5 years ago today, one of my greatest friends passed away. It was a freak incident that occurred as the result of a prolonged illness.
I’ve mostly kept quiet about it in public spaces because it’s not really my story to tell. Her sister Jen is one of my best friends, a person who has known me for almost my entire life, and any feelings that I may have about Stephanie pale in comparison to the loss of a sibling.
But just a few weeks ago, I saw Steph in a dream for the first time since she died. A few weeks prior to that, I had mentioned to Jen that I had always expected her to show up at one point or another, at the very least because I’m still trying to process the event, but for some reason Steph had remained absent. So I’d sort of given up on running into her. I figured that perhaps her presence was needed elsewhere and I shouldn’t worry about what it meant.
I’m prone to nightmares when I’m going through one of my anxious periods and this late spring/summer have been no exception. Steph popped up in the midst of a pretty horrible one, dressed like a flight attendant (part of the dream took place in an airport), approaching me from across the terminal with a smug, open-mouthed, joyous look of, “HERE I AM! AREN’T YOU SURPRISED?!”
We grasped one another by the elbows (I didn’t want to hug her because I wanted to keep looking at her face) and she said, “I was hiding over there and I wasn’t going to come out, but then I saw you crying.” I was, at that point in my dream, crying and feeling lost and desperate and hopeless having either just missed a flight, or I was moving to a different city only to disembark from the plane and realize that I’d made a horrible mistake? I can’t quite remember.
What I do recall is that I was so stunned and happy and disbelieving that my friend was there in my dream, finally, after waiting so long, that in my excitement… I woke myself up. I only got to see Steph for all of five seconds. She didn’t say anything else. I spent the next two days crying at random intervals, like when I was on the way to get coffee or or when I was washing the dishes. Completely unprompted, I would burst into tears.
People say things like, “It gets better with time,” and they put forth these sentiments with a lot of well-meaning intentions. I don’t fault them for this expression, even when my oh-so articulate response is, “Seriously, fuck that.” I’d rather cry for two days because I saw Steph for a brief moment when I was asleep than alleviate the pain of her being gone.
A couple of years ago, during a horrible break-up, Steph was the only person that I wanted to call. I went to dial her number, to hear her voice on the voicemail recording, when I realized that I’d upgraded my phone earlier in the season and all my contacts had disappeared. Her number wasn’t there anymore, I’d lost it.
Another time, I bought St. Ive’s Apricot Scrub (She caught me using this product once and it instigated a lecture – “Why don’t you just wash your face with GLASS.”) and stood crying in the shower while I used it. It was a totally bizarre moment where I was pissed, just terribly angry with her, for being dead. So there I was like a moron, under the shower head, sobbing and scrubbing and thinking, “Well you’re NOT here to tell me what to do,” in an attempt at some sort of strange, self-inflicted revenge.
Grief is terrible and weird.
But it’s my testament to how important Steph still is, will always be, to me. I hope her death never feels better. I hope that it will always be this great, big gaping hole in my life and that I’ll think of her during all the important moments, all the times that I wish that she could be there… no matter how much suffering it causes me personally.
There are so many ways that I cling to that pain like a freaking life raft. Because at least when it hurts, I know that I am not ever going to forget her.
She’s been gone for 5 years and every once in a while, I do worry that I won’t be able to recall something; that one of our inside jokes will slip my mind or her eccentric, high-pitched laugh will start to become foggy. Then I remember and I get that stab of heartbreak, you know the one that I’m talking about. It actually makes your shoulders pitch forward to protect your heart and feels like someone is physically stabbing you in the chest.
And I can’t help it. I get so stupidly, disgustingly grateful that I am still so busted up over the loss of my friend. I’m always crazy with relief that she has refused to fade away.