The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Memories of a friend who died young

One Citizen's Perspectiv

When the parents of one of my closest college friends asked me to write down some things that I remembered about their daughter, I was honored to be asked, but found myself suddenly without words. How do you describe a friendship that spanned 12 years to parents who desperately want to know their daughter a little better?

Anna died of ovarian cancer at the age of 30, one of life's inexplicable tragedies. There was no need for me to write about things they already knew. What they wanted were insights in to the unknowns about their daughter, and I, as the keeper of her secrets (as she was the keeper of mine), had to find that fine line to tread between sharing and oversharing.

In our early college days, Anna was a paradox in every manner possible. She was fiercely independent, but quietly insecure. She was a free spirit that seemed to always be looking for her tether. Anna was the kind of person who could sing out loud with her eyes closed to the songs on the radio in a crowd of people. She had an artistic defiance about her that enabled her to take aesthetic pot shots at social conventions.

She had a beautiful chapel wedding, very simple and elegant, and at the end when she walked back up the aisle with her husband, instead of the traditional recessional, she piped in the "Coda" from Eric Clapton's "Layla." That was vintage Anna. She loved animals, music, and friends. She had a joie de vivre that was palpable.

And yet underneath her laughing surface waters flowed an Irvingesque "undertoad." She told me back when the movie "Beaches" came out that she always thought that she would die young. She wore a veil of impending doom, even back in the beginning, that left me to wonder after she did die young if she was clairvoyant or a self-fulfilling prophet. At any rate, I came away from her death leery of thinking bad thoughts.

She was steeply reared in the southern bible belt Christian tradition, but inwardly rebelled against the profoundly deep faith of her mother. When her mother fought, and eventually beat, breast cancer (she is now a 14-year survivor), she held fast to her faith. Anna shook her fist at God for turning his back on a woman whose whole life had been devoted to serving Him. It infuriated her that her mother had such faith that God would heal her, because she couldn't believe it herself.

I like to believe that, as she lay dying, Anna reconciled herself to God. That her parents were with her in that house showering prayer over her, I believe, opened a pin light of grace and radiance that was big enough to show her the way home.

She had a depth of perception that put her on a different plane that most, and it was in that place that I knew her best, even though I now know that as young adults we were only half-baked. It isn't until later in life that our ideas and beliefs come to full fruit. When you lose someone who is just beginning to bloom, you lose what you've known, but also what you would have known.

I miss that I didn't get to know Anna after maturity and experience finely sculpted her "selfness." I miss that we won't ever take trips together, or talk about books we're reading, or watch grown children marry. I miss not seeing her old and wrinkled, salty and wise. I regret the things we could have done back then, but didn't, and the things that I can do now that she will never know about. I miss that, after our roads diverged, we never got to see the day that our paths came full circle together again at some time much later when paths taken and not taken are just specks in the span of one's life.

After college, I settled in to young married suburbia. I was a stay-at-home-mom who traded in my degree for diapers. My life was simple and stable, and filled with milk-mouthed grins and giggly, wiggly toddler bodies.

She was snorkeling off the Gulf coast, listening to jazz music in trendy pubs, going back to college four years after graduating, and later, living and working in the bastions of inner city Birmingham urban renewal as an ICU nurse on a transplant team. Her life was constantly changing, spontaneous, and movable.

And between us there was an unspoken longing, she for my life, me for hers. It was one of the first truths about life and friendship that grew ripe in my thinking. It is elemental to wonder what your life would be like if it were not like it is. It is our nature to wonder about these things. As women, between the two of us, we were living the full spectrum.

What I "knew" of her in those days came from long distance phone calls, and the one visit she made across the state line to see my second born. I gave her a plant as she left that day, a 7-year-old castaway that I had resurrected from a trash pile outside a basement "compartment" I lived in on West Glenn in Auburn. She had a cottage efficiency just across a swept dirt yard where hundred-year-old oak roots gnarled up out of the ground.

Later when I saw her, the week before she died, I saw that she still had that plant, and all over her refrigerator were pictures of my children. I wanted to bring the plant back home with me, but didn't want to seem rude. The last words I spoke to her were, "I'll remember everything."

Her secrets are still my secrets. I don't think I've told anything that she would have minded me telling. And my secrets secrets, since she isn't here to help me keep them.

I'm glad that I knew her. I hope in some small measure this helps her parents to know a little more of her, too.

[Your comments are welcome:]

What do you think of this story?
Click here to send a message to the editor.

Back to Opinion Home Page
| Back to the top of the page