Today I noticed a piece of Cap’n Crunch on the floor behind the toilet in our powder room. My logical mind can understand how it got there. Probably the cats batted it in. But my emotional mind got me thinking about all of the things I’ve seen in my life that were blatantly out of place, like the pack of hotdogs in the grape bin at the supermarket yesterday. Or the drill bits on our china hutch this morning. Or my tall nephew, looking terribly small in a hospital bed when his appendix burst. Or my 38-year-old best friend, lying in a casket.
When her daughters were still very young, my friend and I took them to the mall one day. She left her driver’s license in exchange for a big double stroller shaped like a car. It was hard to maneuver through the teeny aisles of JC Penney, but we persevered. Finally the girls grew tired of being confined and insisted on climbing out to walk. It was difficult to hold hands and packages and sweaters and also control the giant buggy, even with two of us.
When my friend’s youngest daughter grabbed a pretty pump from the women’s shoe department and took off toward the door, we had a rough time catching up with her. She tore fast on her little legs and was outrunning us both. The shoe was security tagged. We knew that the alarm would sound if she took it out of the store, so with one grand and flustered burst of mommy energy, my friend raced forward to stop the potential crime. In exasperation, she reached her daughter’s hand, plopped the pump on the closest surface and led the girls out into the mall once more.
I remember looking back to see the shoe. It was sitting on a stack of brightly colored, perfectly folded towels, seemingly miles from its rightful place. Suddenly, spaghetti sauce in the cereal aisle and cocktail dresses in the menswear made sense to me. In that moment with the shoe, I understood a lot.
I know my friend got cancer. I know her body couldn’t handle the chemo very well and that she died from the disease. She just did. She died. That’s the part I can wrap my brain around. I get the logic of that. She got sick, they couldn’t cure her, so she died. Logical.
What I don’t get is why. Why her? Why then? Her girls were tiny. Our friendship was only halfway through. What is the deal with that? I’ve told myself that she has evolved to pure joy. I believe it, I do, but I sometimes think she would have preferred to stay a while, you know? August 24 is her birthday. She would have been 44. I am 44 without her.
Our friendship had high peaks and deep, vast valleys. We weren’t always nice to each other and we weren’t always there when the other needed us to be, but in the long run none of that mattered. We said what we had to say and I’m at peace with how we ended things between us, but I didn’t really expect her to go. I looked into her eyes and I didn’t expect that…until she actually left. And then came the pain. And now I see things out of place and I am reminded that she is not where she should be either.
I don’t make appointments with grief. I really don’t. I don’t believe that on a given day I’m supposed to be sad just because of whatever date is on my calendar. I’ve never bought into that crap, but for some reason this time it is getting to me most unexpectedly. Her birthday. Good God. My best friend died and I feel oddly out of place myself. I miss her pretty face. And her laugh. I really miss her laugh.