Nine years ago, Jackie was my first love.

Jackie was a wonderful girl.

Jackie was engaging. Jackie loved to laugh. Jackie loved to learn.

Jackie was joyful.

Jackie played sports. I played sports. We talked on long bus rides to away games. We stayed after practice to see one another. Jackie was mature, beyond what her years would suggest. I was still coming to terms with my emotions.

What felt like a lifetime, it was only a short time Jackie and I were together. The love was still there. The desire to stay together was still strong. Distance pulled Jackie and I apart.

We were young. 15 at the time. Jackie left the school we shared. In our world, that was as good as leaving the state. For all intents and purposes, the relationship was over.

A year had passed.

My decisions had taken my life down a path no one should have to go down. I no longer attended the school Jackie and I once shared. I no longer played the sports Jackie and I once enjoyed together. Existing in a world filled with criminals and drug dealers, I had taken a journey that few escape from unscathed.

Unbeknownst to me, Jackie had crossed the threshold into the same world.

Jackie and I began to see each other at the sporting events of the school we once shared. Something was different about Jackie. When I looked at Jackie, I saw the same girl I fell in love with a year before, but lacking the same joy she once exuded.

Jackie also noticed a change in me. Though we didn’t speak of it, Jackie and I could see the company we kept was not of the utmost character. Our shared descent into the treacherous milieu which we traversed daily brought Jackie and I back together, albeit on informal terms.

Jackie and I enjoyed seeing each other once again. Every time Jackie and I came face to face, it was a treat. Jackie and I didn’t know how often we would see each other, but when we did, we cherished our time together.

There was a basketball game at the school Jackie and I once shared, in November, 2006. Jackie and I were in attendance. Jackie and I decided to get dinner together at the restaurant across the street. Jackie and I began to converse, nearly missing entire game. This was the closest Jackie and I had ever been. Closer than when we were together. We were older, living lives that made us cherish and hold close those we loved. Subconsciously, Jackie and I knew these moments wouldn’t last forever.

As we walked into the gym, Jackie told me I needed to stop hanging around the friends I had chosen. I knew exactly what she meant. I looked at her funny. I said, “You know I love you.” Jackie said, “I love you too.” Before anything else was uttered, one of our mutual friends still attending the school Jackie and I once shared walked in and began a conversation with Jackie.

After the game ended, something told me I needed to go find Jackie before I left. I sat at a table outside the entrance to the gym, waiting for her to finish her conversation. I called Jackie over, gave her a kiss, and told her to “be careful.” She said, “I will.”

Those would be the last words I heard from Jackie.

On January 9th, 2007, Jackie was murdered.

Jackie was killed by an ex-boyfriend and two others. They were all gang members. They used their relationship with Jackie to lure her to her death, the details of her which are too horrific to repeat.

Jackie’s mother said Jackie wrote in her diary that she wanted to leave the gang life she joined a year before, and turn her life around. That chance was taken from her.

I could not bring myself to attend Jackie’s funeral. I still existed in that degenerative world. I had friends that would gladly exact revenge on those responsible, if I simply asked. I knew if I went down to the church, and saw her mother grieving, I would do something that I would eternally regret, and go against what Jackie asked me to do the last time we were together.

So I stayed.

The killers were caught, charged, and convicted.

I eventually heeded Jackie’s advice, but not before narrowly avioding the exact same fate Jackie succumbed to. I was gifted the opportunity Jackie did not receive. I had a second chance to turn my life around, and took full advantage of it.

People think their high school transgressions won’t follow them into adulthood. Sometimes those transgressions won’t allow you to reach it.

If you have a second chance to correct, or a first opportunity make the right choice, use it.

You never know who will get that next chance, and who won’t.