Saturday, January 16, 2016

In Remembrance of Kel

Kel Walters riding a train
On January 16, 2015, Kelly Walters, a university student bent on becoming a member of Congress
and a week away from starting another study abroad trip, was struck and killed in a hit and run accident.

I met Kel in high school. We were both officers in the Shakespeare Club and founding officers in the Viking Club for Readers (VCR). I would spend many lunch breaks in the back room of the library with her and others, talking about books.

She encouraged me to read The Book Thief, something I didn't until college with much regret because it's a beautiful story. Looking back on the day of her passing, I find it fitting that the one novel I connect with her above all the others is one about stealing books and the moments that accompany them.

I remember moments with her at the library front desk, talking about how she would be a president that didn't back down or follow political correctives. I remember planning ways to fundraise for the VCR Club by selling cake to teachers. I remember chatting with her about dystopian novels and realize she is the sole reason I even picked up The Hunger Games back in 2009.

I don't know if I stole these memories like Liesel does with books, but I feel like they're only mine now. I'm the only one who knows some of these now that she's gone, and I feel like I'm harboring secrets, treasures that no one else can ever have or sell because when I go, they'll fade with me.

Kel reminded me of so many things, namely going forward and doing what you love. She passed away during a very confusing time in my life, where I realized that at the young age of 22 I was settling. I was settling in my career, in my writing life, within my friendships and family, and within my faith. I was letting things happen because I gave up achieving the dreams that kept me going from the time I was 10.

I named a protagonist after Kel back in high school, but that book has seen no more than a couple of written pages and sparsely written notes tucked into half a dozen folders. But that's okay because that novel is still very much alive in my heart.

Kel taught me to chase my dreams. She taught me to count my blessings when it came to friends because those will be some of the greatest bonds you form. She was political and she was kind. She was determined and she was considerate. I feel like doing anything less than pursing a career as an author is a slap in the face to all the faith she put in me as a writer, the trust she gave me a friend, and the love she showed me simply for being a human being.

Kel Walters reading
It's been a year without you, and the world is so much darker because of it. I wasn't close with you at the end, but you stayed in the forefront of my mind, pestering me when I got too comfortable. I know you think your greatest dreams would have been to end up in Congress and improve this country for the better, but somehow, you did so much more.

You changed a whole community. You changed two classes of schools. You changed the lives of everyone you met while you traveled abroad. You changed the lives of your family and friends.

You changed me into the person I was when I was young and shoving pieces of computer paper into people's faces, shouting, "I wrote this! And I'm going to be a writer!" You're a light, kid, and I'm thankful you blind me still.

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