written by Tonia Magras, producer/director, "More Than Our Skin"
April 29, 2017, my step-daughter committed suicide. She was 18 years old.
It’s been four years. It feels so much longer. Why does that happen? Perhaps it's the longing of things "getting back to normal" that allows time and pain to stand still.
I remember a week or so after your funeral I was driving home from work. The carnival was just getting started on a Friday evening at 6pm. I stopped and saw about 30 teenagers walking across the street, aimlessly as if there were no care in their worlds. In that crowd of cackling young girls, I saw you. You walked across the street toward the carnival: leather jacket and light blue jeans. You smiled your sweet smile as to let me know it's okay now and you're okay now. You no longer had to deal with the pain and torture of being put in a skin that didn’t fit you.
But I miss touching that beautiful skin.
I see you in the silliest of things. You had that innocent, child-like humor that would send you into a gut-wrenching gargle of laughter for the littlest of things. That's how I like to remember you. That's where you live in my heart.
Loving you and losing you feels unreal to me. But I knew when I saw the pain in my husband's eyes and those around him, my life had changed.
When the words were uttered of your passing, my life changed.
I woke up the next morning, and knew my life was changed forever.
I remember God speaking to me and smiling remembering the day my life changed - that summer of 2010. That's when I first met you and your sisters and brother: Jodie, Joslyn and Javier - my husband's four beautiful children. You quickly became mine, and I remembered smiling!
My life changed again when you moved to Boston during the summer of 2011, and I remembered smiling. I remembered - as hectic as life was back then - that there were many more smiles and knew again, my life was changed forever. Changed because this brilliant, beautiful girl came into my life, and for that, I am truly thankful.
My nickname for you was grapefruit. It was our word. We made it up because when I asked how you were doing, like a typical teenager, you would simply reply fine. But I knew you weren't. I just didn't know what was wrong. So we made up a deal that if you were really fine and life was amazing, you would answer grapefruit. We would smile at each other. We both changed.
We shared this word with each other - whether you were having a bad day or if it was me. My life changed because I met you and you made me laugh and you turned my "fine" days into grapefruits. My life changed because I can hold in my heart every moment I ever shared with you and know I felt like grapefruit.
It's funny, walking in the grocery store and looking over at the pile of grapefruits. It always makes me laugh.
I miss my grapefruit.
I get angry that people don't acknowledge you - as though you were just a season in life, and like the leaves in Autumn, dried up and blew away. That your life didn't matter much. That it wasn't a tragic illness or accident or crime that took you away from us. See that is tangible - with a when, what, where and how. Your way has no answers. They left with you.
You would always tell me, when I caught you scraping your arm with your fingernails that you hate the skin you’re in. I would try and comfort you and tell you how beautiful and wonderful and brilliant you are and you would look at me with that look that said, you will never understand.
I understand now.
I get very angry when I think about the way people went out of their way to treat you differently. Like a freak or a monster and like your voice didn’t matter. I remember sitting in a room with your doctors and you in a chair quietly and thinking, why are we talking about you as if you weren’t here? And I remember asking you afterwards, and you said very calmly, I wasn’t there.
I understand now.
I get angry when I think about people yelling out of frustration of not understanding you and wanting to feed you medication until you entered into a vegetative state. You would say to me, it’s okay, Toni. I don’t feel like I hate the skin I’m in. I just feel like grapefruit.
I understand now.
When you left us, I thought to myself, I’ll never see my Jamie again. And I didn’t. And I thought I would one day have that conversation with you to ask why you hated the skin you were in. But I didn’t.
I understand now.
I find myself in an extraordinary opportunity to be able to ask these questions with some of the bravest women I’ve ever met. Somehow, I think you had something to do with us all coming together.
This film is more than a project for me. It’s an opportunity to truly understand what it means living in one’s skin and why, for many, it’s not always grapefruit.
I now have an opportunity to ask the questions I couldn’t ask you. I have the opportunity to share the answers the way I couldn’t share yours. I have the awesome responsibility of understanding our need to listen, not speak; to hear, not assume; to love and not retract.
I understand now and I know it is because of you I am ready for this next journey in my life.
This film, More Than Our Skin, will be dedicated to you, Jamie-Lee Allison Magras.
You are not forgotten. When I walk by your picture on the wall in our house, I whisper, "hi grapefruit" and smile. For my life will forever be changed with the love and memories of you. And when anyone ever asks how I am or when making this film gets challenging in anyway, I will think of you and respond - grapefruit.