I hate being sick. I am terrible at it. It makes me miserable and angry (ask my husband). I don’t take it lying down. I curse at it. I resent the time lost and dwell on the tasks undone. I despise my body for betraying me. For letting me down. For preventing me from operating at full capacity. I don’t have time for that shit.
Fortunately, (for everyone) I don’t get sick often. This winter, I was sick for the first time in three years. I reacted exactly as described above. While I complained and whined and cursed the nasty virus that struck me down, I thought about my college roommate.
I thought about the night I met her. I pictured her sitting on the floor of my room in the house we shared as I unpacked my things. Arms wrapped around her knees, talking and listening. The conversation came easily and we were instant friends.
I thought about sitting across from her at dinner. Her and I made “real” meals together. Actual chicken (shake and bake) and veggies (frozen) and noodles (from a box). Pretty classy by college standards. She would sit and say “Mmm Mmm Mmm,” as we bragged about our gourmet meal to our other housemates. (They were so freaking jealous.)
I thought about playing beer pong in our basement and drinking shots of rum and grape Kool aid. And dancing. Crazy, dizzy dancing that involved loud singing and jumping and smiling until our faces hurt.
I thought about lazy weekends. I pictured her on the couch in our living room watching cheesy Lifetime movies and eating take out.
I thought about watching the only girl fight I have ever seen. (Which may or may not have involved her kicking someone’s ass while I watched in shock and admiration)
I thought about her dancing at my wedding. And about how happy I was to meet her fiancé and to attend her wedding shower. And how amazing she and her husband were with my kids a year later when met for a winter walk at a park.
I thought about the phone call I got a few weeks later. The news shook me, but her voice never wavered. Breast cancer, she said. This isn’t going to kill me, she said. This is just something I have to get through, she said. No tears. No nonsense.
I thought about the timeline. Done by next year at this time. Back on track with her life’s plan. One year later arrived and all was well. I admired her strength and courage and ability to remain calm and focused. She did it. I knew she would.
I thought about the phone call a few months later. The cancer was back. In her lungs and inoperable. She talked matter of factly about leg surgery and being unable to climb the stairs in her house. She was in her early thirties. I felt angry. I’m sure she must have too, but she never said it to me. She kept me up to date on her condition and asked what was going on in my life.
I thought about her concern for her husband. About how she joked over lunch that if anything happened to her, he wouldn’t know how to access their bank accounts. She would give him a tutorial just in case. She talked about him often. She thought about what he needed. About how he was suffering. So completely selfless. So very in love.
I thought about the last time I saw her. My five year old saw a money jar in her living room and forwardly asked if he could borrow some. She quickly grabbed her wallet and made his day by giving him some change. She had made so many of my days just by being there.
I thought about one of our last conversations. The cancer was in her brain. She talked about her weekend away with her husband and time at the beach with family. She talked about how there were still more medications to try. The doctor said they would keep trying. If she knew she was close to the end, she never let on to me. Still no tears, no complaints. Just unbelievable courage.
I thought about the voice mail I left her the day before she died. I thought about the snow on the way to her funeral. I thought about how there is no way that all she was could fit into the tiny box they wheeled up the aisle of the church that morning.
I thought about her strength. Since the day I met her, she personified strength. I admired her for it then. I am in awe of it now. I don’t know how the hell she fought the fight she did. I was pissed at a virus that would be over in a few days. She had been fighting for her life. But she was much stronger than I was.
I would like to say that all these thoughts made me stop being a miserable sick person, that I sucked it up and showed a little of the strength I saw in her. But that would be a lie.
What these thoughts did do, was make me even more thankful to have known her. Thankful that someone that kind, that honest, that fun, that strong would call me a friend. Thankful to have spent a year under the same roof–laughing, crying, singing, dancing and really living with her. Thankful that we kept in touch. Thankful to have told her she was one of my all time favorite people (she totally was). Thankful she met my children. Thankful for that last hug and that I can still remember the sound of her voice so clearly. And see her smile. And picture her dancing.
As for getting angry at illnesses and life’s other annoyances, I’m guessing she would advise me to be strong and positive. She would probably tell me not to be so miserable. She would encourage me to embrace every moment I have here whether those moments are ideal or painful. I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t want me to complain or feel sorry for myself. As her passing tragically proved, we don’t have time for that shit.
In loving memory of my roommate and friend, Liz, who fought like hell to stay, but left this world too soon.