L.A. will always be a bittersweet place for me to visit. Every time I go there a wave of emotions hits me. This was the place I had always wanted to live. This is the place that brings back so many happy memories but so much pain. This was the place I visited time and time again with Elizabeth.
My cousin Elizabeth was two years younger than me, but as 1 of 15 cousins, 10 which are girls, she was the closest to me in age. From the time we were young, our families vacationed together, went to camp together, spent holidays together. Early on, she was like that annoying younger sister. The one I had to play with, even though I wanted to be with “the big girls”. My older sister and two older cousins were the cool ones. But somehow, I always got paired with Elizabeth.
As we got older, I realized that wasn’t such a bad thing. She lived in Dallas, and I lived in Lubbock, but that didn’t keep us from being close. I’d visit her for deb balls and double dates in high school….and when I went to college at the University of Texas, I spent many weekends staying with her in Dallas. A couple years later, she followed in my footsteps.
Down in Austin, she pledged Kappa with me, and we had yet another bond. One that was shared between us and 7 members of my family. We had our own friends, she was still two years younger – but now in a new environment, away from home, all of the sudden she was the little sister I wanted to be around. We enjoyed going out together, hanging out together, we were family and friends.
My final year at school was when we became inseparable. I had decided to stay another year at UT to finish my second major. With so many friends moving on and away – I was so glad to have her there with me. We loved to go out dancing on sixth street, go on walks, listen to Coldplay, pick up McDonald’s late night, and visit Maudee’s (an Austin institution) religiously. We lived on queso and life cereal. We had the best year. But the times I will never forget were when we would visit L.A.
We both had this dream of moving there – of becoming roommates, and living in Hollywood. We’d rent a car and drive through the hills of Malibu blaring the Garden State soundtrack and the latest Laguna Beach hit song without a care in the world. We’d go to the beach, of course UT football games at the Rose Bowl, drink margaritas at our favorite little spot on Sunset, and eat breakfast at Cafe 101. We laughed when our car window on our rental car got hit and fell off the side of the car. We had to return it the next day, so Elizabeth attached it with gum, and it was as good as new. We thought we were brilliant. We were ridiculous, young, and invincible.
I feel like everyone has that time in their life where the bubble bursts…some earlier than others. That moment when you realize bad things really can happen. That sometimes you can’t take things back – you can’t fix things – and you wonder why God let something like that happen. It’s the moment you look at life completely different. You become fearful every time you go on a plane and leave your family; because you know. You know that bad things really do happen to good people. You know that life can end too soon. You don’t know what’s around the corner.
Well, life changes. I met my future husband, decided to stay in Texas, and start a career in broadcasting. A year later, Elizabeth graduated and moved to L.A.
I remember she had called me that week. She had been to Catalina and wanted to tell me about her trip. Living in Abilene, Texas at the time, I remember being a little jealous. Elizabeth was out there living that life I had dreamed about. I was happy where I was, but at the time, her life seemed a little more glamorous. I was busy, so I decided I’d call her later. How many times I wish I could take that back.
I’ll never forget getting a knock on that door that Sunday morning. I was getting ready to go into work at KTXS in Abilene where I was working as a sports anchor. It was my fiancé, Ben – what a nice surprise! I told him that. He told me to call my mom.
The next few things are a blur, except for falling on the floor. Elizabeth had been crossing the street the night before in L.A. in front of that same Cafe 101 and was hit by a car. He was driving way too fast, and then he ran. We didn’t know a lot, but we knew she was gone.
Sarah Elizabeth Toon was 21 years old. In 5 days, she would’ve been 22.
Six months later, I got married. She was supposed to be my bridesmaid. It was just one of many big events now that I will look around and think someone is missing. We’ve had many weddings in our family, children born, and so many happy events since. It’s not the same without my friend.
Elizabeth was happy, and beautiful, and full of life. Every time I go back to L.A., I can feel her there. I think it’s why I will forever love and hate this city. I have so many good memories – and I feel like L.A. took that away.
I don’t really know the point of this. I haven’t found some epic, “oh this happened, so this could happen” revelation. No. It’s still just tragic. 10 years later, I can finally talk about it. Actually, no. I can just write about it.
Maybe this is for everyone who’s lost someone unexpectedly. Everyone that’s bubble has been shattered. Everyone who’s been shattered. I’ve seen so many now in the last ten years since. Lost spouses, babies, parents; life is full of tragedy. We are all dealing with it.
For me, I couldn’t move on without my faith in God and knowing she’s in a better place. And I do. Elizabeth is up in Heaven beaming that big gorgeous smile. She’s laughing, doing her awkward little dance (she didn’t have the best rhythm), but she’s dressed to the nines. Because, even in Heaven, I believe she would make a white robe stylish. That is Elizabeth.
I can’t wait to see her there.