The news hit hard and unexpectedly, like a medicine ball to the stomach.
On a Friday night last October, a couple friends and I had just finished dinner. The weather was great, and we were well on our way to a perfectly normal and enjoyable weekend when we got a call.
Details were scarce, but apparently there had been an accident earlier that day in Prairie Village. Tiffany Mogenson, one of our best and oldest friends, hadn’t survived.
Tiffany and I had met in middle school, and from the start, something told me this was somebody I wanted to be around. She was funny, intelligent, smart-alecky, loved to mix it up with the guys. She was fun and she was pretty and for three glorious hours one day at the beginning of seventh grade, she was even my girlfriend — a relationship that promptly imploded after school, when I’d worked up the nerve to tell her that, as it happened, I was also going steady with another girl.
Still, our friendship endured.
When we reached high school, she would invite me and my friends to her well-attended weekend parties, even though it was quite clear that our scrawny, prudish bunch had no business cavorting with the athletes and upper-classmen that populated her get-togethers. As we got older, we grew closer. We worked after school on the high school newspaper together, and spent countless weekend evenings parked in front of a TV together. During senior prom, we shared a limo.
After high school, we both headed east to the University of Missouri. And though she was often busy as a member of the Golden Girls, the school’s dance team, she always made a point to keep her high school friends close. When all of us got together for a night out, more often than not she was the one who’d organized it.
Friends didn’t come any more gracious, any more loyal.
Once, during those tight, lean college years, I realized an hour before a first date that I had less than $10 to my name. I called Tiffany at her off-campus apartment and explained my predicament. Twenty minutes later, she and I were in my car, on the way to an ATM, where she withdrew a few bucks from her checking account and handed the money to me, ensuring I’d be able to pay for coffee.
As often happens after college, as we both navigated young adulthood, the amount of time between our visits increased. I moved out of state. We saw each other less, our phone conversations grew rarer. She married the love of her life, Mike Mogenson, and devoted herself to helping raise her new stepson, Maddox, whom she’d occasionally recruit to help her make late-night prank phone calls.
Still, she was one of those rare people with whom you could pick up exactly where you left off, no matter how long the hiatus.
Last summer, when my wife and I were married in Weston, Mo., she and Mike made the trip. As the night progressed, we spent more time talking with them than we did probably anyone else. We talked about life and family, and she asked excitedly about our upcoming Mexican honeymoon, at a resort she’d recommended. I remember being disappointed when my wife and I were forced to say goodbye, off to continue thanking our guests for their presence. It was always hard to leave a conversation with Tiffany. Too many laughs, too much fun. It was like walking away from Disney World.
Later that night, as the reception wound down and my wife and I prepared to make our exit, I was pleasantly surprised to find Tiffany among the group who’d stayed to send us off.
She stood outside near our waiting limousine, blowing bubbles and laughing, her voice rising up — as it often did — over the others.
Hurry it up!
It was a perfectly Tiffany sendoff, equal parts affection and attitude, and as my new bride and I pulled away, I left my latest encounter with Tiffany as I left every encounter with her — eagerly anticipating our next meeting.
It was impossible to know then that there wouldn’t be one.