“Katie – I know you don’t talk to Jill anymore, but I thought you should know about her condition. She is also pregnant with twins, so this is a risky surgery that they’re doing tonight. See Kelly’s email below. Talk to you soon. Molly”
“Hi, Katie. Jill said she hasn’t talked to you and wanted me to fill you in. It’s not good, but everyone’s thinking positively. Basically, they tested one more sample of fluid, and it showed malignant cells, so it is a tumor. Beyond that, the doctors just aren’t sure and are very perplexed, so they’ve decided to do surgery, during which they’ll do more tests and maybe take the tumor out, maybe take the whole muscle out, depending on what they find. -Kelly”
So this is how it happens. You love Jill with your whole heart, for years and through fights and in support of her dreams. You laugh together at your group’s lunch spot, at the lockers outside Mr. Lundy’s classroom.
You pass notes in the hallway, and before each Biology class, you hope she has a new one ready for you – because science is boring, and her teen angst is your world, because you’re a teen too, and she is your friend. There is no rational separation, no
divide between her hurts and yours.
The last time you see Jill before you both leave for college, you bend forward, your sobs propelling your head into your hands and your chest toward the floor. You gather your strength and look at her … and she, too, is overcome.
The fights continue beyond high school, and who can remember how they start or why they end, but they do, many times. Friendship repair now means interstate phone calls, and you forsake the notes and replace them with emails. Until one day, when a swift email exchange ends it all: she cuts you down like many times before, and that marks one time too many, and you write her off and tell her you’re done.
Three years later, Molly forwards you Kelly’s “it is a tumor” email.
“Jill. Molly told me about your terrible news. I don’t know if you want to hear from me, but I have to say that I love you, and I’m here for you if you want me to be. Katie”
“Katie, Although we haven’t been in touch in several years, you are one of my oldest and dearest friends, and I would certainly want to hear from you. The doctors are confident that this will be successfully treated and I will be fine. One doctor said that radiation melts these types of tumors, and there’s evidence that my body has been killing it off on its own. So, I will be fine. I love you. Jill”
Three months later, Jill’s husband starts a blog to chronicle her medical status. You are grateful for this, as no one has answered your emails requesting updates. From the blog, you learn that in those three months between the tumor email and the blog, Jill’s life has been terrible, painful, bedridden. Chemo and radiation. And you’ve only been in the periphery, because right now, that’s how close Jill can let anyone get – except her closest friends, of which you are no longer one.
Though your sobs heave you forward as you read the blog, feeling helpless to resolve either Jill’s cancer or your broken friendship, or both, you know that “as close as you can get” is as near as you should be. The friendship didn’t work, and it wasn’t for lack of love … but when her capacity to reach beyond sickness is limited, and the years between you are many, you accept that your presence in her life is reduced to notes.
Notes. Just like old times.
So you send emails, and then you travel back in time and send old-fashioned mail: the “I’m here to support you through your cancer” card. The one you never imagined sending her, when life was simple and your arguments were all that lay between you.
And Jill, who stood and laughed with you for hours in Disneyland lines, feels impossibly far away. Cancer separates you now, but there’s still no divide between her pain and your own.
One day, you call Jill’s home, terrified she will answer and say you’ve got some nerve
calling at a time like this, given that you’ve missed everything that happened these past few months. Or maybe her husband will pick up the phone and say it. And even though you emailed for updates, and even though the last news was positive, you won’t know what to say in response.
Forgoing the call and sending an email would be far less risky. But you trust that Jill still needs you, if only in recorded voice message form. Suddenly, the thought of sending only an email feels irresponsible and selfish.
The phone rings. The outgoing recording features Jill’s lively voice, and she sounds so happy, you know it was recorded over three months ago. You leave a message. Finally, Jill feels closer. And you hope she feels it, too.
(Writer’s Note: names have been changed.)