Raw Story | Christa Rae Settle – Jessie’s Shoes
A few weeks ago, we asked people to send us their favorite graduation photos from college…What we didn’t know was that we’d receive such an outpouring of amazing photos and stories. When I saw Christa’s story behind her graduation photo, I couldn’t help but tear up and reach out. It was so moving what she did to honor her best friend on Graduation day from Towson University 2012.
Christa: “When I think back to my days studying and living at Towson University, it’s hard to think of a memory that doesn’t involve Jessie in some way. She became a huge part of my life at Towson as fast as she was taken from us – suddenly and unexpected. We were introduced by mutual friends and all lived in the same on campus residence, the Towson Run Apartments. Jessie was very small, and we quickly bonded over being short and when we found out we wore the same shoe size (size 5 – not your standard shoe size) we were instant friends. I was excited to find a friend who was just a tiny bit shorter than I am. I remember her saying that sometimes even a size 5 was made too big for her, and she had a pair of shoes she could give me. A day or two after meeting her, she texted me to come to her room. When I met her, she offered me to take a pair of black flats off her hands, stating they were just a little too big for her but would fit me perfectly. I was astounded by how she was just offering them and how she wasn’t asking for money for them or trying to return them. She just wanted me to have them. Why wouldn’t she just return them? But when she passed, I knew why. It was so I could wear them on my graduation day, so that in spirit, it was like she was walking across the stage, too.
We attended Towson University from 2010 to 2012. So many memories flood my mind of doing homework together, her modeling for many of my photo projects, consoling each other over heartbreaks and “stupid boys” as she called them, eating her favorite pizza, ham and pineapple pizza, and of course going out to the bars uptown. Often joined by my best friend Kim, we were the three musketeers as we called ourselves. She was a strong soul, and she had battled thyroid cancer at the age of 12. In our senior year, she and I were roommates. Being roommates, there were ups and downs unfortunately. She was studying Early Childhood Education, which meant very early mornings for her, while my Photo Imaging courses went until 10pm. I’d wake her up at night coming home, and she’d wake me up in the morning getting ready. We had several silly arguments over our schedules, and it ultimately came down to her needing to move back home, as the school she was student teaching at was closer to home in Harford County anyway. It was sad to have her move out, but it was actually a blessing in disguise. Shortly after moving back home after the fall semester, she had her first seizure. No longer able to drive to the school she was student teaching at or to Towson, she had to drop out and planned to return to school once she felt better and could drive again. Being home and not having to worry about school, she had that time to spend with her family, which I can imagine was so nice for all of them to have with her.
On April 18, 2012, she messaged me on Facebook. She told me she missed me and invited me up to hang out with her at her home. After a long day at work, I declined but planned to see her at TigerFest. When she was messaging me that day, she said something that she often said that I didn’t know had much meaning. She always said that she never wanted to grow up, and one of the last things she said to me was “I want to be Peter Pan.” I immediately felt sad for some reason when she said that, and she told me not to be sad. In a way, she is forever young, forever 21.
On April 21, 2012, she passed away from her second seizure in her sleep. I’ll always remember how I found out. Kim called me when I was on my lunch break at work at Kodak at Six Flags America. When I answered, I could hear Kim’s voice shaking, “Christa….Jessie passed away,” and I immediately felt numb. Kim told me the details and we made plans for me to stay with her and attend the funeral. I threw away my lunch that I barely touched and walked out into the crowd of guests at Six Flags. My employees spotted me and knew I wasn’t okay. When they asked me what was wrong, I fell down on the ground and had to say for the first time ever in my life, “my best friend just passed away.” They had to help me up and took me to our office, where I stayed for 30 minutes trying to grasp that this was reality and that I would never be able to call her, never able to see her, and that she wouldn’t get to live out her dream of teaching.
I admired how she wanted nothing more than to teach children. She would often hang her student’s artwork in our apartment and tell me stories of her adventures in the classroom. In a student project by one of her previous roommates that was to document a Towson University student, Jessie was filmed talking about her passion of teaching young children. In the video she says, “I’m really good at working with kids. They’re so happy – like the world is simple to them. You can come in and be around them and they’ll be like rainbows and butterflies and happiness. They say the weirdest things and they’re happy about it.”
On May 25, 2012, I graduated Towson University with my B.A. in Art & Design: Photo Imaging. When it came to picking my outfit, I knew right away that I was going to wear the black flats Jessie gave me. Her black flats become a symbol that she is always with me and everyone else whose life she touched with her infectious laugh and personality. Towson gave her an honorary degree which was given to her parents. They called her name in a moment of silence along with other students and faculty who had passed during the year. When I walked across that stage, I knew she was with me, and it made gradation day all the more special.