Guest Blogger: Dana Lee
Recently I traveled from California to attend my first high school reunion in Amarillo, Texas. It was incredible to lay eyes upon faces that I had not seen since we wore hideous purple and gold caps and gowns 30 years ago. Some people I simply did not remember until their name spilled miraculously from my mouth as I pressed my hand into theirs. It’s amazing the memories that lay undisturbed underneath the surface waiting to wake at the slightest provocation. Others, I had kept in contact with through Facebook and with them it felt like no time had passed at all between the tossing of the caps and that moment. A close friend of mine had brought a photo album of our high school days and in it was a lightning rod face, my angel and best friend, Angie. She should have graduated with us, but she passed away from cancer when we were still sophomores. She was my best friend at the time, and the first girlfriend I ever actually verbally expressed love to. I remember loving her completely and wondering if it was normal to love a friend in this way. If I told her I loved her, would she understand? I mustered all my courage one day and told her, “Angie, I love you”. I thought she would think I was crazy or something. It wasn’t the kind of love that came with attachment or an expectation of return, it was the kind that meant I would always love her no matter what, that I would be there for her forever. She simply said, “I love you too”, and paused. We giggled and just kept on talking about which boys we thought were cute.
We used to screw around in PE class and wait until the PE Teacher wasn’t looking so we could cheat on Duck Squats. Duck Squats are miserable exercises, and I’m pretty sure they are outlawed now in every PE class across the nation. They are especially brutal when you don’t know you have cancer and are inexplicably tired. Eventually Angie’s parents cut off her contact with friends and it was hard for me to talk to her or see her. At the time it didn’t make sense, but my adult brain suspects that she had been having a hard time with her treatment and energy levels. At last I was allowed to visit her and we listened to Peter Frampton’s song Do You Feel Like We Do, over and over, and talked about the boy I liked and had recently kissed for the first time. I felt terrible that no boy was calling her, and I realized that she would never feel a boy’s lips against hers in that urgent teenage passion. She still glowed with excitement at the thought of a cute boy. She relished my stories as if they were hers, and never cried for herself. She taught me in that moment what real friends do. They rejoice in each other’s experiences with no thought of their own misfortune. I noticed that she kept scratching at her temple in an irritated fashion and I asked her if she wanted to take off her wig. That wig was damn ugly and it fit her terribly. It was a cheap black short haired puffy thing that made her look small and positively pasty. She said yes that she wanted to take the itchy thing off and her big doe brown eyes flashed insecurity, fear, and relief at the same time. She had not removed it in front of anyone. She trusted me and reached up and slipped off her wig with a tiny smile and I tried not to gasp at her bald head, edged with long wispy hair around the bottom where it was stubborn. I told her she was beautiful and that I loved her. She relaxed when I held her hand and I transferred my warmth to her cold fingers. She felt more comfortable and we just sat together for a while, changed. Her mom made me leave after a little while. Peter was tired of repeating himself and Angie was tired. She was already asleep when I turned around at her door to say goodbye.
When she died I found out in the hallway at school from someone; I don’t even remember who it was. The loss overwhelmed me and I passed out right there on the cold linoleum before first period class. Her funeral was my first funeral. She was adorned in a peach nightdress beaded with translucent pearls. It was the most beautiful nightgown I have ever seen, even to this day. She simply looked asleep, like an angel in a cheap black wig. I went to the visitation and stayed a very long time alone with her. There was an air vent directly over her casket and it rustled her gown from time to time, making it look like she was breathing. When she was buried I watched them lower her into the ground and believed she was still breathing. It took me a very long time to overcome this image, but today I have reconciled it to the fact that she is still very much alive in the spirit and in my memory. She taught me what it is to be a really great girlfriend, and that when you tell someone you love them, if you really mean it, it is always worth the risk. She is forever someone I love in the present tense, forever 14, and forever a woman I will grow old with.