Have you ever danced with a date on your calendar? You’re aware the anniversary of something significant is coming up, than daily life crowds it out of your mind and you spend the weeks leading up to the day remembering and forgetting at odd intervals.
Ten years ago today everything in my life felt shiny and new. I had a new job. I had a coveted spot at the international sales and marketing meeting in Athens. I had a shiny new engagement ring from my new fiance. I had a new personal trainer to make sure I was wedding dress ready.
I had three days after the meetings to roam Greece. I love to travel and was thrilled by the possibilties stretching out in front of me. Simultaneously, I was filled with dread at the notion of having to eat fifteen meals with colleagues I barely knew – or hadn’t even met yet. Plus, my new fiance was acting very weird and anxious about my leaving town. I ignored the alarm bells, crossed my fingers and boarded the plane.
I was in line for the W.C. in Da Vinci Airport when I bumped into Her. We laughed about how there is always a line, quickly realized we were on the same flight to Athens and decided to find a good cup of coffee while waiting for that flight. We had only been working together for three weeks, but, I knew she was going to be a great friend -a little more than five years later her sister would tell me she knew the same of me before we finished that first cappuccino. We were glad to be in some of the same small groups for meals (seating was assigned to encourage you to meet new people) and our travel schedules gave us an overlapping free day in Athens. WE both were infected by wanderlust and quickly decided to spend that day together exploring. The day included shopping, laughing and a failed attempt to climb the steps to the Parthenon (we laughed about that for years). The worst heat wave in memory was gripping Europe that week and we were rounded up mid-trek when a lady passed out and fell down some of the steps at the Acropolis. Too hot the handsome Greek guy said, too hot – we closed.
Back home we were quiet office friends; lunches, cups of coffee, a drink after work. We didn’t mix it up with any other office friends – due in part to our positions and the generally rancid politics and gossip mill in our office. It suited us both to keep things quiet. The Grand Central Christmas Market was our first ‘out of the office real friend date.’ Our differences were significant but we we had more similarities: the aforementioned wanderlust which expanded so far as to include a deep passion for reading about travel. We had similar family backgrounds right down to the obligations we were feeling bound by. I was a crochet novice, she an expert – and she showed me plenty. We had similar childhood scars from being the shunned fat kid, difficult sibling relationships and secretly loved reality tv – the trashier the better. Our quiet bond was deep. She was like a sage older sister and only one of two people to dare tell me what everyone else was thinking in July 2007: don’t marry R. She didn’t come to the wedding because she couldn’t watch me ruin my life and pretend to be happy. That statement didn’t change our friendship, probably because way down in some deep deep place I knew she was right.
Time passed and I can remember being a little anxious, and then outright scared. She didn’t look right, something was off and it was my turn to say what everyone else was thinking Go to a Doctor. Please for the Love of God, go to a Doctor. Finally, she went. From there she went to the hospital. Days became weeks and I visited her before Christmas, taking the train from the office out to Queens. I brought a poinsettia and was looking forward to a visit filled with laughter, travel plans, exasperated tales of family holiday drama. My friend didn’t live to see the New Year.
I got a lot of strange looks, stares and overheard a ton of snide comments in the next few months. People whispered about how I had changed. Something was off and I was acting oddly. My favorite quote from that time: She’s even more quiet than usual. A few months later my boss asked to fill in for her on a trip – an urgent, last minute request. I declined.
The boss from hell pressed me. I declined. She made glorious promises and when that failed she badgered. Again and again I declined. One day I was simply fed up with her crap and told her so. Then I snapped and said it out loud “I filed for divorce. My attorney advises me NOT to leave the HOUSE until my soon-to-be ex moves out. Find someone else or go yourself.” I left the conference room and went home before 2pm, not caring one little bit if I was fired. She ‘found’ someone else and relished spreading the word far and wide. The whispers intensified, now people knew what was going on now.
Except they didn’t. The divorce was a long time coming and once I made that choice I felt better than I had in years. What gripped at me was what they didn't know. The didn’t know that months before I walked out of that hospital knowing I’d never see my friend alive, again. They had no idea how the pain ripped at me , I grieved the loss of her before she actually left. Or how that pain forced itself into me, making me confront my life. The grief kept me up at night for months. That habit of always doing for others, putting my needs dead last – that same streak was, what killed my friend. I had that same streak – it was part of our bond. Would it, could it, kill me, too? I decided not to find out.
Late this morning I remembered again that today was the day. The day we first had coffee in DaVinci Airport. In her honor I drank a cup of cappuccino by the River. I celebrated all she taught me and thanked my quiet friend for changing my life.