Time stops for no one and time is quickly approaching my last chance to tell you the things I have in my head. You were not aware enough to hear all my words this past weekend. Circumstances can be cruel like that. But while I was sitting with you, holding your hand and looking at the quilt pinned up on the wall within your sight, I was looking at the picture of you from a long time past.
I have a confession to make, and it is one that I absolutely regret. I did not like you when I first met you. That was 10 years ago; the same time as one of the photos on the quilt. In the picture your young, smiling, beautiful face peeks out from the side of Tess' smiling face. Your smile was powerful and carefree. While I was looking at that specific picture, I couldn't hold back my tears. I wept for you, your loss, Tess' loss and now I need to apologize for my stupidity.
I can make excuses. I was young and absolutely wrapped up in my own tragedy. I was judgmental and self-centered. I came from a different background and experience – at least, I thought so at the time. But now I need to remember some things. Those things that became our deep friendship.
I first met you in North Carolina at a
nodermeet with sixty other people. The only other gathering that I'd attended had been in Boston, and I did not think that gatherings/nodermeets were appropriate for children. But, see, here is where I was wrong: you brought your daughter, yes, but you kept a close eye on her and made sure she was with good people. And, of course, your daughter is just a fierce as you and that made all the difference.
I remember sitting on the hill in front of Chris' parents' vacation home. You were sitting in the grass somewhat behind me. You were playing the guitar, and I was judging you. I am deeply ashamed of that now. I didn't know and I didn't understand. But you never knew that; life is funny like that.
You taught me kindness and acceptance.
As the years went on, I went in one direction and you in another. From time to time, we'd talk and share our lives with each other. You were working for Caltrans, I was working which was enough at the time. You were always so kind to me. We'd exchange messages from time to time, commiserating. I enjoyed the growth of our friendship and realized, slowly, just how wrong I had been about you.
You taught me to be patient and not judge people on first impressions.
Two years later, your life with Kevin began with your diagnosis. I wish with all my heart and soul that I could change that. You both deserved a lovely languid courtship full of smiles and surprises, mornings spent in bed with tea and toast, with not a care in the world. Your happiness was tempered by the devastating news of your diagnosis. We both married and lived our lives. As the years passed, my marriage disintegrated and you continued to battle for life.
You taught me to have hope and dreams. You taught me that I could achieve them.
In that same time that you were being treated for cancer and all the unkind things that accompany that, you were my cheerleader. When my life was completely falling apart and I was feeling totally lost and adrift, you were the one that suggested that I finish my undergraduate degree. You. Absolutely you. You were the one that told me, “go to the University of Oregon. It's the right place for you.”
I listened to you. I came to the UO. I have been busting my butt for the last several years to accomplish what I set my mind to, with your encouragement. You visited us and spent time with me in studio and even provided critique at one of my reviews. I loved you for your insightfulness and your bravery. All along, the only question you ever asked me was, “when can you come work for me?” How could I not be completely encouraged? You had so much trust, faith and belief in me.
Now here I am, 5 years later having just completed and presented my final comprehensive project. I will graduate in June and marry Stephen, while you, you who over the years has been nothing but a light, a presence and a source of encouragement are fighting your last battle.
It is so god damn unfair that you, you who are a light to others in the world, you who supports and encourages all around you, and yes, you who loves her husband and daughter with warts and all, are breathing your final breaths. I hate it. I hate how powerless I feel. I hate how I wasted time in our friendship. But more than anything, I hate that you may never hear or understand these words.
This past weekend, I spent a lot of time talking to your friends and family and we all just want to keep you, a beautiful person in our lives. While talking, I kept thinking about the snow we had in Eugene last week. It was heavy wet snow. Something very unusual for Eugene, not unlike the perverse nature of cancer. It's natural, but it's abnormal. I thought of you as the old big leaf maple in front of the Pioneer Mother quad – I know you'd know the tree I'm talking about. It's huge. Its canopy is easily 75' across. The weight of the heavy wet snow took out more than half the canopy. I wonder if this will be the beginning of its slow decline. I saw the limbs of the tree on the ground a tear came to my eye for what has now been lost for generations. While sitting on your couch, talking with our friends, I thought about the similarity. How something so big and mighty was destroyed by something so small, and yet part of us. In the end, I lost my anger and just felt sad. I wept.
But still, you're teaching me.
I can still feel the countertop, in your kitchen, under my hand as I stared out at the orange tree thinking about how even in dying, you are still teaching me. I had just helped Kevin change your bed linens, and as I was doing so, you were whispering to me. You were telling me how scared you were. “I'm so scared. So scared,” you kept saying. And at the time I gave you paltry words of comfort, something along the lines of, “I know you're scared, it is okay to be scared.” But really, what I should have said was what I realized while staring out at your garden in the backyard. It's not just okay to be scared, but you've just shown me how damn courageous you really are.
You've taught me about humanity.
You. You with small fluffs and tufts of soft downy hair. You, with soft skin still warm and glowing. You with whispered cries of fear. You've taught me how much courage it takes to admit our own weakness, to admit how damn small we all are and that in the end, there is still fear of the unknown. I think you have fear because you are still fighting, you are not really ready to accept your demise. You still have so much to live for and you still want to be there for us, your family and friends. The unknown is scary, and it is okay to be afraid, it means that you know what you are facing.
I love you. You have meant so much to me. You have been my friend, my mentor and my peer. We have bitched at and to each other, knowing that we just needed a good girlfriend to listen. We've made big plans for our own landscape design firm; you with your ideas, dreams and experience and me with my technical and business expertise, we would have been very successful and happy. I am going to miss you, I already do.
In the end, all that matters is that I know that I'm a better person for knowing and loving you. I will always remember how you smiled when I kissed your fuzzy head and said, “I love you, darlin,” before leaving to head home.