Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Still the memories keep swirling. I wake up at night, climb out of bed and go into the quiet kitchen. I turn on the faucet, fill up a glass of water and stand there, leaning against the sink. It's no longer her birthday, or the anniversary of her death. There is no reason to think, well of course today is going to be hard. But yesterday I wrote about it, for the first time. That really did me in. I rapped on the glass of the aquarium tank inside of my head where all my sad memories swim around in darkness, and I caught their attention. Now they won't leave me alone.
Mid January, and our friend Amy is celebrating her birthday at hip a bar in Fremont.
It's a modern place with blue lights and a salsa band playing on an all black stage. The girls are drinking greyhounds and sex on the beaches, the boys are drinking beer. Hall, the our friend who flirts with everyone, dances with each one of us in turn. At the end of each dance he'll give your lower back a squeeze and wink at you.
Amy is very tall, and sweet, with the bone structure of a super model. She and Sarah were the type of inseparable roommates who did everything together, they even got engaged within days of each other. At least that's how I remember it. They shared something, a bond both of them would have chosen to shed if they'd had the choice- they both had a sibling die young. From cancer.
When the second lease ended, Sarah moved into a house with her husband Doug and their two roommates, Chris and Heather Ann. Then Sarah hit her head, and the side effects of her concussion- they just wouldn't go away. And so they took a look inside her skull, and the doctor studied the grey images on the monitor screen and shook his head. He didn't need to squint, or look closer. There is was.
Sarah was twenty three and recently married. If she was going to look at any swirling patterns on a monitor screen, it should have been the fuzzy outline of a baby's curved, feathery spine. Not the imaging of her own death.
She didn't tell Amy. Somehow, she kept it from her. I suppose we all were very busy during that time and it can be easy to let a few weeks slip by without seeing your closest friends, even when they live in the same city. In this case, a few weeks was all that was needed to turn Sarah into some swollen, glassy eyed, raspy voiced impersonation of Sarah.
She kept it from Amy, because Amy, having already lost her little sister, would understand what the rest of us just didn't. We were stumbling our way through the dark, trying to feel around for objects that we recognized. It took a long time for our minds to gradually fuse to the concept of dying. Like, actually dying. It was her sudden and severe deterioration that baffled us the most. It was absurd. But Amy has been here before.
In fact, a lot of our friends didn't know how sick she had gotten. Some knew that it had been discovered, last fall, that that she carried around a little bomb inside of her brain, but they didn't know it had gone off.
She made her dying-of-cancer-debut at Amy's birthday party, at the blue lit bar in Fremont.
She walks slowly into the bar, wearing a knit hat to cover the slice in her head. She cannot really walk by herself, or stand upright without swaying. Doug is supporting her, her body slumped and heavy from steroids.
Not sure how to act, those of us who know just pretend that everything is okay. We hug Sarah and take pictures with her. "What is she doing here?" We ask her roommates, and they just shrug. "She wanted to come."
Of course we want to see her, and we want her with us. The blueish lights casting a sickly glow over the faces of strangers, the band up there playing the tango, the bang of an empty shot glass hitting the bar, and the looks on our friends faces who haven't seen Sarah since she started treatment- they are stunned completely into silence- it feels like a madhouse.
Doug has to go to the bathroom. He gently pushes Sarah over to me. "HOLD HER" he shouts. I am in awe of his intense focus which he has kept up since the diagnosis. Sarah sways from side to side and I steady her, leaning my full weight against hers. "Woah, there, girl!" I say, and laugh. People around us are trying not to stare. Some are smirking, thinking this is just another girl who got too drunk too early in the evening.
Mostly she just stands there, lolling back and forth. I hate to admit it, but I don't want to look at her. She looks so different, so shrouded in a fog of sickness and medicine and confusion. Her face is lopsided, with only half of her mouth able to move. If I was a good person I wouldn't even notice any of that. I'd just her face with one hand and think about how beautiful she is. But I can't even come close to that.
All of a sudden her eyes swim into focus. "Melina," she says, in her high raspy voice. "You're so beautiful. I love you." She says, "I love you so much." She says, "I miss you."
I want to tell her to shut up and stop talking that way. But I just say "Oh, well, I love you too!" Which is true, but the way I say it is fake. I said it like, "you silly goose, of course we love each other! Now drink up! Let's have a party!"
She drifts away again. I keep wondering what she could be thinking about. "Where's Doug?" She asks. I tell her he's in the bathroom. "Is he coming back?" Hers is the voice of someone who has just woken up, dream bleary.
"Of course he's coming back silly," I tell her, just making everything one big joke. "He's only in the bathroom."
She says, "I want him."
But when Doug comes back, his wedding rings falls off his finger. And all of our friends are down on their knees, searching through stranger's ankles on the slick floor. When the band finishes up their song, the bar tender flicks the lights and announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, a young man has lost his wedding ring, if we could all take a look..."
And all the strangers in the crowd roar a laugh, ha ha, he's lost his wedding ring, ha ha!
I'm still holding up Sarah, and not one of us breathes until someone finds it. The band starts to play again. The lights in the bar become strobe. I think, this will definitely kill her.
I go outside to get some fresh air and Heather Ann drives the car around to pick up Sarah. Amy, the birthday girl, is standing there sobbing. Saying I had no idea- how could this be- she's so sick- is she's dying?
It takes two people to shove Sarah into the passenger's seat. Where it the romance of wasting away? Not here. "Hup, hold on, gotta get your seat belt" says someone, reaching around and feeling around for the metal clasp. The door slams and car slides away into the night.
The whole street is quiet. A friend of mine who doesn't know Sarah is standing outside the bar. "What's wrong with your friend?" He asks. "Is she sick?"
"Yes," I answer. Then I add, "she has brain cancer." I say it just for the hell of it.