A Smile for Everyone

Name: Kara Amendola

Location: East Hanover, New Jersey

Relationship to Jessica: Former Classmate

I met Jessica in middle school.

Jessica on the first day of school

© jessicafashano.com

I didn’t know Jessica well like many of the people posting on this site; didn’t know where she went to college, what philanthropic organizations she supported, or what her cat’s name was (did she even have a cat)? In fact, I only found out about Jessica’s passing this spring during dinner with an old school friend. Upon hearing the news, my fork stopped half-way to my mouth (which had formed an absurd “O” shape that might’ve been comical under any other circumstance), and all I could think of to say in response was, “…what?” Her death was on my mind for the rest of the evening.

I asked myself later why I’d been so shocked. After all, we were only passing acquaintances in middle school and half of high school, well over a decade ago. People die all time, usually never penetrating our hardened shells. But sometimes you meet the rare person that you just know is “one of the good ones,” and without knowing her well or being her friend, I just knew at an early age that Jessica was “one of the good ones.”

Let’s pause for a moment and recall that Jessica and I were first introduced in middle school, a time when the teen social hierarchy was really starting to emerge and our schoolmates were beginning to act as if it mattered. The athletes, the honor roll kids, the art/drama nerds, the band/choir geeks, the grungy hemp hippies… Everyone was trying to find their niche, differentiate themselves (yet still fit in), and figure out how they were going to survive the next seven years. And of course they were treating their peers accordingly.

Jessica wasn’t like that. My few memories of Jessica involved her having a smile for everyone, no matter what social circle you were contained in. And she didn’t quite fit into one place like so many of our classmates; she moved in and out of circles at will with a laugh that reverberated down the hallways, and she often displayed a sense of warmth and heart that many of our peers had discarded at the doors as the ultimate in “uncool.”

The simple truth is that people like Jessica have a way of leaving an imprint on social passersby, and whether it’s 10, 20, or 50 years later, you unexpectedly find that you still remember that laugh, that smile; and you wish you’d known them just a little bit better, had taken time to dig just a little bit deeper. Jessica, I’m sorry for the pain that you suffered and am happy to think you finally found your bit of peace in this crazy world. Long live your memory and your legacy.

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  1. This was beautiful and heart-felt. Thank you, Kara, for sharing your memories about Jessica.

  2. Bill Williams says

    Agreed, thanks Kara. I really enjoy shared memories of Jess popping up on this website. Hope all is well

  3. Theresa Velasquez says

    You are an incredible writer, and though you didn’t know Jess well, the impression you had of her was so spot on. She was truly and incredible and inspiring individual…and that laugh was just everything! I miss her. I know that smile is shining down on us everyday too. Thanks a lot for sharing.