“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.

To Paulo, with love: a limerick

(Yes, I know I said my next post would be a WOTD, but I need to give that a little more thought…)

This is dedicated to our dear friend Paulo Nunes, with respect, admiration and the greatest affection:

A spicy young fellow from Brazil,
Planned on working out daily until,
He became the crowned queen
Of the bodybuilding scene,
And the king of the weightlifting hill.

…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.