You hear about it on the news, on social media, or stories from your parents, but losing a friend in high school is something you cannot ever imagine happening to you. Until it does. Nine months ago, I lost one of my best friends. I lost someone who brought me immense happiness, had the brightest smile, warmest heart, and was the most genuinely kind person I knew. She inspired me to love with all my heart, live to the fullest, and was known for her obsession with turtles and tie dyes. Tori LaRocca died on June 22, 2017 when she lost her footing at Lands End Trail and fell off a cliff.
I remember the day she passed better than almost any day. It was a cold and foggy San Francisco summer day and I was out with my friends on Burlingame Avenue. We had received a call from Vivian, her cousin, saying Tori had fallen off Lands End. We immediately assumed she was okay and on her way to a hospital, we said “okay let’s go to the nearest hospital right now.” We called back and asked where she was but Vivian did not know the status. Tori had been with our friends Audrey and Sofie but their phones were off. We went into panic mode. We searched on Google “teen falls from lands end” and to our avail the first article came up, “Teen dies after falling off Lands End.”
In that moment I cannot even begin to describe my emotions. I fell to the ground and started screaming, I felt my eyes become heavy with tears and my mind was going a mile a minute. My brain couldn’t process what was happening, it was the biggest wave of emotions I have ever been hit with. My friends and I sat in the middle of the sidewalk screaming, crying, and hugging each other tightly. We repeated “this isn’t real, this isn’t real” over and over again trying to make sense of it. It couldn’t be real, the news always exaggerates we thought. We continued to call Audrey and Sofie, but there was no success. After about an hour of screaming, crying, confusion, and waves of emotion, we received a call. My beautiful Tori was dead.
My friend Charlie and I went to her house nearby and I remember the drive so vividly, the fog was so heavy that we could barely see. Both of us crying uncontrollably and screaming “no no no no.” That night we laid on her trampoline hugging each other, watching the stars, and crying for hours, talking about all of the amazing memories we had of Tori. But it all didn’t feel real.
In the weeks after, our group of friends were together for days in a row, we tie dyed, had bonfires, went on hikes, made little turtles, and much more. We coped in the most positive way that we could. The immense strength I saw within my friends made the process easier and coming together helped everyone in their time of need. Only Tori could have brought us together this closely. Her impact on each of us inspired us to mourn her death with only positivity and happiness. Though it was extremely hard, it showed me how much love Tori gave and continues to bring into our lives.
The day of her funeral was one of the hardest days of my life. Attending the funeral of my best friend and seeing the people I loved writhing in pain and was something I never thought I would have to experience.
Later in the summer we had a lantern lighting for Tori and that night we coined the phrase “Love Like Tori.” This has been my moral compass since she passed. I always intend to love like Tori, to spread the love that she spread while she was with us. Doing this involves being kind to all people and spreading love to those around me. It involves considering all perspectives and sharing positive energy to those around me the way she did.
We also decided to create bracelets in her honor that are tie dye, say, “Love Like Tori” and have turtles on them. I wear mine every single day as a constant reminder of her. They were passed out at Saint Ignatius High School, where Tori attended school, and now you can see anyone who knew her wearing one. It brings me so much joy to see someone wearing it as I know they are carrying on the beautiful legacy that she left.
Tori’s birthday recently passed and my friends and I all gathered at her house. Her dad set up tie dying, had baked goods, and a big smile on his face. He was so happy to see all of her friends again, gathering to celebrate her life.
Today, her death still doesn’t feel real. It is something that will take years for me to process, but being surrounded by positivity, love, and happiness in light of a tragedy has helped immensely. I strive to love like Tori for the rest of my life, only she could have inspired such change, growth, and beauty within me and many other people. I love you forever Victoria Ann LaRocca.