let me talk to people on my own time.
Throughout the fall I attended every single football game each Friday in which I supported the team and recognized Duncan in any way that I could in order to lead our team to victory. I also began to keep more of my emotions in which physically caused me to break out into hives all over my neck, chest, back, stomach, and legs. I tried my best to keep it together around others but all of the build up lead to absolute psychologic rock bottom. Winter was approaching as I began to get a bit unsteady. I would come home from school each day and just do absolutely nothing but go on my phone and play games or watch Netflix to just completely block out any thoughts that I had been having and I shut out all of my emotions to the point where the only one I had was careless. I stopped caring about my “friends” because as soon as I stopped hanging out with them all the time they seemed to stop caring about me, regardless of them knowing what I was going through. I stopped caring about school and don’t recall even turning in a homework assignment for about 2 months. I stopped caring about dance and completely accepted the fact that I would be put in the back corner of a dance because I showed no effort whatsoever. I lost the love of my life, and everything else I loved with that.
Things started turning around for me when I started getting recognized from Central Michigan University, which was the only university that I truly wanted to attend. Every other college I applied for I obviously got denied from given my effort in school, however Central recognized me for my leadership skills in all of my other years of high school, disregarding senior year. With that, I was given the opportunity out of thousands of applicants to be a part of the Leadership Advancement Scholarship cohort, something I had dreamt of since my junior year of high school. This acceptance gave me something that I hadn’t felt in a while, and that was hope. From that point on I worked so hard to get my acceptance letter into CMU and along the way I met a special someone to push me to be better each day.
Dane Haggarty came into my life at a time when no one else was. It turns out that Dane needed someone to pick him up from rock bottom too. The two of us were there for each other to just talk about everything that we felt every single day. Dane helped me through the tough times, as well as the happy ones along the way. He showed me that it was okay to break down and feel sad, but that it was all okay to express my happiness and my passions for what I love. With his help, I changed my perspective on life itself. It isn’t about what everyone else wants you to feel or think or do, it is simply what you make of it and that is what will make you happy in the end.
With a mind set like this, I ended up getting accepted to Central Michigan University with a spot in the Leadership Institute as a member of the Leadership Advancement Scholarship. I auditioned for the college dance team, which I had dreamt of being a part of my whole life and am now speaking as a member of Central Michigan’s dance team, who is ranked number five in the nation. I was nominated for prom court and it turns out, I won prom queen. I was given the opportunity to sit on stage at graduation due to my elite involvement in my school’s student government program and was awarded at epilogue for my outstanding participation in student activities. I was given the opportunity to visit Paris, France in June where I locked up my love for Duncan on the ever so famous Love Lock Bridge and where I also turned eighteen in the Palace of Versailles all while the Euro Cup 2016 was taking place in Paris. While on this trip I was able to take a train to London, England, where I have always wanted to go since I was little. I went up north for the first time that summer, I visited my favorite place in the world where I shared countless memories with Duncan at, and I even got to spend the fourth of July with a group of my best friends, who were all good friends of Duncan himself. I was able to raise over one thousand dollars to donate to the Muscular Dystrophy Association in honor of him by selling t-shirts for him with a group of his friends. I received a “Best hip-hop tricks” award from Grand Valley State University’s Laker dance team clinic. I completed the list Duncan and I made of dates and adventures we wanted to go on with my friends or family, including traveling to places like Disney World. I even added the solo dance performances I did in honor of him at my school’s talent show my senior year where I received the “People’s choice award,” and at a national dance competition in the spring where I received a Platinum award. I got through our 2 year anniversary by visiting all of the places we used to go to together. I attended his brother’s body building competition to see his routine to honor Duncan. I won two “Big Red Oscars,” one of them being best smile, the award I thought that he would always receive for the males, as well as best dancer. I attended dance conventions, and I got the opportunity to walk around Ford Field for the Muscular Dystrophy Association along side of my camper that I went to summer camp with along with Duncan. I attended a Leadership statewide conference where my student government got the Star school award, and the Award of Excellence. I was given the opportunity to volunteer at Lutz High School which is a special education learning center where they held a spring dance. I was also able to participate in Kids Kicking Cancer where I got to hear stories from children with cancer and all of their battles while I happily painted their faces to look like whatever animal they wanted. I was given the opportunity to walk as a “model” in the Wesner Tuxedo show for seniors in high school with exceedingly high student involvement.I hosted my school’s second annual neon lights dance in which Duncan had helped a massive amount with the year before. Even made it in the art show! I took risks, and I made it through the year of his accident alive and happy and here is the video to prove it all. A Year Dedicated To Duncan Video
I am writing this article on a special day because today happens to be October 4th 2016, which marks my three year anniversary with Duncan. Today is the day three years ago where all of his wonderful contributions to my life began and created such a happy and headstrong women who could handle a situation that makes one so angry and distraught. A situation that can make or break you as a person. And thanks to Duncan Blair, I was made by the situation. I was made into the girl who could rather than the girl that could have. I now live each and every day missing him more than anything, but also striving to make him proud and to make something of myself the way he did so well. I live everyday like it could be my last and I never take advantage of anyone around me because there could be a day where they won’t be there anymore. I love this life that I live and I now in my heart that someday after this life, I will meet Duncan again where we will live happily ever after. Just like we were supposed to all along. And until then, I will continue living in face of all of my fears of losing everything in a heartbeat again, and do it for him. I will do it to be happy.