One of my best friends from fourth grade through seventh grade was a girl named Christine. Her dad was in the Army and she lived in my city with her parents, her two older sisters and her golden retriever named “Sugar.” Their house was so organized and they were so kind and polite; they were the perfect military family. Christine always seemed wise beyond her years, and I was so honored that someone so mature would want to be friends with a hot mess like me.
She is the one that gently told me that Santa Claus is not actually real. She made me try liverwurst for the first time…and I liked it. Her dad had actually categorized and numbered their entire VHS collection and if you wanted to find a movie, you looked up its number in a binder and then found it on the shelf. We usually ignored the other movies and just watched “Shag,” a Phoebe Cates classic. Every month, she got the elastics changed in her braces to match the holiday or season. And best of all, she was my friend.
Christine moved to Italy after 7th grade and after a few attempts at being pen pals, we lost touch. When I was in college I heard that she was back and going to the University of Rhode Island, but again, I didn’t make the effort to find her. Losing touch with people is…awkward. I feel like sometimes it is almost better to remember people the way they were when you knew them best. I liked the Christine I remembered from years ago and I didn’t want to change that.
I found her on Facebook a few years ago and it ended up being perfect – we didn’t try to “catch up” or anything like that. It was a nice way to reconnect and see how we were both doing without trying too hard.
This summer, a post of hers popped up in my Facebook news feed:
“I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia, not given a death sentence. I’m taking a page from the LIVESTRONG Manifesto:
‘I believe in life. My life. I believe in living every minute of it with every ounce of my being. And that I must not let cancer take control of it. I believe in energy: channeled and fierce. I believe in focus: getting smart and living strong. Unity is strength. Knowledge is power. Attitude is everything.’
If you can support me in this, I welcome every word, thought and prayer that you want to send. If you find it hard to be positive, if you’re overwhelmed or sad about my diagnosis, please keep it to yourself. I’m strong, I’m a fighter. I’m facing this head on and I WILL beat it.”
I sat in front of the screen for a long time staring at her words. I was simultaneously so sad and so proud of her for displaying such inspiring strength. She continued to post about her progress and her will to live. She never complained, she was always incredibly thankful and positive. Everything about her outlook made me feel like she was absolutely going to beat this thing. I err on the side of pessimism in scary situations, mostly because I just don’t want to be surprised if something goes wrong…but everything about Christine’s battle made me think that there was absolutely no way she was going to die.
And then she did.
She found out she had leukemia on June 20 of this year and by October 13, she was dead. Before that, she was living happily in Hawaii and had her whole life ahead of her. Excuse my French, but what. the. fuck.
Losing someone you haven’t really talked to in over 15 years is a really weird thing. I almost feel like I’m not allowed to be sad because I didn’t really “know” her anymore. But at the same time, for four very important years in my life, she was one of my best friends. I’m mourning the loss of that little girl who made me feel so special.
Her funeral was today and I tried so hard to make myself go, but I couldn’t do it. I hadn’t seen her since 7th grade and I didn’t want our reunion to be under those circumstances. I’ve been feeling enormously guilty about it all day, but writing about it has been extremely therapeutic.
I mentioned earlier that she was wise beyond her years, and she really was. Sometimes I wonder if she had been here before, especially the way that she truly understood what was important in life. I feel sad knowing that she left this world without ever having the chance to get married or have children, but I feel so happy for her knowing that she made the most out of her time here. Without even directly talking to me, she inspired me via Facebook with her amazing outlook and view of the world. I think she did that for a lot of people. And if folks can say that about you when you go, whether you’re 29 or 99, you can rest assured that you lived a beautiful, meaningful life.
Thank you, Christine.