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DISASTER LEAVES EMPTY PAGES IN LIFE'S BOOK

ucla daily bruin

 

Ninety-six die in earthquake that jolts central Ecuador. Death toll reaches 24 in Chinese plane crash. Train derailed in northern England killing 17, including four Americans.

 

Headlines like these are very common. We've all read or heard countless amounts of them in our lifetimes. So many, in fact, that we become numb. We get used to that sort of thing from the news, even to the point that we are shocked when foul weather is the only bad report of the day.

 

We may have a brief feeling of remorse for the people involved, but we forget about them shortly thereafter and continue our lives. After all, it always happens to the other guy. Why should we concern ourselves with the plight of someone we don't know?

 

It always happens to the other guy...

 

It always happens to the other guy...

 

That thought has been bouncing around in my head for 10 days now, and I realize what a sham it is. Living with this attitude is like living in a house of cards, which can come collapsing down around you at any time.

One day you wake up, and the headline reads, "Californians are killed in crash in India." On March 27, I became the other guy. Several people dying in a bus wreck halfway across the world is not supposed to touch my life, but ... it has. My girlfriend, Cherese Mari Laulhere, was killed in that bus crash. She was on a Semester

at Sea program that was supposed to be the trip of her lifetime.

 

As I sit here and write these words, I do so in a state of disbelief. I've asked myself over and over again why such a thing had to happen, and especially to her. She had so much to offer, and she never hurt anyone. I continue to search for an answer to all this, but I know there is not one which any mortal has to offer.

 

I can't really figure what to write about her, but not because there is nothing to say, I am having a hard time dealing with the horrible reality that in some way I'm supposed to sum up her life in one printed page, when in fact, there are so many blank pages in her life book that should have been filled. I wanted to help her fill those pages, but now they will remain empty. A bestseller (I'm sure of that) never finished. Tragic.

 

Cherese packed more into her 21 years of life than many people would get out of three lifetimes. She was involved in everything growing up- tennis, drama, dance, animal rights, clubs, modeling ... and the list continues.

 

cherese & briancherese & briancherese & briancherese & briancherese & briancherese & briancherese & briancherese & briancherese & brian<>3 - 3

In the last few months of her life, she got to see things most of us will only ever experience via the Discovery Channel or National Geographic. Alligators at night on the Orinoco river in Venezuela. Carnival in Brazil. An all-black township in South Africa. A safari and an orphanage in Nairobi.

 

All along the way, Cherese talked about how the people touched her heart, especially the children. She took very fondly to the children of the orphanage in Nairobi and some children she stayed with in Venezuela We hadn't really discussed yet our own hopes for children, but her expression of emotion toward these kids does not shock me in the least because of how big her heart was. Cherese began to consider the Peace Corps because she wanted to help. She wrote to me that she "wanted to make a difference in this world, no matter how small."

 

Cherese was a very giving person and was extremely nonjudgmental. This world needs more people like her. She was one of the most beautiful people I have ever known, and I don't mean just on the outside. What made her so sweet was her modesty. Cherese really didn't believe that she had a lot to offer.

 

She was a very shy person to those she didn't know well, but once you were able to break those walls, you couldn't stop her. I feel so unfortunate, because while I was able to make it inside the walls, I was not given enough time to reach the center. I'm just very thankful for the time we did have together. She always did things that surprised me, and I loved that. She wouldn't kill spiders on her wall, yet she liked to slam dance. She wouldn't confront her loud neighbors, yet she had the courage to travel around the world on an obviously dangerous journey. I admire the hell out of that woman.

 

As I've spent time with her friends and family in the last two weeks, I continue to learn things about her that pleasantly surprise me. However, I feel so cheated that I was not able to discover those things on my own.

 

I thank myself every day that I did not let her shy exterior stop me. I knew there was someone genuine inside, and I had to see that person. What does really upset me is that many people let that shy exterior stop them. They saw this quiet person that would not open up in the beginning, and they left it at that. They were the ones who lost because she had so much to give.

 

I realize to most of you I AM the other guy. Cherese IS the other girl. You may feel badly because this accident touched close to home (a UCLA student), but I'm afraid that the majority of you will shrug this one off, just like we all do, all the time. I understand that this is human nature. I just want to make a plea to everyone based on what I have learned. Please don't take what you have for granted.

 

The special people (girlfriends, brothers, moms, grandfathers) in your life should be cherished. Tell them you love them, tell them you care about them and tell them they are special to you. Know this: They may not be there tomorrow, and you may have to spend the rest of you life regretting what went unsaid. Don't kid yourself and think, "Ah, they already know how I feel." Usually they do, but that's not the point. The point is it's still important to say the words when that's what you feel.

 

I've tried to be profound here, I've tried to get deep. I have tried so hard to honor Cherese and do her justice. The truth of the matter is I feel inadequate because I don't know how to write this way, and whatever I say can't bring her back.

 

In reality, on the inside I'm a scared little boy that misses Cherese a tremendous amount. I would give anything to have her back here safe with me, with her family and with her friends.

 

Although I have been surrounded by friends and family members (which I am grateful for), I feel alone without her and I'm petrified.

 

For those of you who have read my column in the past, you know I like to stay away from serious issues, and I like to joke around quite a bit. In this time, I can think of nothing funny to say. In the future, I will make a tremendous effort to make people laugh with my writing, but I won't be doing it without a large part of Cherese in my heart.

 

She was one of my biggest fans (whether I forced her to be or not), and I always liked to make her smile. I sent her my column during her trip, and she wrote to me, "I loved your article. I'm going to take it out and read it every day so I can have a good laugh." In whatever way possible, I hope I can continue to make her laugh.