A few days before Rylene Oskolkoff died in a car crash, her grandmother allowed her to stay out until midnight for the first time.
The 14-year-old Kenai Middle School student had earned the rite of passage.
"It was time to let her go," Bobbie Oskolkoff, Rylene's grandmother, said. "It was the time in her life when she could go out and do things with her friends."
So Oskolkoff attended a dance at the Kenai Recreation Center. Around 9:30 that night she came back to her grandmother's house with a friend, ran through the house to grab a few things and went back on her merry way. She laughed the whole time, her grandmother said. Rylene was always laughing.
Rylene died in an automobile wreck on a slick Kenai Spur Highway on Nov. 2. She was a bubbly teenager who enjoyed competing in the Native Youth Olympics, basketball, gardening, cooking, taking care of her goddaughter and being goofy. She had a way of announcing herself to the world, according to her friends and family.
Bobbie Oskolkoff remembers a 3-year-old Rylene bursting through her study door. Like a ballerina, the little girl got down on one knee, extended her arms and proclaimed, "Everybody, I'm here!"
Rylene entered a lot of people's lives with such bravado.
Heidi Goodwin, one of Rylene's best friends since the third grade, remembers the girls' first sleepover. It was just the two of them and they were hanging out in the garage when Rylene playfully instigated a water fight.
"She came up to me and poured it on me," Goodwin, 14, said.
Goodwin slept over at Rylene's house on Nov. 1 -- Rylene's last night on earth. They did their nails, listened to music -- they did what one would expect teenage girls to do at a sleepover.
"On Monday I went over there just to hang out with her, and I asked to stay over," Goodwin said. "I'm glad. It was nice to have that last night with her."
That night, the girls were in the kitchen when Goodwin spilt milk on the floor, Goodwin said. But they defied the cliche and burst into giggles, not tears.
Goodwin said kids at school are pretty shaken up by what happened, and many have come together to honor Rylene by wearing her favorite color.
"Everyone just kept saying, 'Let's wear blue,'" Goodwin said.
Paul Sorenson, the school's principal, said the death has made a significant impact.
"This is her extended family. The kids have gone to school with her, some of them since kindergarten, so it is a great loss," Sorenson said. "Each had a different relationship and for some it has been a very painful experience."
The family is planning a memorial ceremony for Rylene to take place sometime this week at Kenai Central High School.
Dozens of students sent letters to Rylene's family sharing their memories of the teenager. The stories portray a girl filled with love and a little good-natured mischief.
Karissa Halstead described a recent class trip.
"She started to sing on the way back from the hay maze. Everyone joined in. It was amazingly fun. She made my day," Halstead wrote.
Another letter shows Rylene's zaniness.
"She was very active and had a lot of school spirit, had the funniest and craziest outfits on school spirit day," one letter reads. "I remember on Presley's birthday at the Aspin Hotel sweet (sic) we went swimming and they did everything they could to get my hair wet.
"She loved to run, would race me down the deck. She had a great sence (sic) of hummer (sic), laughed at anything. At 4:30 a.m. we went to Safeway across the highway. There were no cars so she danced in the middle of the highway."
Another describes a prankster.
"I got a Vitamin Water. It was Revive . . . anyway I could not open it so she opened it up for me and drank one quarter of it . . . I said, 'Nooo!' and then I walked away," Kelsey Wik wrote. "Later, in Native Youth Olympics, she helped me with my one-foot jump. I got it down."
Autumn Beatty, Rylene's first cousin, likes to tell the story about the time the girls went clam digging in Ninilchik with their grandfather.
"We were driving back, we were way far down on the beach, and our legs were dangling off the back (of the truck). And she fell off the back and was hanging onto the rope," Beatty, 15, said. "Finally she let go of the rope, and she was a mile down the beach before grandpa realized what happened and went back to get her."
Beatty says she likes that story because it's funny, and because Rylene thought so, too.
"She was really funny, really outgoing and she was really loud," Beatty said. "She'd just dance around and sing all the time."
Natalya Oskolkoff said her sister liked to play a game called "can't think about it." Anyone who thought about a certain object or idea would lose. Now, it's all the family can do not to think about what happened to Rylene. Their focus is on her, not her death.
The last promise Rylene made to her grandmother was one that teenagers often have a tough time keeping.
"I'm going to clean my room tomorrow, grandma," she told Bobbie Oskolkoff.
With clothes all over the floor, candy wrappers everywhere and a half-finished can of soda in her dresser drawer, Rylene's room remains messy with life.
Andrew Waite can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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