May 22, 2017

Farewell to a friend

I lost a friend last week.


She died in hospital, waiting for her second liver transplant, a few days after her fortieth birthday. The last thing I texted her was “Happy birthday, dear I. I hear you’re in the regular ward now. Just wanted to let you know that I’m at your hospital today and would be happy to pop in if you’re taking visitors. No pressure, just love.” It never went through. The little red triangle sign with the exclamation point in its center, indicating something has gone wrong with the communication, kept coming back.


I felt her go. I had stomach cramps and heart palpitations last week, waking up disoriented and in a panic attack, all of which I knew wasn’t mine. I just didn’t know what it was yet.


She had an autoimmune illness, causing her body to reject her own liver. Diagnosed at 14. Had the first transplant in London, somewhere in the mid-2000s. I’m trying to piece the timeline together, because I recall that I had my metallic flip-motorola cell back then, and I remember how the black letters looked on the pale green screen as she texted me from far away: “Hold on to your pants, they might operate on me tonight!”


After the transplant, she would have yearly parties for all her friends, celebrating her “second birthday,” as she called it.


She flunked a few years in high school, and a few more in college, due to the illness. At her classical grammar school graduation day, everyone wore togas, because that’s what Latin and Greek kids do. Except for her: she wore “civilian” clothes, because her body was covered in bruises from treatment. Over the years, she had teeth removed, her spleen engorge and have to be ripped out of her, she puked blood as she brushed her teeth, and a million other side-effects. Somehow she made it to third year of English and German studies, and that’s where I met her. She drove a red Kia with faded stop lights, and took us all around town before and after class. She was a cat lover and bleeding heart for shelter animals. That time in my life was the closest I ever came to having a “gang” of my own. We were young and silly, she was wiser than her years because she had to be. But it was a time when you didn’t really think about what was possible in life or not, because doors were opening and nothing seemed finite, really.


I feel a need to write down everything about her, every situation, character trait, joke, drink, or message. We drifted in and out of each other’s lives over the years, as we moved apartments and relationships. I made falafels and avocado dip for us last summer. I took her and her dog to my sister’s vet clinic to get her shots. I told myself that I would be there as long as she wanted me to be. Last time I saw her was last September. We met for coffee at the hippodrome, watching horses prance and jump around. She looked really bad, her transplanted liver giving out sooner than the 15 years it was supposed to last. She broke down and kept apologizing for it, and I told her that it didn’t matter. It really didn’t. She was entitled to any fucking way she wanted to feel, as far as I could tell. She had earned that much. We went to a crêperie called Galápagos, and she didn’t like hers so I gave her half of mine.


I got the news Saturday morning and called my friend T. “I don’t want to be alone,” I told her. She and the guys took me out – to Galápagos, and we laughed and drank and shot the shit, and later on in her apartment, she and I cried over shots of homemade walnut schnapps. We went to the hippodrome the next morning. Talking Heads, the Smiths, and Pet Shop Boys played at the outdoor café as we watched horses prance and jump around. I kept traveling between the present and the past, in and out of tears.


My heart is empty and full at the same time. Empty with her absence, and the lack of any explanation for why life sucks and isn’t fair. There really isn’t any. The sun came up and then down again and it rained in the meantime, only she wasn’t there to see it all. Dogs went out for walks, and she didn’t get to walk hers. She didn’t get to graduate, or work, or travel, or have a family, because her life didn’t allow for longterm arrangements. And yet my heart is full for having known her and being invited in, even if only for a short while. There is no closure lacking, no wish that that last text would have reached her, or that we could have said goodbye. That would be selfish, and cheap. She knew I loved her, and that I was there. I just hope she got everything she wanted and needed as she went. I hope she had a fucking awesome last meal. That she resolved everything with her family. That she had friends with her, if she wanted friends. That she was alone, if it gave her peace. That the universe comes through for her in some other dimension, with a stack of cards in her favor. She fucking earned it.


She gave the best hugs. I will miss her dearly.


Life is short and love is precious. Any morsel you find, fucking grab it and don’t let go, kids.
One of our last meetings - I didn't take a picture of the two of us, but of a silly mural in her neighborhood