Last August, we sat on a piece of driftwood by the ocean, the news of her cancer diagnosis fresh and raw between us. There's instinct to try to fix, make it better, do something (anything!) to change what's happening. I stumbled over my words to her, trying to find the right ones, until she grabbed my hand.
"Karen, this is going to take our friendship to places that we've never been."
She was right. That road, with it's twists and turns, and bitter end, had the most beautiful moments that I'll cherish for the rest of my life. While we had been close friends for 3 years before her diagnosis, suddenly things were different. Suddenly there was an urgency, an awareness of how precious time and memories were and we weren't about to take a single second for granted. Throughout the past year, people have told me how lucky Anne was to have me for a friend, but honestly, I disagree. I was the lucky one.
When she lost her hair, I rubbed her fuzzy head and told her she looked like a little bird. She giggled and showed me all the beautiful hats her mother knitted her, and then modelled them for me. It became a running joke, about which hat best went with which outfit-and there were always new ones coming!
At Christmas we sat and laughed hysterically at her dog Scout as he was weirded out by a little mechanical toy dog that was a gift from a family member. We then built a fire in her outdoor fireplace and sat side by side with our feet up, warm drinks in hand and watched the birds swooping and hiding out in her backyard.
I would bring her warm oatmeal cookies, and she would send me links to recipes she thought I may like to try. She read all the blogs that I frequent, followed many of the same people I do on Twitter and enjoyed every single one of my blogger friends despite the fact that sadly, they didn't get to know her. She especially wished that she could have met all the Vancouver bloggers, and had hoped to come with me to a tweet up.
Photos from her would show up in my inbox; lizards from a last trip to Hawaii, her with new glasses, the birds outside her window, something she cooked, along with little notes that would make me smile.
We talked about everything from how she wanted the end of her life to be to her fears, how illness affected a marriage, her views on euthanasia (she felt it should be legal), and how just utterly strange life can be. Anne never once lamented about the hand that life had dealt her, and instead would comment on how she thought I was having a hard year. In turn, I'd always say, "Oh honey, you win. You win it ALL."
While in hospice and lonely, I gave her a ring once given to me by a boy who wanted me to marry him. A tiny heart nestled into a gold band, it seemed to be the perfect thing for her to have to remind her of me when I couldn't be there. When it came time to say goodbye, she gently held out her tiny hand and smiled. "I have your heart." Oh yes. Yes, she does.
"I'm worried about you," her brow furrowed just before I left her the very last time. She never did say why. The stress, moving to a new community, starting a new job, the complete life change and losing her was so much all at once. I tried to never show it to her, but with Anne, I never really had to say. She just knew how I was feeling from a glance.
The day Anne passed, I found myself in the kitchen trying to find solace doing what I do best; cooking. I wanted to make watermelon gazpacho but unfortunately had packed most of my spices. The boxes had been moved to the garage and I found myself out there in sweltering heat, digging through them to find what I needed. For the first and only time, I suddenly could hear her in my head, clear as if she were right next to me.
She was laughing.
You silly goose, what are you doing out here?
"I'm making watermelon gazpacho, and if you were here, you'd know I'd bring you some. We'd sit on the porch and sip it while watching the birds, and you'd be talking about your garden. Hey, do you know where the spices are? Because if you do, help a sister out. Where's the star anise?" The box is sitting in front of me, laden with my entire spice cupboard, each jar wrapped and tightly packed.
My hand found a jar, I unwrapped it and sat there, staring at it. Star anise. That was a fluke, for sure.
Again my hand dipped into the box and pulled out a jar, unwrapped it, and there was the cloves.
"Okay, and the blender?" by then I was giggling. Seriously? I can't really believe it.
I think it's in this box. My attention was drawn to a box at the bottom of a pile, kind of out of the way.
Her voice was clear as day in my head, but I was starting to get a little weirded out. Surely this is just my brain playing tricks.
"Wait, are you really...?"
Karen. Listen to me. Try this box. Get the blender, make your gazpacho. Enjoy it with Kevin-we both know John won't eat it. Cooking will make you feel better. I'm okay, you know. Really.
I opened the box and there was my blender. Before I touched it, tears started rolling down my cheeks.
I'm worried about you. Will you be okay?
My hand reached out to touch the blender and I smiled.
"Yes. I'll be okay. I'll miss you like crazy, but I don't want you to stay just because of me. You need to go. It's alright, I'll be fine."
With that, her voice was gone. I haven't heard her in my head since. Maybe it was my imagination, maybe not. I don't know. What I do know is now I half expect my in box to have an email from her, or a tweet to come by, and her red mixer sits on my counter. I miss her more than I ever thought possible. She was the Anne to my Diana, the kindred spirit friend that I never expected to find. While our time together seemed much too short, in the last year she made sure to leave me with enough memories to hold close for a lifetime.
Before I left Sechelt for a new life in the Fraser Valley, I couldn't bring myself to visit the beach we walked every Friday. The very last time we walked there, we had sat on the very same old piece of driftwood we had the year before, arms around each other, listening to the ocean and the cry of seagulls as the sun danced off the waves.
"I don't think that one really needs a lot of kindred spirit friends in their life time, " she had started thoughtfully, before turning to me. "One, maybe two." Our eyes met-both full of tears, but smiling.
"I'm so glad you were mine."