I met her in the 3rd grade in Green Gables elementary. She was a smartass and I was a good girl who admired smartasses from afar. We became friends in the 6th grade – by then I was a smartass too – and we drove our teachers mad. Together we made up the phrase, “No duh.” Really we did! You might not believe it but I remember the day: We were sitting on a log on the playground and she was saying something and I said, “No,” and she said “Duh,” and we both said, “No Duh,” and suddenly it went viral before going viral was a thing.
We did all the typical elementary school girl things – sleepovers and such. I loved her family and she loved mine. She may have been the only friend my parents liked. In later years she always asked about my parents, and when she found out my dad died, she cried on the phone and said, “He was a good man.”
Over the years we’d lose touch and reconnect and lose touch – there wasn’t Facebook, or email, or cell phones, but we’d run into each other randomly or run into a mutual friend who’d put us in touch again. In our early 20s we started hanging out again and we got jobs at the same place – the grown up kind where we wore panty hose and pumps and used fax machines. We had the most fun then because we were still smartasses, but now we made 5 figures and drank wine out of boxes so we were more sophisticated about it.
We got married and were in each other’s weddings and then a slew of years unfolded when we were not together – both of us busy building lives apart. She lived a lot of life during those years – her mom died of breast cancer and she was her primary care giver. Then she got breast cancer herself and she had quite a rough go of it. She beat it but it left her scarred, emotionally and physically. We reconnected a couple of years ago, but I was living in another state so our contact was primarily through Facebook, until I moved back last year and we started to have real conversations again.
Today was an ordinary day. I woke up, I drank coffee, I went to the gym and the grocery store and made dinner and the whole time, she was dead and I did not know it. I did not know it until I logged onto Facebook and saw a message that she had died. And suddenly I am rethinking everything about our friendship, how I took her for granted, how I was not there for her when she needed me, and then I started thinking about my other friends, how I take them for granted, how I am not always there for them, and how badly I want them all to know what they mean to me and how I do not want to find out that they died from Facebook.
I’m also thinking about my own mortality. Death has a way of doing that I suppose. What kind of person do I want to be with the days I have left? What kind of friend do I want to be to the people in my life? How can I give everyone I hold dear the time, attention, and devotion they deserve?
I know I will not follow through with grandiose grief-driven plans made in the moment: I will write everyone I love a ten-page letter! I will call all of my friends tomorrow and tell them I love them! I will hug my kids every day and have sex with my husband every night! All I can do is get up in the morning, have my coffee, go to the gym and the grocery store, make dinner and remember her and the imprint she made on my life.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?