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Letter to Friend
Hickory Hill graveyard was a place I had seldom frequented during my eighteen years living in South Bend. Over the past few weeks, however, barely a day had passed in which I did not trek through waist-high snow to the land of grey slates and frozen angels. Puffing rings of ice, I would crunch onwards to that skeletal tree that erupted amongst the other tombs and which marked the location of the grave. Her Grave.
Today was to be my last visit.
Falling to my knees, I clutched the white rectangle in a death grip, wrinkling the corners and further distorting the tear-stained words. My fingers fumbled within my woolen pocket, searching for the little matchbox I had carefully placed there earlier. Just when I thought I would become a living tombstone, they came up victorious and pulled the matchbox from its cave. Satisfied, I switched my focus to the rectangle.
I stared at the letter, pondering it. I was glad I had told no one of it, or of my plans for it: besides questioning my motives, they (meaning parents and Ted) would also sadly accuse me of clinging on. But that wasn't what I was doing. Quite the opposite: I was letting go, moving on. And I could do that: I could do that because she was a part of me, and it did not take me being in her physical presence to remember the memories we had made and the experiences we had shared. My loyalty would never waver, and I wanted to ensure she knew that. This ensured she knew that. I struck one of the matches, its flame the lone source of heat in the entire graveyard. Bringing the flickering light to the letter, I set it alight.
Melancholy tears were freezing on my cheek. As the burning paper slowly withered and crumbled over the grave, I raised my gaze to the writing on the tomb. An icy glaze obscured her first name, but the rest of the inscription shone clearly in the rosy dawn:
April 12, 1989-December 22, 2008
Forever in our Hearts
"Forever in my heart and mind," I thought. "And now she'll know it, too." My eyes swept the gravesite one last time, and I trudged slowly away.
Monday 6th January, 2009
How are you, Friend? It's me. I've been thinking a lot about you lately, remembering all the laughs we shared and all the mingling tears we shed. Do you remember those times too?
I often reminisce about the first time we met. Do you recall it? It was the first day of second grade: I was the new girl with the coke-bottle glasses; you were the line leader with a quiet smile. The Terrible Twins, as we later called them, decided to christen me with cold spilt milk. Do you remember how everyone jeered, their calls echoing off of the aluminum-sided cafeteria? You were the only one who stayed silent, the only one who took me by the hand and led me to the debilitated bathroom to clean up. You joked with me, wiping tears off my face and pinning a smile on with your words:
“Don’t worry,” you had said. “It wipes off, see? Those boys aren’t very nice, but not everyone is like that.” The flow of my tears had ebbed slightly, but they still continued to trickle.
“And besides,” you had added, grinning, “milk is very becoming on you. It makes you twinkle in the half-light.” It was the last thing I had expected, to hear such a formal statement issue from the mouth of a seven-year-old. The tears had finally stopped as I began to laugh.
“What’s your name?” you asked.
“It’s--Hannah--” I choked in between giggles. “What’s yours?”
You smiled. “Mine’s Friend.” Even all these years later, even after I learned your real name, that's what I called you. That’s who you were to me: Friend.
I was packing today; it will be a while before I return. Do you know what I came across, as I sifted through the years of memories stored in my closet? It was a picture, a picture of you and me on those rusty neighborhood swings. It must have been but a week after the milk incident. Do you remember how small we were, and how high we flew? Our hair floated back and forth on billows of air: yours was a chocolate river, and mine a field of gold. I can still see your braces glinting in the sunlight, shining in contrast to your caramel skin. They showed every time you smiled in laughter: that is to say, they showed all the time!
Seeing that photograph…It reminded me of another sunny place where I was with you. Do you remember that day, the summer of our preteen years, when we laid in the backyard and watched the clouds roll by? They were puffs of cotton candy, molded by our imaginations into knights in shining armor, princesses with flowing golden locks, and dragons spewing cirrus-cloud smoke. Do you remember how the grass seemed to sway with our laughter, and how the birds serenaded us with sweet chirping concertos? The air was thick, and the bees' buzz loud, but we didn't care. We were two free spirits, dreaming of adventure in the sky, and nothing could have held us down.
Childhood is a match: it glows brightly, but for such a brief period of time. Do you remember when we became teenagers, and how the world seemed to become so big? There were new feelings, new hopes, and new disappointments. It was confusing, more confusing than I had ever imagined possible, but you were there with me every step of the way. You were there that brisk day in September, when I was knocked head over heels with an explosion of "love". Do you remember? You were the only one who'd listen to me jabber on about dewy eyes. And you were there a week later at the bus stop in the pouring rain, when I was soaked heart-deep in a puddle of rejection.
"He—he—he doesn't like me!" I had blubbered (do you remember who it was? It's funny: I can't seem to recall…) I bet you do remember this: how you hugged me tightly, ignoring the water cascading from my eyes and the sky, and stayed with me all night long. We went up on the roof that night and stared at the stars, the rain having subsided but the wind forcing our jackets upon us. You distracted me, as you always did, with your quiet jokes and comforting smiles, and our conversation eventually moved away from the trials of love. Do you recall how we talked of our hopes and dreams for the future? It was then, on that night, that you first told me what you wanted to do: you wanted to find a cure for cancer.
"I've lost too many loved ones to it," you had said. "I want to stop it."
"If anyone could do it, it's you," I had replied, my tears long replaced by a smile.
Years pass. Life flows by. And yet, could you ever forget that day in March, when we stood together by the rusty mailbox and tore open our Stanford acceptance letters? To go to the same university—our hopes had finally pulled through! You were bound for a major in the Biomedical Sciences, and I for a degree in English Literature. We saw less of each other our freshman year, what with you attending pre-med classes and I writing papers 24/7, but it was never a problem: whenever we did get together on a late Friday night, we'd always pick up right where we'd left off. I still remember you saying one time on the phone, with both of us up burning the midnight oil, that our friendship was too strong to let crazy schedules shuffle it into some tucked-away time slot. Do you remember what I said in reply? It was "yes".
That humid August of our sophomore year—do you remember that month when it all came crashing down? We were separated that summer: you volunteered at the hospital, while I returned home to visit family and Ted . We had organized to meet at our favorite café the day after I arrived, one week before classes. My face—do you remember my face when I saw you? You were thinner, gaunter than I'd ever seen you before, and the shock of this glared from every part of my expression. You weren't upset at this, though. You simply smiled forlornly and sat me down, and uttered the words that neither of us had ever wanted to hear:
Treatment minimal, and little chance of survival.
You were admitted into the hospital you worked at the very next day. It was the cruelest of ironies, that you would be sick with the very disease you had once hoped to cure, and that you would be treated by the doctors you had once dreamed of becoming. Do you remember how I would visit you, every free day I had, and would stay by your side just as you'd stayed by mine? I watched as you grew weaker and weaker, thinner and thinner, watched as your eyes tinged yellow and your face contorted with pain whenever the numbness of narcotics wore off. Never once, though, did I watch that smile leave your face. Even when it became clear that the end was near, even when the doctor came with the life changing news—no, not even that could keep it from breaking through, a few dim rays on a cloudy morn.
Do you remember those last few days together? I spent most of the time with tears silently streaking my face, hoping beyond hope that that nightmare would cease. Not you, though. You continued to sadly smile, to pat my hand and comfort me, just as you had all those years before. Do you remember the final moment, with your family gathered around and I squeezing your clammy fingers? Do you remember how cold it was, that grey December day, and how the fog covered Palo Alto fast and thick? Softly, though. Always softly. And the beep of the machine began to slow. And the beat of your heart began to slow. Three beats…two beats…one beat…
Friend, I miss your dreams of knights and dragons; I miss your smiles and laughs and your tears and frowns; I miss the way I could always count on you to be there through thick and thin. You taught me to be strong, to be loyal, and to be a friend.
Friend, you were the best. I will never, ever forget you.