This post is dedicated to my late friend Brooke Jean Baures, and the beautiful impression she left on this Earth. 4/9/93-12/1/14.
by Kelly Jo Johnson
Death is an unreal concept to grasp, especially in the case of a young person. Even more so in the case of a strange and terrible accident.
One year ago, I received news that my college roommate Brooke had been unexpectedly killed. I couldn’t comprehend what had happened to her—to the always smiling, bubbly, positive “Little B” I came to know and love in my senior year of college.
It was a shock to the system. Driving to work when I got the call from a friend in Winona, I didn’t know what to do. Instantly, I began calling our other roommates, beginning with Bailey. I hoped someone would call back to tell me it wasn’t true. But that was not the case. The more people I talked to, the more real it became. I hated every minute of it. It was one of the worst days of my life, and all I could think about was Brooke’s family, her best friends, and her boyfriend.
Somehow, an entire year has gone by…
Brooke would hate for the first anniversary of her passing to be anything but a positive, celebratory day, remembering her life. That’s the person she was—always seeing the good in things. So for Brooke’s sake, I’m not going to focus on her death in this passage, but rather on the amazing impact she had on this world.
Brooke became our roommate by chance when she was looking for a new place to live in Winona at the end of September 2012, and we happened to need a sub-leaser. When I found out we were getting a random roommate, let alone one who was two years younger, I wasn’t very excited. That is, until I came home from the workout center and met the sweetest person I had ever come in contact with. After just a few minutes, we clicked. We kept smiling at each other, and the conversation was easy. I knew somehow it was going to be okay.
Brooke turned out to be the perfect roommate. Not only was she clean, polite, and fun, she became my confidant. Living in the room between mine and Bailey’s upstairs, the three of us began to spend a lot of time together. All five of us seniors (and friends) loved Brooke. We knew we were lucky it was Brooke who joined us in the big white house.
She let me into her world, and into the many friendship circles she belonged to. She friended my friends, too. We had our own lives, but they intermixed beautifully; we found out we had many mutual friends. When we weren’t together at the house or on a random Target run, we texted stupid jokes, messaged on Facebook, and wrote each other encouraging letters as our friendship grew and blossomed. We both loved to laugh until it hurt. We were both “hopeless romantics” so to say, often getting relationship advice from one another. Sometimes even from each other’s moms.
She used to sneak me into the gym when she trained in her free time (which she didn’t have much of) and she would “coach” me on tumbling, the uneven bars, and even a few beam tricks. She cheered me on as I landed my first roundoff back tuck in years, and she took videos like an excited mother.
She told me I taught her how to have a big heart, no matter the situation. I could almost laugh thinking about that, for she had no idea how much she taught me.
Her very presence motivated me to be a better person. The first weekend she lived with us, I remember she went to a local church with a friend. It was something she did regularly. We began to talk about our faith, about angels, and about life in general.
Many weekends Brooke visited her grandparents who lived across the Mississippi River. Her family visited frequently, too. Her sister Bekka, little cousin Taylor and Bailey the dog spent a lot of time in our house. Brooke made time for everyone, even though she was a busy college student. She was on the gymnastics team, a full-time social work student, an intern, and worked as a waitress. She was also paying two rents–to say she worked her butt off would be an immense understatement.
Despite all the work, she made time for fun. When it got warm in the spring, we used to sit on the roof right outside my window and look at the stars. Other nights, we would have dance parties right in our kitchen, singing our hearts out, sounding terrible all the while. I can’t not mention how funny–no, hilarious–Brooke was. One time, she poured a cup of cold water on Bailey while was in the shower. I remember hearing a shriek and running to the bathroom just to find them both laughing hysterically. We couldn’t get enough of her free spirited sense of humor.
Brooke wrote me a little letter after her 20th birthday…
I know life is supposed to be lived without regret. My biggest regret, however, is that I didn’t keep that promise (in the aforesaid card) to Brooke. We didn’t stay in touch like we wanted to.
At first we did. We saw each other a few times the summer after I graduated. She reached out to me whenever she needed advice and I did the same. I remember getting a message from her mid July, “I need your words, Kel.” It was like she read my mind, because I needed hers at the same moment.
Another month or two passed, and eventually, Bailey and I spent time with her at the Winona Sate Homecoming in 2013, when we went back as alumni for the first time. Brooke was still her old self, a junior now, smiling and having fun with everyone. It felt the same in a lot of ways, but still I knew there was a distance that we both hated. We had spent some part of almost every day together for eight months, and we both missed that.
Being the busy girls we both were, more time passed with fewer words. Of course there were “I miss you” texts and posts here and there, but I know I could’ve done better.
The last thing she ever said to me was on November 14, 2014, just two weeks before the accident. She said “You look so happy, Kelly! :)” …I will never forget her words. She was someone who for a time, knew me inside and out. Although distance changed a lot of aspects of our friendship, it didn’t change the love we will always carry for one another, or the way we knew each other’s hearts. Her mom has reminded me of that since her passing…She told me in the spring, “You don’t have to see people every day for them to know you love them.”
I miss Brooke all the time. There isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t cross my mind. When Brooke would’ve graduated last May, I went to Winona with one of our other roommates, Aria, and we watched from the crowded gymnasium as Brooke’s name was called and her diploma was given to her family. It was beautiful. Aria got a tattoo of our house number that day for B. Then we were super creepy and went to our old house and asked the new tenants if we could come inside, just to see it one last time. They let us, and together we took in the site and smells of the big white house at 328 that framed our friendship.
At Brooke’s graduation and open house celebration, I was extremely pregnant. It was the night before she passed away that my husband Cory and I first found out I was expecting.
The last year, I have made it a priority to improve and maintain my friendships. I’m far from a perfect friend, but I work hard to talk to and see people who mean a lot to me. Even so, I can almost always pick right back up with people. I think I always thought there would be a day in the future when Brooke and I would finally spend time together, and we’d pick right back up…
Unfortunately, that day never came. Life is unbelievably short, and must be lived to its fullest. So we must smile, hug our loved ones often, reach out to friends we miss, and ultimately, live a life we won’t regret.
I know Brooke was on this Earth for a great purpose. She was carefully chosen to touch the lives of many, and to give people an immeasurable sense of strength and kindness.
Our roommates had a group conversation going before most of us graduated. Bailey, Abby, Lori, Aria, Brooke and I had tried to plan a day to have some photos taken in front of our house. We never took those pictures and we all wish we had them now to cherish our time with Brooke. So I take a lot of photos. For my job, of course, but also of life’s precious memories. I don’t want to forget any of the beautiful moments I’m blessed to experience.
It saddens me that Brooke will never meet Everett, or know Cory. But I know she’s smiling down on Ev, and has something to do with the many smiles he gives me every single day.
Brooke was one of the strongest and most beautiful-minded people I know. She was full of positivity and love for the world around her. I feel so very fortunate to have known her. I will do my best to be the kind of person B was, and to share a smile with others whenever I get the chance, just like she did. I wish I could hug her one more time. I want to tell her thank you and so much more, but that’s just not how goodbyes work…
I will always be inspired by the last thing she posted on her Twitter account:
What defines you is how you rise after you fall.
I love you, Brooke.