When you’re young, you don’t think that one day your best friend might die. If she called you three times in a row, it was probably to tell you the same story she had already spilled on the bus, during lunch in the cafeteria, and then again while lingering in the hall and avoiding algebra.
Somewhere in time, however, this shifts. When you get older, have parents who are aging, and have become fledgling parents yourselves, repeated phone calls from people close to you take on a different meaning.
So the day Liz called me, not once, not twice, but three times in a row, I had a sick and surreal feeling that something close to death was happening.
“What’s wrong?” I picked up on the third call. I have no memory of what she said next, just like I don’t have a childhood memory of us becoming friends. She was just always there – from playground wars, to sleepovers, to teenage drama – through every stage of life she was my loyal defender and confidante. Her not being there was never an option.
Even when she uttered the phrase, breast cancer, denial ensued. This wasn’t our life – her life – we were just brunching on the episode of Sex in the City, when Samantha reveals her diagnosis to the group. It wasn’t real.
“You bet your ass it was f-in real. And it sucked.”
That’s Liz, in my ear, today, thankfully still able to use the same flat tone and vernacular she’s used since 1985. She fought, kicked cancer in the teeth, and if you knew her, you wouldn’t be surprised. What did surprise me, however, is how the fallout of this experience affected Liz – and me. Sure, we own the privilege of using macabre humor about her playing the cancer card, but we also, within the confines of conversations only people with 30+ years of friendship can have, discuss how we’ve come to look at life, in our mid forties and, for Liz, thank God, cancer free. She and I can also make jokes regarding annoying cliches about life, but behind the laughter, there is an unspoken agreement: they are all true.
It’s sad, but also true that it takes a near catastrophic event for a real shift to occur. In a bizarre and beautiful way, I’m a little thankful my best friend had cancer. Without it, I’m not sure she and I would have adjusted our outlook on life, which is to just f’in LIVE, as Liz would say. It’s safe to say we did not make any new year’s resolutions. I even abandoned the recently touted practice of choosing one word to commit to for the year. My word was going to be “better.” It was short lived, pun intended. I had no desire to commit, and as soon as I revealed my word, thus began the litany of imperfections I needed to improve. Not really into that right now. I’m into the cliches and quotes. I won’t make you throw up and list them, but I will say, I’m not wasting my time here. Simply put, I’m working on doing what makes me happy, telling people how I feel, acting normal when I’m nervous, showing love to people I love, and accepting that life can shift in a moment. What I’m trying not to do? Be insecure. Wait for something to happen. Punish myself. Jump to made up conclusions.
I guess in some ways, this is trying to be better. I can commit to that.