No joy in Kangworld…


And, lo, there it is: the same sinking of the stomach, the same welling of the tears in the eyes, the same weakness in the limbs, the same momentary stall of the heart.  It comes as it does, without warning and without regard for whatever I may be doing at the time.  Without respect for the remainder of my day.  Without regard for whatever mental state I may already be in.  And it levels me.  It makes me want to hide under the sofa or retreat to my bed, places where I can be alone with the clichéd misery and seething pain that comes with chronic grief.  It’s the unyielding, never ending reminder that my best friend is dead.

Five years, two months and one day later, one would think I would have some sort of coping mechanism in place by now.  Yet, I don’t.  A few years ago I accepted that I never will.  There are certain losses from which a person cannot recover.  This is mine.  This will always be mine.

Today, as I go about the Saturday morning routine of catching up on email, dithering around on the internet, trying to avoid thinking about work, wondering how I’m going to do all the tasks I can’t during the week (and ultimately end up postponing) and cramming in my workouts, I did something incredibly reckless:  I looked at the stupid “On This Day…” thing on Facebook because there was an adorable picture of my kid from two years ago.  Lured by a picture of my then four year-old son with his face painted like a dog, I started scrolling further down memory lane.  And there it was.  One of my darker days.  The day after I “eulogized” my dead best friend, I was leaving Atlanta.  I was leaving behind all future opportunities for shenanigans and high jinks.  I was leaving behind my safe place, the place I went when feeling unusually vulnerable, confused about life or exceptionally depressed.  The place where I went to celebrate ridiculous things.  The place that held over fifteen years of memories in a friendship nearly twice as long.  I had, unbelievably, survived the memorial service but it was really time to go, time to move forward and accept life as a darker, lonelier, scarier existence.  Oddly, as we were driving on I-75, the old iPod spit out Elliott Smith.  I could think of nothing more appropriate (even if Kate didn’t listen to him).

Pain.  All pain.  All pain, all the time.

Kate’s dad once said something along the lines of “the pain is still present but it’s less acute.”  In certain aspects, he’s correct.  But there are days when the acuity of the pain is so severe, I feel as if I cannot draw a single breath.  There are days I look at my child and think “Only because you’re here, am I.” because that sentiment is true.  Be it out of obligation to my child or the fact that he really brings me that much joy, I’m here when I’d much rather not.  An anxious depressive who loses her anchor is an anxious depressive who isn’t fighting a battle – she’s fighting a goddamn war.  With a fake smile on her face.  With a heart that doesn’t want to beat.  With a brain that wishes it wouldn’t work.  With a spirit that is simply crushed.  With a mass of negative emotions she can only lessen with a happy pill or temporary withdrawal from the world around her.

All of this after a dreadfully painful year prior and no immediate end in sight.  This landmine that must be crossed is a big one.  And, unlike in the past, I have no safe haven in Atlanta.  No place to heal.  No place to put myself back together.  No friend to curl up next to, under a blanket with a giant bottle of wine and massive amount of carbs, and shoulder to cry on.  No one to lean on who immediately understands the pain without requiring some sort of explanation as to why certain things bother me as much as they do (and, let’s face it, when one is already upset, having to go into a detailed explanation is exceptionally frustrating).

So, yes.  I’m being very selfish today.  Whiny.  I’m feeling sorry for myself.  I’m misbehaving.  I’m throwing a tantrum.  I’m doing all the rotten, shitty things I do when things don’t go my way.  And I’m doing them largely alone, as I have done since 19 December 2010.  It’s going to be one of those days where doing one nice thing for someone (as Kate would do) isn’t going to lessen the sting, either.  Nope.  Today is going to be one of those days when the dam breaks, the emotions flood my world and everyone around me has the good fortune of drowning in my misery because sharing is caring.

At some point, I’ll get my shit together and head out for a long walk – my ersatz Kate (coping mechanism, evener of the keel) – stomp out any aggression and hope the mood elevates a notch thanks to a flood of endorphins and some music.  Then, I’ll likely find a pile of blankets and stuff my head under a pillow.  Days like this, the chronic grief usually wins and everyone else usually loses.  No amount of therapy will ever lick that, either.

Today, there simply isn’t any joy to be found.

“There is nothing like puking with somebody…

…to make you into old friends.” – Sylvia Plath

Note:  For Clifton.  For the only person who comes close to understanding.

It’s winter and winter, in my opinion, is a useless season.  It’s boring.  It traps us in the house, it shrouds us in darkness and makes us overeat.  It drives some of us bananas.  For as much as I love Sweden, I don’t know if I could handle living there permanently because the mere thought of very few hours of sunlight a day horrifies me.  And, I don’t think the light box therapy would do much for me, either.  Neither would copious amounts of vitamin D.  Winter just sucks.  It makes my fingers and toes turn bone white if they’re not wrapped up in thick socks and gloves, my skin crack and it gives me cabin fever.  Compared to Kate, I handle winter well.  Kate loathed winter.  It sucked the life out of her – so much so that she lacked the energy to spew a torrent of fury about how much she despised winter.  The most she would say was “I hate winter.  I’m going back to bed.  Wake me when spring comes.”  Maybe she should have been a bear?  Maybe we should all be bears?  I wouldn’t object to hibernating.  I really like to sleep, I don’t care much for the insanity between Thanksgiving and New Years and the only thing I would really miss is post-season football (and, as an Eagles fan, it’s not as if I would be missing much there, either).

To get through the tedium of winter, Kate and I started building little rituals.  For a while, we saw each other over Martin Luther King, Jr weekend.  Were we being servicey?  Nope.  Were we drunk?  Yup.  Did we sit in a lump on the sofa, under a pile of blankets and overdose on carbs, cheese and wine?  Of course!  We would also watch really crappy movies, eat more really crappy food, paint our toenails, lament about guys and life in general and spend money on clothes.  Kate’s mood was usually meh even if she was happy to have company.  I was thrilled to escape the doldrums of daily life and see Kate.  Anytime there is a change in geography, my spirits immediately perk up a little.  My perkiness likely annoyed Kate but she tolerated it.

Spring, though, spring was the time of year where Kate and I would go bananas.  Spring spelled trouble.  We started celebrating Easter together in our own little way.  Our sole observation of Easter, itself, was eating the ears and tails of chocolate bunnies.  Maybe a few jellybeans.  Certainly a lot of bread (ok…so she had her fill of the Body of Christ, I suppose).  Kate was a health nut and carbs were off limits and only to be enjoyed when her less than healthy friend, Kang, would come rolling into town.  Throwing a loaf of freshly baked bread at Kate was like dumping catnip on the floor and watching a trillion cats come streaming out of the woodwork.  Through mouthfuls she would always say “Oh…my…god…this…is…sooooooo…good.  I…cannot…stop.” :chomp gnaw chomp gnaw gulp gulp gulp:  Then she would reach for another loaf and a glass of wine to wash it down.

Do you really think carbs were trouble for us, though?  Really?  Come on, now.

Putting together a renewed Kate and an excitable Kang is like the clichéd putting the two things together in chem lab that results in an explosion which causes the evacuation of an entire school and surrounding neighborhood.  Bad things or potentially scary things happen.  Use of judgment is suspended.  It becomes an exercise in giving zero fucks, albeit not instantaneously.  It takes a while to get the ball rolling.  During my “eulogy” (I really don’t want to call it that but I’m not sure what else one would call it), I explained that Kate and I were yin-yang.  When Kate came alive, there were no limits.  She was bold and she took risks.  Kate could be wild, fun and outgoing.  Meanwhile, she would be dragging along her shy (until certain level of intoxication was achieved) pal who had the proverbial rod up her ass at all times.  You know the type – the woman who would dust off seats before sitting down because she’s a freakish germaphobe;  the woman who worried if the guys we were talking to would try to slip roofies in our drinks.  Why Kate never pulled the rod out of my ass and clubbed me over the head with it remains a mystery but there was one instance where my being a total tight-ass worked in our favor (we may or may not have bogarted someone’s entire stash of weed while camping out at a NASCAR race and they may or may not have expected compensation in forms other than monetary and I may or may not have suggested that we run like the fucking wind to get away only to end up falling into a gully and having Kate standing over me, laughing too hard to help me out of the gully with the worms, snakes, tarantulas, alligators, rodents, scorpions, grizzly bears, wild boar, etc…).

Easter weekend always resulted in several incriminating photos of us (once, she decided we were going line dancing and dressed me in head to toe denim – RED, made me wear ropers with fringe and teased my hair).  One night always ended with our running away from men who thought our game of “let’s see how many free drinks we can get from these weasels” wasn’t a fun game for them.  One of us was usually screaming “OMG!  RUN!  Run faster!”  Alternatively, “Hide here.  They’ll never find us here (the aforementioned gully was not part of the ‘hide here’ plan)!”  Most nights culminated at the Waffle House with a table full of food while we mewled incorrect lyrics to really shitty country songs.  And in our drunken, maudlin stupor, we made plans for our retirement.  No matter where we were in life, no matter what we accomplished, no matter how much money we had, how many husbands we had been through, how many children were involved, Kate and I were going to buy a house somewhere in the South (preferably near water) with a giant porch.  We were going to have 20 million cats, sit on the porch, gum our dinners off of tv trays and gossip about everyone who walked by.  We would also be doing this while wearing all the really nice clothes we had purchased during the daylight hours while we were sober.  And maybe some of the jewelry, too.  Ok…definitely the jewelry and none of that cheap shit for us, either.  Sure, there was a time and a place for paste and there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with wearing costume jewelry but we were ladies and, as such, we demanded the good stuff from the men who would not be permitted to live in our retirement home.  They (the men) were, however, welcome to live a few doors down and come over to fix whatever was broken.  We may have hatched these plans while we were seeing double, stumbling drunk and on our way to throw up the delicious vittles we just stuffed in our faces at the Waffle House but we were always, always pragmatists.

Oh…and did I mention shopping?  Yes, it might seem like something that girlfriends do together but Kate and I have been doing that together since we were fifteen or sixteen years old.  We were exceptionally impatient with each other on our particular snipe hunts for the perfect whatever.  Kate’s sense of style was impeccable – from slutty chic to well put together slob – she could pull it off.  Whereas I was floundering in the finest of corporate attire (something which caused her considerable angst when she saw me in a suit and pearls for the first time).  Kate also possessed this uncanny ability to find the niftiest stuff at second hand shops (again, something I would never dream of doing since…GERMS).  One weekend, I lamented that I didn’t have a decent pair of jeans so Kate took it upon herself to find one for me.  She regretted it from the minute she volunteered.  How did I know she regretted it?  We lost count at pair number 80 (no embellishment).  As she brought pair after pair back to me in the dressing room, she went from knocking on the door and handing them to me to throwing them over the door.  Then the throwing became aggressive with intent to harm.  Probably around pair 90, I decided that I would take two of the same solely because I didn’t want to lose an eye.  But…when you’re with your best friend, even assault by denim and whiffs of pending death are simply signs that you’re loved dearly.

Sundays would eventually come and it would be time for me to load the car.  Usually, at this point, the sisterly aspect of our friendship would manifest itself.  There was a lot of “Oooooh…I love you so very much, I’m so glad you came but…please get the fuck out.” on her part and I would be thinking “Oh…I love you very much.  Thank you for a wonderful weekend.  Please try not to get us killed the next time we get together.”  We would stuff all of my shopping loot in the trunk, pound the trunk shut, exchange hugs and kisses and I would be on my way back to Raleigh where I knew a verbal spanking awaited me for my husband did not view these weekends as fondly as I.  To this day, I remain confused by that.  Granted, I may have spent the equivalent of a mortgage payment or two but it’s not like I was arrested or anything.  It’s not like I came home with a second husband.  And, really, what’s another tattoo, anyhow?  It’s my body; not his.

Whenever spring rolls around now, I wait until the yellow clouds of pollen settle and then I go for a drive on the back roads near the house.  I roll down the windows and open the sunroof as Kate would do.  I’ll play music that Kate would listen to (except the Grateful Dead.  Kate – I’m so, so very sorry but I cannot abide by that shit and you know it) or might like now.  I’ll think of our high jinks and smile a devilish smile.  I’ll choke back a tear or two and remind myself that I’m supposed to be enjoying this moment on her behalf.  Then, I’ll return home and resume life with no one knowing what I have just done because best friends, among many things, are also the keepers of the secrets.  If I’m feeling particularly untethered or lost, I might pull out the hatbox full of the pictures she loved to take and send and go through them.  Or, I’ll go through my closet and look at the clothes I bought during one of our many sprees.  And then, I’ll envision Kate rolling her eyes at me, making a silly face and laughing at me for being the closeted, sentimental fool that I am.  The side of me that only Kate and a very select few ever get to see because, again, secrets.

In real time, it’s the end of January.  MLK Jr weekend has passed.  Easter has yet to arrive.  My fingers and toes are still bone white and totally numb.  I’m in total agreement with Kate about the eternal suckitude that is winter – especially winters that bring only cold rain and no snow.  At least light reflects off of snow and no matter how old you are, you can play in snow.  My hibernation tendencies are high but there are things to be done.  Milky and I need to go find lingonsylt today since the grocery store near our house stopped carrying it.  Much to my surprise, the end of the month of single-momming it finds me upright and marginally pleasant but I believe a lot has to do with the fact that each day, I try to do one thing that Kate would enjoy doing.  One thing to keep Kate’s spirit present.  One thing to keep Kate with me in a way that’s more than just a memory.  Maybe today will be about a freshly baked loaf of bread or maybe it will involve a giant nap?  Maybe I’ll be wild and crazy and do both if Milky allows.  I will certainly do one thing, regardless of Milkface’s plan:  think of spring.


This morning brought a kick in the pants courtesy of Blitzken.  He posted an article written by Mark Manson titled Love is Not Enough. Initially, I giggled because the preview mentioned Trent Reznor and we all know how well things end up for me when Trent Reznor is involved.  Then I thought “Hmmm…It’s Sunday morning.  You have a ton of things to do today and you’re not in the best head space to begin with.  Are you sure you want to go down this rabbit hole?”  Given that I am extremely adept at making bad decisions, I clicked and the little hamster on the little wheel in my little head started running and running and running.

This article is quite provocative and potentially painful.  It certainly gave me a great deal to chew on and a great deal to file under:  Denial or Save for Therapist.  Accepting love does not come easily.  We’re humans and, as such, we’re not overly bright when it comes to management of emotions.  At least I’m not and I’m fairly certain I’m not alone in this regard.  What really stung was reading this:

One of the oldest pieces of relationship advice in the book is, “You and your partner should be best friends.” Most people look at that piece of advice in the positive: I should spend time with my partner like I do my best friend; I should communicate openly with my partner like I do with my best friend; I should have fun with my partner like I do with my best friend.

But people should also look at it in the negative: Would you tolerate your partner’s negative behaviors in your best friend?

Again – a billion thoughts in the head but the one I’m willing to cop to is thinking about my relationship with Kate.

When I spoke at Kate’s memorial service, I had nothing prepared.  One would think that someone who likes words and likes to make things out of words would have had some idea, a rough outline of sorts, of what to say or how to speak about her dearly departed best friend.  I genuinely didn’t.  Even that morning, as I was getting ready (which, to be honest, other than throwing on a dress, I didn’t do because I felt it was pointless to look nice) I couldn’t think of a damn thing to say other than wailing “I want my best friend back.”

When it was time to speak, I stood in front of a room of people (which I despise doing) and decided to talk about our friendship and what made it the perfect friendship for us.  Kate and I were “yin-yang” to the core.  From our appearance, our personalities, how we approached life, etc…  I remember saying “Kate is kind and I am…me.”

After reading the article, I started thinking about Kate’s negative behaviors.  People are prone to canonizing the deceased.  Look no further at the legacy of Ronald Reagan for that.  I wonder if I have been doing the same over the years and think “nope.”  Kate was Kate.  She wasn’t perfect, she had her flaws and areas for improvement but, overall, she was one of the kindest, most decent people one could hope to encounter, let alone befriend. And, because of that, she usually ended up in situations where she was hurt or taken advantage of.  To the point of the article, if I were to expect the exact qualities in a lover as I would Kate, that would be impossible.  Best friendships from childhood are special, precious and cannot be reproduced under any other circumstance – much like a gemstone.  One can certainly make one in a lab but they’ll always remain lab created and not the real thing.  And while lab created such-and-such has value and serves a purpose, it’s never treasured on the same level as the naturally occurring substance.

I also thought about how many times Kate and I argued.  Arguing isn’t necessarily a bad thing but I find it exhausting, physically and emotionally.  I feel as if it takes me longer to recover from an argument than a hard day’s work of physical labor.  I also think arguing (note: not animated bickering but fully blown, nasty words exchanged, accusations lobbed, name calling and general insulting activity) is destructive.  Off the top of my head – Kate and I argued twice.  Once when she questioned why I went to a therapist and questioned the entire life with depression thing largely due to my making some horrendously odious and destructive decisions at the time (I hung up on her even though I knew she was correct in calling me on my shit but incorrect about the depression bit) and the other time was about the drug dealer.

After that call in July when I thought everything was settled and she was going to toss him in the fuck-and-run bin, things seemed relatively quiet with Kate.  We mostly talked about work, my frustrations with being a new mom and Dock’s being away so much, some health issues we were both having and boredom.  A mostly non-notable summer passed. Me in Raleigh, Kate in Atlanta (the master plan was both of us in Atlanta but I was derailed).  Me being a Mommy.  Kate going out and having a rip-roaring good time with her friends when she felt up to it or staying at home, being a hermit and reading books when she didn’t.  It was the new normal for us since Kang’s days of debauchery were decidedly over.

September rolls around and it’s still more of the same with the minor exception of my spine getting much, much worse.  Turns out – lifting a baby when your spine is disintegrating isn’t a really great thing to do on a repeated basis.  Emotionally, I was on overload.  I did not need another problem to manage.  I simply didn’t have it within me to deal with another problem.  My patience was shot.  My nerves, physically, were on fire and metaphorically, were just done – over everything.  As usual, Kate listened to me moan, groan and cry my way through visits with specialists and share in my delight and I was handed Rx for pain killers.  One of Kate’s dirty, little secrets was a fondness for recreational use of painkillers to take the edge off.  She wasn’t much of a drinker but she did have a bowl of various pills on her kitchen table.  Looking back, it should have been a clue.  Then, it was just amusing to me.  “Here – take one of these when you get home” she would say and I would wake up three days later.  Good times.

The weirdness picked up around the middle of the month as her birthday grew closer. She started calling me from work during the day. Now, I’m rotten to the core and think nothing of making a personal call during the work day.  Kate, on the other hand, wouldn’t dream of breaking a rule.  If I did call her during the day, she would try to limit the conversation to minutes because she was supposed to be working.  My initial thought “Oh yay!  She’s finally relaxing.”  Another sign missed.

The day before her birthday Kate called me in the morning and she was acting considerably bizarre and exceptionally evasive.  I couldn’t figure out why she called if she was completely unwilling to talk to me or tell me anything about her weekend.  She also didn’t appear to be in any mood to hear about what was going on with me.  Then she tells me – she saw the asshat again.  After 25+ years of being best friends, I didn’t need to know much more than that.  My initial assumptions were correct:  she never stopped seeing him, she never stopped using and her life was out of control.  I was awash in rage and back to my earlier comment about the yin-yang, being angry at Kate is like being angry at Thumper.  Who the fuck gets angry at Thumper?  Who the fuck gets angry at Kate? Maybe I raised my voice?  Maybe I didn’t?  I don’t remember exactly.  What I remember, clear as day, was saying I didn’t have the time to talk about her and the non-entity and hung up.  Then I dashed off one of the cruelest, harshest emails I have ever written in my life and I can write some really toxic shit when I put my mind to it.

The gist of the email was:  It’s the day before your birthday and instead of acting like you’re 38 going on 39, you’re acting like you’re 18 going on 19 (or something like that).  Is this how you want to age?  Is this your idea of maturity?  How ’bout this?  Why not give yourself the best present you can?  Get yourself to a qualified therapist, work through your bullshit with respect to picking loser boyfriends and friends and why your self-esteem is in the toilet.  Stop doing meth, kplzthnx.  I love you like a sister.  I don’t want to see you dead.  If you continue down this path, you’re going to be dead.  PS:  Don’t speak to me again until you have made an appointment with a therapist.

Her response:  an email confirmation for an appointment with a therapist.  And, over the ensuing months, she made sure to report in to me regarding her treatment and progress. PHEW.

In the pre-Milkface era, when issues like this arose, the solution was simple.  All I needed to ask was “Do you want me to come down there?” Her response was always “No.”  And I followed with “Are you certain?”  Five or six hours later, I was in Atlanta.  That’s the way we rolled because Kate is like everyone else on the planet.  No one wants to openly admit that they want help or simply don’t want to be alone.  Most people will front and say they’re just fine while secretly wishing someone will show up and rescue them from something truly awful. Yeah…shake your head no.  You’re lying to yourself.

This time, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get in Astrid and blow down 85 to talk sense into her. I had Milky and a traveling husband.  And something that I have never admitted to anyone before – I was genuinely afraid, too.  Abusive boyfriends, I can handle.  Horrible break-ups: piece of cake.  General life crisis:  easy-peasy-puddin-pie.  Drug dealers:  not my forte. Meth has always scared the shit out of me. Furthermore, I didn’t know how bad things really were.  I was working with data provided to me by Kate and Kate was 414 miles away.

All that said, it is my biggest regret in life.  I might not have been able to prevent the inevitable but I sure as shit could have tried.  My best friend, the person with very few negative behaviors (known to me at the time) deserved that and more.  And how did I respond to the person with the least negative behaviors and the least amount of character flaws in my life?  I failed her.  I failed her family.  I failed myself.  And, please, do not think this is a plea for pity or forgiveness.  It’s not.  It’s just a genuine statement of how I view the situation now that I have more pieces of the puzzle.  Logically (and knowing what I know now), I know the battle for Kate would have been epic and I was woefully incapable of fighting it.  It doesn’t lessen the sting or the sorrow, though.  It certainly doesn’t lessen the yearning for a do-over, mulligan, what-have-you.  Maybe, however, it does explain why the grief is as profound as it is and why this particular loss is different and thus must be managed differently, atypically.

And time stands still…

…but for a fleeting moment.

We were home for Thanksgiving, visiting with Kate’s parents.  Visits to Philadelphia are always pleasant, far too short and there is never enough time to see all those near and dear to me.  I do try my hardest to visit Kate’s parents, however.  These are people who stood for me when others were not willing to do the job themselves.  Kate treated me like a sister.  Her parents treated me like a daughter.

Towards the end of the visit, Kate’s father took me aside and gave me a watch that had belonged to Kate.  He was slightly confused by the watch as it was a strong representation of how Kate compartmentalized her life and kept many secrets.  While her parents knew of Kate’s fondness for the finer things in life, they were not aware that Kate would procure said fancy things.  This component of grief and frustration seems as if it will never sort itself out; no matter how much time passes.  So many questions remain unanswered.

Immediately, I put the watch on.  Of course, having sat idle for nearly four years, it no longer functions.  It will definitely need a battery.  I’m thinking a complete service is necessary, as well.  Just my luck – there are neither authorized service centers nor retailers in our state.  I kept the non-functional watch on my wrist so I wouldn’t lose it while we were skittering hither and yon in Philly.

We have been home for over a week.  The thank you note is overdue (will I ever get my shit together, I wonder?).  The watch is still on my wrist.  It still doesn’t work.  And it occurred to me:  why should I fix it?  Is it not more…erm…sentimentally poetic that I’m wearing a watch that belonged to my deceased best friend and the watch no longer functions?  On December 19, 2010 time, in a sense, stopped for many of us that day. We find ourselves moving forward, doing the things we do, living life as we should because Kate would not want people moping about and, let’s face it, this is part of life. That said, is there something inherently unhealthy or wrong about wearing the watch that no longer keeps time?  The watch that froze time, perhaps?  The watch that could potentially bring me back to the time when Kate was here and I was still a whole person?

This morning, Milkface asked if I was going to “fix Aunt Kate’s fancy watch?”  I had no answers.  I’m in no hurry.  After all, in this particular instance, time has stopped.  Time is irrelevant.

…night-night ritual

Each night before bed, I go outside and look for the moon and stars.  Living in a smaller city, we’re fortunate that we can enjoy the night sky without the meddlesome radiant lighting from tall buildings and businesses.  Having grown up in suburban Philadelphia, a beautiful night sky is a treat for me; one that I will never tire of.

This evening, I wandered outside and felt a strong breeze.  A warm, balmy, spring breeze that rustled the leaves.  The air smells of spring-y goodness, a combination of rain and earth.  The peepers (frogs) are in their peeper hiding places singing their lullabies.

Since December, whenever I go outside to look for the stars, I take a moment and think “which one is Kate?”  Would Kate be the brightest star in the sky or the star that wasn’t as strong as the others but twinkled, instead?  I lean towards the twinkling as Kate was never one to demand a lot of attention and did not care much for showboats and peacocks.

I grab the star charm on my bracelet, the one engraved with her initials, and a combination of sorrow and joy wraps itself around me like a fluffy blanket.  Thinking about our friendship is bittersweet as the wound that is her loss is still all too fresh.  The memories, fortunately, are so dear that they can manage to make me smile when I really want to cry.

On a balmy, breezy, spring night in The South, I think of how much Kate would be enjoying the weather.  How much she relished the arrival of spring.  How alive she felt after a long, dreary winter.  How delighted the most simple things would make her – like riding around with the windows down or falling asleep with windows open and the sound of rain pattering outside.

While Kate is merely a star in my sky, I am able to shuffle off to bed knowing she’s still near me and still a presence.  It’s not what I would ultimately like but I’m happy with what I have.

Kang and Kate

Our scribbling sister is burying her best friend today, and I think we’re all in a solemn and reflective mood because of it. When times are hard we try comfort one another as best we can, but we may not always have the words. Sometimes there simply are no words.  But we’re here nonetheless. I never met Kate but it’s obvious that she meant the world to Kang.

Anyway, I’ll be shutting up now and letting the words of a much better poet take over:

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good

W.H. Auden

…for kate

This poem was found among some cards and letters Kate had saved over the years.  She had copied it down in her handwriting so it’s safe to assume that it meant a great deal to her.  Since her burial is tomorrow, I thought I would honor the day with something she found so compelling.

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave bereft
I am not there. I have not left.


When you have been friends with someone for a considerable length of time, you can pretty much tell the tone of the discussion the moment someone answers the phone and hears the greeting.  Kate knew to settle in if I called sobbing.  I knew anything beginning with “Aww…Marn” meant my plans for lunch were going to be scuttled in lieu of being a good pal.

It was a blistering hot, sticky July day as July days are in central Carolina.  I grabbed some water, my cigarettes and headed to the back deck.

Kate opened with a story about meeting some guy at brunch with some of her friends. Apparently Eros was at a loss for things to do that day.  They ended up spending the weekend together, in a drug induced fog and having incredible sex.

I couldn’t figure out how a call that opened with “Aww…Marn” would be bad given the above.  Kate and her boyfriend of four years had broken up several months prior and if anyone deserved bacchanalia, it was Kate.

I guess my confusion was fairly evident because Kate paused.  “Marn…we did a lot of drugs.”  Having grown up around drugs, having a husband who works in an industry where drugs are fairly prevalent, it’s pretty hard to draw anything other than an eye roll from me.  In my world drugs are broken into two categories:  that which you can do and that which you cannot do.  The “can-do” category is limited to pot and certain pharmaceuticals.  The “cannot-do” is basically everything else.

I was waiting to hear that she imbibed in blow, her drug of choice for partying.  Alas, no.  She went were you did not go.  She tried meth.  Is it any wonder that the sexy times were incredible?

Further issues contributed to Kate’s angst.  She tells me she behaved like an asshole to her friends.  She tells me this guy has a record and deals.  She tells me she didn’t use any form of protection what-so-ever.

Rather than join the pig-pile, I flatly stated that it was great that she had a fuck-and-run but that’s all it needs to be.  A fuck-and-run.  I told her to delete his name from her phone, get herself to her OB/GYN and move on with life.  It would be her dirty little secret, her lost weekend.  We all have one and for her to be any different is a little unrealistic when you’re speaking of a (then) 38 year old woman.

She squeaked “An AIDs test.”  I shook my head “Are you telling me that you haven’t been tested?”  Bless my friend’s little heart.  She couldn’t handle being a Gen-Xer.

I half-listened to the rest of the phone call.  To be quite blunt, I had no desire to hear about having fantastic sex with a convicted felon.  I really don’t give a frog’s fat ass about the glories of any uppers, methamphetamine being the primary one.  The douchenozzle wrecked her car in the process and, admittedly, I thought – now you know why this guy needs to be relegated to the fuck-and-run bin.

After an hour or so on the phone, I thought we had reached a clear understanding of how to carry forward.  Delete number.  Go to doctor.  Repair car.  Avoid meth.  Am I missing something in the sage-advice-doling department here?  Clearly, I must have been.

Two weeks later, she called me to tell me she had seen him again.

Kate’s folly aside, I wasn’t exactly skipping sans souci through life.  In my world, I was clinging to what little bits of sanity I had remaining in my feeble mind.  In less than a year, I had given birth to a child, I had to take a demotion in order to mother appropriately as my previous job mandated travel, I had the pressures of being the primary breadwinner and master financial planner for this enterprise we call a family.  All this on top of the fact that the better half travels for a living so I was doing this alone, at times.  By the end of June, my nerves were so tattered, holding myself together and getting through the day without breaking down in tears was a mere impossibility.

I thought my advice to Kate was stellar.  Rather than beating her up, rather than validating the peanut gallery of friends of hers in Atlanta, I simply stated that what was done was done and gave her a path for moving forward.  No judgment.  Just support.  Imagine my seething rage to learn that she did not listen to me.

When she called to tell me she had seen him again, I was trying to feed my son dinner after an exhausting day at work.  Dock was on the road so there was no way I could pass the responsibility torch.  As I was covered in pureed green beans and a sweet potato, I was awash in the stupidity of others.  Something I have no patience for (the color combination of pureed green beans and sweet potato does nothing for my complexion).

“Aww…Marn.  He called.  He is upset.  He says he really misses me.  I went to see him.  He makes me happy.”

And with that, the tongue forked, the tone turned harsh and I did not hold back.  “Of course he makes you happy.  I should even go so far as to say that he makes you feel good, right?  THAT’S HIS JOB.  He’s a drug dealer.”

I cannot tell you how long that phone call lasted.  I can say it lasted longer than Milkface’s patience for the high chair. I can tell you that we both had food in our hair at the end and the floor was a right mess.

Kate’s taste in men has always been beyond the pale.  There were only two suitors that I remotely liked and one didn’t even work.  It was a fine line for me to walk as I had long suspected that neither she nor my husband liked each other very much.  There was always this underlying tension of “you’re not good enough for Marn…” which saddened me.

I tried explaining the importance of a common value-set.  While entirely unfair, life has us in certain stations and mixing doesn’t always result in the most beneficial of outcomes.  Why my brilliant, beautiful and gentle best friend ended up with these less-than-desirables wasn’t lost on me.  She was a healer.  She took in stray animals.  She took in stray men.

So, covered in food with a whining baby as my soundtrack, I listened to Kate talk through her thoughts.  He treated her well.  The sex was great.  He’s a nice man.  Blah.  Blah.  Blah.

The end of the call was very tense.  I had thrown down the gauntlet saying “No more.  There will be no more.”    She said she knew better, that it was over, that she dreaded being bored and alone but knew that I was right.  The madness needed to cease immediately.

…chapter one

Alas, it was bound to rear its ugly head at some point.  Why not write when provoked? And why not dump as many clichés as humanly possible into the mix while I’m at it.

On 20 December 2010 at 17.26 my world metaphorically collapsed.  With the preview of one email, it was as if the roof fell upon me, 9 million tons of cement following.  I clearly remember processing the following from my pop up email alert:  Tom.  Daughter.  Kate. Dead.

I cannot cogently describe the next few hours of my life.  There was a phone call placed to Kate’s parents.  I was standing on the front stoop, in the cold, shitty wintry weather, smoking a cigarette.  I remember catching a glimpse of my reflection in the storm door.  I was smiling but it was that forced smile that I make whenever I’m on the phone.  I remember pulling on my hair.  I remember hearing the words and it reminded me of my first day in Sweden – a whole lot of gibberish that I would never understand.  I remember answering questions.  Asking questions.  I remember saying good bye.

I think I sent Magnus the email from Kate’s parents but without going back and looking, I don’t know when.

Then, somehow, I ended up in our dining room, near the door to the kitchen.  There were no lights on as the sun had set not too long before.  I stood in the dark shaking and gasping for air.  I remember Dock and Milkface coming home from work and school respectively.  Barely above a whisper, I said the unthinkable “Kate is dead.”  I remember being led to the living room and put on the sofa only to spring back up and run outside because I didn’t want my child to see me upset.  This time it was the back porch, a cigarette and my red pea coat.

For the life of me, I wish I remembered which outfit I was wearing.  By Jewish law, you’re supposed to rend your clothes.  Not by any stretch am I a good Jew or an observant Jew but I like the tradition of destroying the outfit you were wearing when the world as you knew it ended.  It’s a simple, cathartic rite.  To this day I eye the laundry pile, suspiciously, wondering which shirt was on my back. Kate would have said “the shirt is laughing at you.”

December 20th was a Monday.  I have little recall of how I got through the week.  Sparky, Monica and DeeDee brought food and booze.  I reached out to dear friends for some direly needed support.  I managed to keep focused on work and preparations for Christmas.  The first week was surprisingly easy.  I suppose that is the blessing of shock.

Rather than make our half-assed version of the julbord, I had Dock pick up a ham and I threw some crab cakes in the oven.  As I was puttering around the kitchen, I started making more and more food.  I par-boiled asparagus and let them bathe in a light olive oil glaze with lemon juice.  I think I even made bread.  I may have made boiled potatoes.  Daddy came and left.  Presents were opened.  I sat on the sofa and stared.

I tried keeping my shit together at work the following week.  Sadly, it all became too much and I ended up taking time off.  I wasn’t sleeping.  I was crying at the drop of the hat and if I could have figured out a way to get out of my own skin without making a bloody mess, I would have.

The only thing in my favor was self-medication.  As my back was giving me a world of trouble, I had various forms of painkillers at my disposal.  One can find a good amount of peace in an opiate induced fog.  Unfortunately, the calm was temporary.  At some point, notifications would be made and the floodgate of questions would open.  After all, it’s not every day that an otherwise healthy and happy 39 year old woman ends up dead.  Even if most deaths come without warning, this one was sure to jar.  And jar it did.

A death around Christmas is unusually cruel and not for the obvious reason.  A death around Christmas causes all of us to look around the room and wonder who may not be in their rightful place next year.  A death around Christmas provokes feeling of survivor’s remorse.  A death around Christmas makes you feel like absolute hell knowing that someone’s parents are not opening presents with their children or toasting a good meal with everyone present and account for.

From time to time, I’m going to chronicle my journey.  My journey with Kate who is closer to me than any other creature on the planet.  My journey of losing her and my attempts to build a life without someone who played such a critical role in my existence. While certainly therapeutic for me, I hope people will be interested in the tale of two girls growing into women and a very special friendship/sister hood.  These installments will may not always be life-affirming.  They’re certainly not novel.  But, for me, they are necessary.