I knew it was coming. I couldn't stop it and so I avoided it, while trying hard to face it head on.
All winter I had one stupid virus after another. Afraid to darken her doorstep for fear of passing it along. Finally, I felt I was about to pull out of it entirely. I knew she had oxygen at home, and I know that's bad. Even if nobody was talking about it. I wrote her a tiny note on origami paper, packing all the love I could into a few short lines, folded it into a butterfly, sent it down the street to her. She could see me today, I couldn't come til tomorrow, tomorrow wasn't right for her, I was busy all week.
A week and a day later, strange out-of-state cars surround their house. I take their boy to baseball, knowing, knowing, I missed my chance to see her. I invite him to dinner because I know without knowing, there's no dinner being prepared at home. I leave sunflower seeds and a note at the door for his little brother, whose birthday I missed while ill.
The next day, more cars, no people around. I hold my breath, but don't know what to ask or to say, and there's no one to ask, anyway. And on Tuesday, he shows up at the door, asking for my son to spend time with his son. I call down to him from the window, how are you?
Because, now I really do know. I can't bring myself to say it and I feel like such an idiot, so useless and unable to fix anything. He says, "28 years, Mary, and now she's gone."
And there it was. With me offering stumbling words through the window. Through the fricking window. I'd had a headache, I wasn't thinking, and thought I was prepared? But you're never prepared.
My note was, let's be honest, a tentative goodbye, but I wanted to offer her a real one. Not mushy stupid embarrassing words. Just a frank I love you, you are so cool, thanks for being my friend.
She was anybody's friend who needed her, but we were friends in our own little way, separate from all her heroism and dedication and basic awesomeness. We just, you know, liked each other.
We had not nearly enough time together. Took over a year for each of us to realize the other liked when we hung out. After that, a few great months of some very lovely hits and way too many misses. A couple fun trips to buy plants, and then more hit and miss. Digging and planting and joy, followed by two months of drought. Short reprieve, but then all autumn and winter she tortured herself with more and more chemo and "experimental treatment" until she was wrecked from the inside out. And all that time I couldn't visit. I was afraid of killing her.
Three years she went through that, to keep herself going, for her sons and her husband, and all those hurting wounded people who depended on her to make it better or tell them how to make it better.
She knew I needed nothing from her. I like that. I think she wasn't used to it, though. That was okay.
I brought over a huge pan of lasagna, and pies, and walnut bread. What do I do to help, other than offer food? It is in my blood, the blood of my progenitors. When someone dies, you make lasagna. This weekend I'll make some pizza for the little family left behind after formal mourning and all the food laid out on a table, and the slideshow looping on the laptop, and the house full of in-laws, now more empty than it should be, just a man and his sons.
In a couple weeks I'll start finishing her garden. I started it last year and it should have been a three year project but instead I have about three months. She won't be there watching me work, though some people might say she is, anyway. That's not how I look at things. But it's still hers, and for her I will do what I can for it, though she will not be sitting on the deck above me as I work, getting up more often than energy allows, because her mind just never let her body quit, until it simply couldn't go on. When we say goodbye to the rest of her family later this summer, I want them to know that I loved her, just because she was cool, just because she chose me to be her friend.
Probably, though, I'll never forget giving up the opportunity to tell her that first hand.