Chitchat and the occasional in-depth analysis about fiber, knitting, spinning, crochet, cooking, feminism, self-image, and a modicum of personal blathering.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

We always say "I Love You"

This post is not about knitting or spinning or photography.

How does one start a memorial? I feel that once the first sentence comes, the rest will be not so hard. But starting is hard indeed.

In 1986, I separated from my husband and brought my young children to Pittsburgh, to live with my Mom until things got better. We arrived in August and I found work in October. It wasn't great work, but it was work, being a salesperson in a plus-size clothing store called Fashion Bug. I was 26 years old and frightened. I had a ten month old baby and a toddler of two and a half depending on me. The friends I had in high school were long since banished from memory, and there weren't many of them to begin with. I'm not the easiest person to like. My family is difficult.

That job was where I met Melissa, where our friendship was born. It was my second day on the job when we started talking. We didn't really stop until last weekend.

How many cliches are there to describe Melissa? To know her was to love her. Never met a person she didn't like. A kind word for everyone. Melissa was funny, smart, attractive and engaging. She had charisma and attitude at the same time. She was who I always wanted to be, if I'd been petite, blond, adorable.

We both had demons. Hers were harder.

There were two jobs that we had in common, and it was during the second one that she talked me out of a bad decision. I was engaged to marry my current boyfriend, and Melissa told me it would be a huge mistake. We talked about why, and I came to agree with her. The second mistake was worse but she still managed to talk me out of it before it was too late. I'd met a man online that I thought was the answer to all my dreams. As it turned out, he embodied some of my worst nightmares. Melissa helped me see the truth in what he was, and she saved me a lot of pain. She saved my daughters even more pain.

I couldn't save her. I wanted to save her, but she was too strong-willed. Also, I was afraid of losing her friendship if I told her what I thought and what I saw. She made huge mistakes and I wanted to keep her from them, but I lacked the courage that she had. She didn't care if telling me I was wrong cost the friendship, if it saved me, it was worth it. I was too afraid of losing her.

That's a very hard truth. I hope that she can forgive me for my weakness.

We had a lot in common. We loved books and loved music. We loved to sing and play instruments. We shared books. She introduced me to Salman Rushdie and I introduced her to Terry Pratchett. We played chess and Scrabble. We went swimming together. I cooked for her quite often as cooking was one of the few things I did better. Everything I ever cooked for her was the "best thing she ever tasted". We sang together. I don't know if I'll ever be able to sing "you are my sunshine" again. That was one of our favorites.


She was diagnosed with her brain tumor somewhere around 1995. Everyone figured she'd beat it. She beat everything else. I spent a lot of time with her then and in the next couple of years as she appeared to recover.

We had a falling out in around 1999. I was having a very hard time in my life, I was broke, depressed, despairing, I'd lost almost everything and was about to lose more. We were being evicted from our rented house due to my irresponsibility. I was making some seriously bad decisions, and it was around that time that I first started exploring pagan spirituality. It was a good thing for me, but that was a place where Melissa and I diverged big-time. She'd become steadily more religious and I'd become less. She told my mother that she was worried about my kids and told her why. I saw it as a betrayal of trust and told her so. She sent me a very hurtful letter telling me that she'd always seen our friendship as something very superficial.


After a year or so, when I'd had my book published, I took her a copy. I knew that they had bought a house and found the address in the phone book. We had a nice visit that day. There was some crying and much talking and she apologized for the letter. She said she'd spent a lot of time at that time being self-righteous and that she had no right to do what she did. I took responsibility for my insanity at the time and told her it was in the past and we could move forward. We spent time together more often but it was never again like it had been in the old days.

She'd fought with addiction since I'd known her. Alcohol first. She stopped drinking and was sober for some time, then she developed problems with other drugs, which she subsequently beat. She definitely had no sense of the line between enough and too much, in anything, though. Everything to her was the best, the most, the worst. A life lived in superlatives. The tumor came back and started growing again. She was given pain medications, which fell into that superlative category. She developed a seizure disorder. In 2004, she was told the tumor had gone malignant. Several aggressive courses of chemotherapy left her weaker and weaker as time went on.

In 2005, I asked her to be my matron of honor at my wedding. It was such a great joy to have her there, and she was luminous that day. She made it complete and perfect for me. Of course she said I was the "most beautiful bride" she'd ever seen.


We continued to spend time together as much as I could manage, which of course, was never enough time. Especially now. In August, this year, she called and told me that she was going into a hospice because she needed 24 hour care and that her doctors had told her there was nothing further they could do for her. I could not handle it. It was so hard to go and see her there. I wanted to save her, and I could not even bring myself to visit her at first. It was too hard seeing my beautiful girl there.

Of course I did go and spend time with her there, many times. We had some good talks, talks which made less sense as time went on. As the tumor made its way through her brain, it was like she was moving down a long hallway. I'd call out to her, and she'd call back, but each time she was a little dimmer, a little further down the hall.

Some of the best days of my life were spent in Melissa's company. Whether it was a day sitting around playing chess and drinking coffee, a day at the pool, my wedding day, a birthday celebration, she carried happiness and joy with her everywhere. Knowing her was a great gift.
We sang this song together more than once. In public before an audience, even.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright, bright
Sun-Shiny day
It's gonna be a bright, bright
Sun-Shiny day

Oh yes I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright, bright
Sun-Shiny day

Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright, bright
Sun-Shiny day

I sing that song at karaoke sometimes. I don't know if I'll be able to anymore.

One of the last days we had when she was lucid, I went to visit her at the hospice. It was growing more and more apparent that she was not going to recover. We had a good conversation. We talked about our kids. We talked about all the years we'd known each other. She said "I'm so glad we always say 'I love you'. People don't say that to each other enough. It's really, really important and I'm glad we've always said it to each other." I told her that I always said it because it was always true. She smiled at me.

Melissa left us soon after. She passed away having been surrounded by friends and family and people who loved her and weren't afraid to say so. Her pain is ended now, finally. She was in so much pain, in so many ways. The last thing I told her the night before she died was "Don't be afraid. I love you."


Librarian Amy said...

This is absolutely lovely. And wise words we should all keep in mind - to tell our loved ones that they are indeed that - our loved ones.

I'm sorry for your loss.

Loredena said...

That was a lovely memorial.

I'm sorry for your loss, it is never easy.


LisaBe said...

oh my gosh. i'm just now reading this, and i am so, so sorry. it sounds like an amazing friendship and makes me appreciate my own all the more. i cannot imagine what this was like for you. one year later, i wish that time *could* heal all wounds. wouldn't that be nice?

cashmere, silk, and alpaca hugs. in a nice, bulky handspun. and definitely not orange. i wouldn't be caught dead in that, either.