Mercilessly, the rain beat down from a grey sky. As I clicked my windshield wiper lever to high, I looked up at the Santa Cruz mountains framing the road, the same ones I’d see on my way to your house with brownies, a coloring book, home-made chicken soup, a book, lemon cake or with Riley.
I was coming home from an appointment at Good Samaritan Hospital, where just the month before we’d sat on the third floor, laughing and kibitzing as you got life-preserving platelets and blood, and then, two weeks later on the fourth floor, where you took your final breath, five of us surrounding your bed as the monitor counted down the heartbeats.
Memory is a sharp knife.
My heart hurt and my eyes were so blurred and wet that I had to pull over. I sobbed as if my heart were broken.
I wasn’t lucky in the sister department, not the blood sister one, anyway. I didn’t even understand what a healthy and loving sibling relationship could be, but you showed me. You bitched at me like a sister would, was happy for me like a sister should be and loved me like a sister, too, without condition or regard for the miles between us.
Looking at the empty space you once occupied in my life, I wonder:
Who is left that knows me the way you did? Would anyone ever understand me the way you did? Who wouldn’t hesitate to try to save me from my worst decisions, as you did? And who would give me that “look” that said everything?
No tissues in my pocketbook so I opened the center console of my car and cried harder.
There they were. The gate pass so the guard would let me into your neighborhood without the need to call you and the Santana key ring holding the key I’d let myself in with. We had each other’s keys. You never had to use mine but I used yours all the time, so you or your caregiver wouldn’t have to come downstairs to get the door.
“It’s meee!” I’d call out.
“We’re up here,” you’d respond. I’d squeeze past the chair lift on your stairway and join you up in the loft, you in your chair and me on the small sectional that had seen better days.
“When you finish this round of chemo, we need to get you a new sofa,” I told you. “We’ll measure and then you can pick one out.”
I did think you’d finish the round and then, still in remission, go on the prescribed maintenance dose, just as the protocol required. I thought you’d regain some strength and mobility. I thought we’d take the spa vacation you wanted us to take together, maybe just in Monterey or Napa, but still, away. I thought we’d celebrate my 65th together this year. At minimum. Because I hoped we’d celebrate my 66th, too. You’d defied the odds for six years and I thought you’d continue to defy them.
That’s what I thought, but I was wrong.
You died. Suddenly and unexpectedly and without even knowing you were dying.
The shock carried me through the first days but after that? It’s the mountains, the keys, the gate pass, the hospital–all those familiar things– that get me.
It’s this, the gorgeous, soft blanket you gave me two weeks before you died.
And yes, it’s the basket you pushed off my desk after you died, the post-mortem text message and all the other signs you gave me that reassured me you were still with me.
But even if you hadn’t done those things ( and yes, I know you did them)–even if you hadn’t? I’d still remember you.
I’d still remember every season of the 30 year-friendship.
People only die if you forget them.
I won’t forget.