Monday, September 01, 2008

Black Monday

My friend Ana's boyfriend, the one who was battling leukemia, succumbed to complications from his treatment last night. Today is her 33 birthday. I feel numb and awful and have no clue what to say to her that could possibly make this better.

I got a phone call from my sister. She was crying, which is extremely out of character for her, so it was instantly jarring. "Are you OK? What happened?!"

"Jordan died," she burbled. "Ana sent a text this morning." I hadn't received it yet -- my phone was upstairs. Now the text message is burning a hole in my phone with the awful announcement and I don't know what to do with it.

So I am here in my public private sanctuary, hammering out the words because I don't know how else to deal.

My friend is beautiful -- and I mean model beautiful -- and wicked smart. I have known her since I was 19. A 15 year friendship. She has suffered a lot of loss over the years, including her brother, who passed away from a rare cancer when she was only 20 or 21. We left for Acapulco two weeks later and she tried to deal with her grief in the middle of foam parties, pina coladas and the Macarena. In retrospect, it was a good time to suffer such a loss, because youth has a way of making you live minute by minute that makes pain easier to forget somehow. You can lose yourself in a haze of alcohol, midterms and stupid temporary boyfriends. Adulthood doesn't allow for that.

She was the first to buy her own place, shortly after university. She went on to live in and flip three properties before she found a beautiful house to lovingly restore. In the middle of all this she got her MBA while working full time, and somewhere along the road she met Jordan, who was so unlike anyone she'd introduced us to before. He was much younger than us, with the cynical world view of someone who was 24 and had a film degree. He didn't drink, he had strong opinions on everything and for some reason I found him difficult to get along with. I felt I could never say the right things, never impress him... at first anyway.

Later on we could make each other laugh -- he had a great laugh -- and talk about work and such enough that it would make brunches, etc fun. But they weren't the type of couple that was going to be double dating with us, that was certain, and it meant Ana was always on the periphery of my close adult friendships. In hindsight, she kind of always kept herself that way on purpose. The rest of us have strong personalities. We joke too much, in ways that could hurt a person's feelings if they weren't tough enough, or had a distaste for that kind of thing. Perhaps none of us know how to be truly close, but we just call each other more frequently. Who knows?

I didn't take their relationship seriously. I admit it. Even though they'd been together so long, living together, travelling together, I just thought of him as her boy toy. It wasn't until they moved into the house that I started to see him as she saw him and I realized that he was her future.

I had dinner with her last week and he had been improving slightly from severe Pancreatitis, a terrible side effect that can happen from Leukemia treatments, but he had had trouble breathing and was given a tracheotomy. She had put the house on the market already, bracing herself for the worst. We didn't talk much, because our other friend, who can be self-involved at times, was going through her own personal crisis and that somehow came to the forefront -- probably because it was somewhat humourous and not about death. Plus what are you going to say to someone to cheer them up when their loved one is dying? Even arguing about the menu choices must seem ridiculous.

The last time I saw Jordan was in the winter. We had gone to their house to play some pink shopping Monopoly that my sister was raving about. They had been laying low as a couple to avoid infections and viruses messing with his compromised immune system. I had bought him the Foods That Fight Cancer cookbook and a bar of dark chocolate, so that I could joke about how awesome it is that chocolate is an antioxidant.

When he looked up at me to thank me, he seemed softer somehow, like he was truly touched. It was a side of him I had never seen before. Surely it had been there all this time. My friend loved him and given her past hurts she was quite choosy about who she would let into her heart. But I had never seen it before; it had always been masked in 20-something apathy.

I had forgotten to pray for him over the past week. I had been wrapped up in my own bullshit: my launch moving up, my husband going away for a boys' weekend and leaving me to deal with the kids alone, even HerBadMother's nephew having complications from meningitis. And then this morning, a text message. A dozen words grouped together with a disgustingly awful result. I keep staring at them, wishing they would rejumble to form something pretty.

I just left her a stupid message, one where the words could not come out properly. For a writer, I leave terrible phone messages and then try to convince myself that others will find my awkwardness charming. I paced a while, then called my husband and my BFF to ruin their days as well. I tried to cajole myself and my sister by talking about the new 90210 collection by O.P.I.. But really, this isn't even about us, I feel like screaming. He's not our loved one, just the loved one of someone we love. We didn't even really know him that well, which goes to show how far reaching a life is, how many people's lives are touched by one single soul.

I'm sorry Jordan. I'm sorry I didn't understand you or try to know you better. I'm sorry that this had to happen to you. You were so young, with so much potential. You made my quiet friend happy. You made her reach out of her comfort zone and try new things, things that may have scared her once upon a time.

To my friend. I love you. I am sorry that life keeps giving you lemons. Awful moldy lemons. I know you will come out of this stronger than ever. I know that will take time. I know you don't really want to think about the future right now, but yours is a bright one. Good things will come from this tragedy, it's just hard to see or even consider right now. Don't let your heart turn cold. Jordan would not have wanted that. He would want for you to suck every morsel of life out of every second for him.

Give yourself time to grieve, time to heal. Lean on your friends. We have our own crap that's for sure, but we would gladly put that aside to give you a shoulder and a warm meal. When you are ready, I am here for you.

I know the show must go on, but this morning I wish that the world would stop for a sec so that I could catch my breath and think about what all this means before having to delve headfirst into work and childminding. Instead, I have to face the truth, accept that this is a part of life and then work my butt off today so that I can savour my kids this afternoon. So that I can drink in all that is alive in them both and remember to live in the moment. Please take some time to do that too today. Be thankful for your health and remember that the art of life is in the living of it.

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