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  • I can only talk about Carrie in the past tense. Honestly I don't remember
    much about her, except that she hung out with Linda and that group of
    friends. They were sweet and strange girls, but no stranger than the rest
    of us at High Technology High School. We were all a bunch of misfits who
    found a place where we could be ourselves, our socially awkward, high IQ,
    dungeons-and-dragons-playing selves.

    It was an afternoon in late May that we found out Carrie had been killed in
    a car accident. She was 19 - a year or two older than me - and had already
    started college in Pennsylvania, but it came as a shock to the entire
    school. Linda and those girls were grief-stricken. I mean really sad. The
    type of sad that changes you. Me, I didn't know how to feel.

    A few weeks after her funeral, I was approached by our guidance counselor
    at the lunch table.
    "Carrie's family has set up a scholarship fund in her honor called the
    'Caring Award.' They asked me who the recipient should be, and the faculty
    and I felt it should be you."
    I wasn't quite sure what to say or what to feel about the news. On the one
    hand, it was nice to be the recipient of something called the "Caring
    Award." I suppose they chose me because I was active in my church and youth
    group (like Carrie was), did some humanitarian work in the Dominican
    Republic for a few weeks and generally tried to avoid any sort of conflict
    at school. On the other hand, it felt strange to be accepting a monetary
    award after the death of one of my classmates. I met with Carrie's
    immediate family, they gave me the award in front of the school, there was
    some small applause, and that was that.

    Three years later, I found myself crumpled up on a cot in a Communist-era
    housing facility run owned by the Moscow State Conservatory, next to my
    violin, an empty bottle of pills and a notebook where I had written an
    apology letter to my mom, dad, and brother. I remember thinking back to
    that day in high school, accepting the "Caring Award," and I wondered how
    it was that someone who received it could find themselves suicidal, sitting
    on a cot in the middle of Russia. I was sobbing hard, thinking that I no
    longer cared about anything, which, in hindsight, was not actually true. I
    cared about my family. Deeply. I cared enough to write them an apology. I
    cared when I thought about how my mental illness was affecting them from
    across the Atlantic Ocean. I cared when I called my brother from my tiny
    Nokia cellphone begging him for help.

    Today I still feel weird having accepted a monetary award from a girl I
    hardly knew who passed away in a car accident. During my depression, I used
    to use the "Caring Award" to beat myself up every time I didn't have the
    energy to get out of bed. But many years have passed since then, and I'm
    starting to think our guidance counselor knew that deep down, somewhere
    embedded in my DNA, there's a part of me that will always care, deeply,
    just like Carrie did. She died so young, too young, and even though I
    didn't know her well, I miss her.
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