“It happened so suddenly that I just stood frozen,” Ashley said, suppressing the sadness surging through her. “I couldn’t believe he was dead. He was fine the day before.”
We hadn’t talked in over two years since I moved away. We were close during our childhood, spending every second of every day together. We never left each other’s side. But our fates led us into different paths and we parted ways. We tried to keep our friendship alive, but the phone calls and emails became fewer and fewer until we stopped altogether.
I’ve often wondered how something so strong could be so fragile.
When I answered the phone, I didn’t recognize her voice. She had always sounded sweet, considerate, and compassionate. But when I answered the phone, she sounded distraught and erratic.
“The day before he died, he asked me to bake him cookies,” she said, trying to calm herself down by taking in deep breathes. “And I did. I went over to the hospital, still believing he was still alive. I found a bench outside the hospital and sat for a long time. I held the Tupperware full of cookies in my hands, shaking as I tried to control myself. I held my head down because tears started to streak down my face. I knew if I moved, if I went inside, he wouldn’t be there… he wouldn’t be there to smile up at me when I entered.”
She whimpered. I could tell she was trying to stifle her crying. I pictured tears in her eyes and her hand over her mouth and the phone pressed hard against her ear. I pictured her sitting alone at the swing set we used to share together when we were younger.
“Going to his funeral was the hardest thing to do,” she said after calming herself down. “I cried so hard then. I couldn’t stop even though I wanted to. It came in tides, pounding hard against my chest. I stared at his body. He was lying so still and so peaceful. I thought about how unfair it was that he was taken away from me and my family. I thought about how unfair it was that people wouldn’t know him. He was just so kind-hearted and happy. It was impossible to feel sad or angry around him… that is until I viewed his casket and body…”
She was stifling her crying harder now. I wanted to hold her and comfort her. But I couldn’t.
“Ashley…” I said softly.
“I know,” she said hopelessly. “I know I shouldn’t have called you. We don’t talk anymore. We don’t see each other anymore. I just don’t know who else to talk to. You were always there when I needed you. I’m sorry that I called you so late at night.”
“No, it’s not that,” I said, my voice sincere and caring. “You can call me whenever you want. You can talk about whatever you want.”
I knew her pain. I knew it too well.
Three years ago, I lost my mother to terminal cancer. She always had a fighting spirit, so she fought it for the longest time, longer than the doctors thought. But a year after she was diagnosed, she passed away. Her death left an emptiness in my heart that could not be filled. I felt lost and hopeless. I wanted to stop existing.
But I found out how to deal with the emptiness. I just wanted the same thing for Ashley.
“I want you to listen to what I have to say,” I said. “You’ll hurt like you’ve never hurt before. Every single day will feel like you lost him yesterday. But it will get better. Eventually it will feel like one week, then one month, then one year. You’ll never forget him. He’ll always be inside your heart. You’ll always remember his soul and his smile. You’ll hurt every time you think of him. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to hurt, hurt. It’s never easy to lose someone you love.”
“I just wish… I just…” she stuttered. “I’m sorry…”
Then she hung up.
I pressed the END button on my cellphone and put it on my desk among my college textbooks.
I sat for a long time in silence and finally whispered, “I’m sorry, Ashley.”
One month later, Ashley contacted me via email:
I’m sorry I didn’t call you back. I feel like I owe you a response for the time I called you from out of the blue.
After I hung up, I was left with your words percolating inside of my head. My family was there, but no one said what I wanted to hear… not that I knew what I wanted to hear. But you, everything you said, helped me figure out the pain writhing deep inside of me. I recognized parts of it until I was able to see its whole form.
You’ve helped me a lot, though I still have to face the traces of sadness here and there.
Thank you for helping me find my way back.
P.S. I’ve never told you this, but I believe it’s important for you and for me.
Do you remember when we used to walk together to school when we were little?
When I waited for you on the path that led to the school, I always felt alone, like I was the last person in the world. I would stand there thinking you would never come. I would stand there thinking you forgot about me. But each and every time I looked off into the distance for you, I saw you coming towards me.
Thank you for always being there and thank you for never forgetting about me.
I printed out her email and folded the paper until it could fit in my breast pocket. Just like the memories I carried — happy ones, sad ones — I kept it close to my heart.