Dear Jess,

You died on Sunday, and I still can’t wrap my head around it. Why you? Why now?

We met a couple of years ago when we first started the journalism grad program at Berkeley and immediately bonded over being Bruins as undergrads. Soon after, we squished into your champagne-colored 1980s Corolla (which often reeked of coffee and creamer) to shoot portraits of Mission high school players; cooked meals together (actually, you made some delicious pot pie while I filmed); sipped sake on 16th Street with the gang; threw picnics at Dolores Park (you couldn’t put your camera down, could you?); and were on the fast track to friendship.

I know we shared some special moments, but as I read the posts your friends have left on your Facebook page, it’s obvious you shared these moments with many people. (“I’ll miss our late night chats.” “I’ll never forget that time you made me feel like a rock star.”) But that was typical Jessica — you made everyone feel so comfortable around you. I remember seeing you interact with all different types of people and admiring how you could hold a conversation on just about anything from photojournalism to pho.

You were such a huge nerd — never met a bigger Star Trek or Settlers of Catan fan or someone who handcrafted dinosaur earrings — and I gave you crap for it, but I also adored you for it. You liked awkward moments (c’mon, they always made great stories), were incredibly witty, full of surprises, lived in t-shirts and Toms shoes, hated pink, raised your eye brows when you heard something interesting or funny, and let out a giggle so contagious you’d have to cover your mouth to trap it in.

And let’s not even get started on how undeniably talented you were. Your work took you to Thailand and South Korea and your master’s project — what a master’s project! — required you to spend weeks living in the desert to document Slab City residents. It blew everyone away. We were all so happy for you when you were recognized with an Online New Association award for it. But even before that, you were teaching so many of us what it meant to take a great photo, how to look at the world differently, as you did. I remember one time when we passed by a restaurant worker on 16th Street who was standing under the streetlight taking a cigarette break. “That would make a really great photo,” you whispered. That was you — always observing the world around you with an incredible lens; your beautiful pictures will stay with so many of us forever.

In our last few months of school, you mentioned something about being sick, and soon we saw less and less of you. Last summer, you posted a Facebook status that said, “Friends, you are all so young and beautiful – enjoy it.” Shortly after, we learned you had cancer and thought you were slipping away before us. It broke my heart to know that you were stuck in a hospital bed where you never belonged. But then you got better it seemed; you went home and spent the last few months with your closest family and friends. We were all able to tell you how much we cared for you, and that gives me great comfort today.

You were a constant presence on Facebook, and in one of your last posts letting us know that you might not make it, you signed off by saying, “see you on the other side. “ But I see you now – whenever I peek inside Balompie Café on 18th Street where we ate pupusas, whenever I pass by the fire station on Folsom and 19th where you snapped that beautiful picture of firefighters practicing a drill, or whenever I see Japanese maple that you liked to photograph. You’re everywhere, Jess. And I hope you never leave.

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  1. Beautifully-written about a beautiful person.

    I’ll take your good advice and “enjoy it”, Jess, to the fullest.