Student reflects on losing friend, moving on

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On her first day of high school, she sees girls hugging and reuniting with friends and telling each other what they did over the summer. She imagines what it would be like if her friends were here with her like they planned. The summer before she started high school, sophomore Monserrat Casas found out her friend, Jessica Mata, had passed away on July 7 in a car accident on her way to Mexico. Both were enrolled to be freshmen at North.

“At first I didn’t believe [it] so I just started asking all these people if they had heard what had happened to Jessica and if it was true,” Casas said.

Casas’s friend Naomi Pearson was also planning to start high school with Mata and Casas after the trio became good friends at Austin Academy in band.

“Then on May 7, Naomi had to move to New Jersey, because her parents got divorced,” Casas said. “And then in July, that’s when Jessica’s accident happened, exactly two months later.”

No one knew that Mata was going to Mexico except Casas, but Casas said she was not told when Mata would go. Casas even talked to Mata the night before on Facebook, so Casas found Mata’s accident hard to believe. Casas told Pearson what she knew about the accident, but since they were not able to reach the family, they were unsure of what happened until posts on social media confirmed the incident.

“So we actually believed [it] then. And then, basically everything started coming out,” Casas said.

The family was on their way to Mexico to celebrate Mata’s parents’ newly received U.S. residency. Mata was not wearing her seat belt as another car drove in their lane and crashed into the family’s truck. Mata’s family members suffered a range of injuries, but Mata was the only one who passed away. Two services were held for Mata, a memorial at her middle school and a funeral that September. Mata was buried in her Quinceñera dress, because she had not had her Quinceñera yet. Casas could not make it to either the memorial or the funeral because she was not in town. Mata’s mother also left a rose on the school’s front desk to represent her daughter’s enrollment on what would have been Mata’s first day of high school.

“[At the memorial] they planted a tree in memory of her and they put balloons and stuffed animals,” Casas said. “Her favorite color was blue, so they let go a bunch of blue and white balloons. The tree is a year old, and it blooms white flowers.”

Casas said she will remember Mata as an enthusiastic person who was rarely ever sad or angry. She said Mata was always someone with a lot of energy and always had a smile on her face who loved to cheer others up whenever they were down. Everyone was Mata’s friend, Casas said.

“I couldn’t believe [she was gone],” Casas said. “[Mata] had told me a couple of months before that she was going to Mexico in the summer, but I never knew she was going to go that week. I just, I didn’t believe it. I was refusing to think that she had died. I was like, ‘how could this happen to her?’ She was always happy. She was never mad at anybody; she never talked about anybody.”

Last year, Casas had to start high school without her friends. When Casas would get asked why she came to this high school, she realized it helped her feel better to tell others about Mata even though it hurt.

“[Mata] was one of the people who would help me with anything,” Casas said. “When I went through a problem, she would always be there for me. So I had to get used to not having her. And at first it was hard, so I pretended that she was there. And I’d pretend she was giving me advice and stuff, but as time passed, I realized it was just making me feel worse so I stopped. I think it was like almost a year after, I started realizing she wasn’t going to come back. [But] I think if you talk about it to other people, they’ll help you.”

Casas originally wanted to go to Lakeview because she wanted to be a lawyer. After Pearson moved and Mata died, Casas was still unsure whether she should still go to North until she had a class taught by technology teacher Greg Morrissey.

“When I was little, my brother had cancer and then I had Mr. Morrissey last year,” Casas said. “He told us about his experience with cancer. When I was little, I remember, I wanted to be an oncologist. And I kind of want to be that now.”

Casas said no one else close to her has passed away except Mata. Casas said that she believes the experience has made her stronger and that it has prepared her for what to expect in case she loses anyone else.

“It’s going to be hard at the beginning,” Casas said. “I knew that Jessica and Naomi weren’t going to come back. So I had to make new friends and just kind of forget that they weren’t going to come back. Friends come and go, and you just have to cherish the moments you spend with them. It’s just life.”

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