It is 2:45 pm on July 2nd. I have 90 minutes left to write a memory about my friend Kim, and still make it to the FedEx box before the last pick-up of the day.
I could have mailed it. But I waited too long. So now it’s down to the wire. This has to be finished in time to make it to North Dakota for a memorial that I can’t attend. A memorial that I thought was a month earlier. And none of this feels real.
I’m going to go back in time, 40 years ago, to when I first met Kim in Great Falls, Montana. Neither of us was from Montana, and neither of us had lived there very long. We were both different… rebels who did not follow the crowd. And we liked to laugh. In all the memories swirling around my head of our time together, her laughter bubbles to the top. I find myself smiling as I realize I can’t share most of our stories from that time. We were trouble. But one very shareable story stands out.
My parents were members of a very large, prestigious Presbyterian church. For Halloween, they chose to have a “Fall Festival” in their basement. I volunteered to run a booth, and for whatever reason, they allowed me to choose any type of booth I wanted. For reasons equally mysterious, I decided to have a Kissing Booth, and I asked Kim to help me run it. She eagerly accepted. We created our booth by installing a large poster board covered in glitter and red kisses (imagine two 15 year old girls spending a night slathering lipstick on and then leaning over to kiss a poster…without a teenage idol’s picture… repeatedly). “Test Your Pucker Power!” it stated. “Choose your favorite flavor of lip gloss” it coaxed. Then we picked cute outfits, hats, scarves and blazers, and I loaned her a sweater. We put on way too much makeup, added extra lip gloss, and headed down to the festival for some kissing fun!
It didn’t take long to realize we had not chosen the best booth for the age group in attendance. We sat in our corner, watching well-dressed men and women in their 70’s, 80’s and up stroll from booth to booth. Eventually, a tiny woman who looked like she could have been Tinkerbelle’s great grandmother approached us. She had a twinkle in her eye and sweetly complimented our booth. Then she added, “Well, I think I would like a kiss!” Kim and I both obliged and left perfect red lipstick kisses on her cheeks. She giggled and wandered off. We laughed. She was our only customer the entire night. Technically, the booth was a flop. But I cherish that memory. It comes with one of only two photographs I have of Kim from that time. Back when there were no cell phones. The other picture is her wallet-size school photo. The kind kids would sign the back and trade each year. Her words are still on the back of mine, and I treasure it.
We shared a lot of experiences that year. And then she moved away. Three years later, I graduated and moved to Texas for college. Five years later, my ex-husband destroyed my address book and I lost all track of Kim.
Over the next ten years I searched for her, until a mutual friend reminded me how sick she had been in high school with diabetes, and gently suggested she may have passed away. I didn’t want to believe him. Ten more years of searching ended with the beginning of Facebook. When I couldn’t find her there, I gave up and mourned the loss.
Five years later, in 2014, I was on Facebook when I noticed a familiar name next to one of the comments on a friend’s post. Could it be? I was shaking as I typed a comment and friend-requested her. I typed in my phone number and shortly after, my phone RANG! A voice I hadn’t heard since 1982 was on the other end, and I began to sob. Kim had literally come back from the dead! We talked and laughed as if no time had passed (as best friends always do), and made plans to get together. We managed to get together a couple times in Texas, always promising and planning for future adventures. But work and family commitments, along with her health issues, kept us from making planned trips to California, Vegas and New York. I always assumed we would eventually get around to it.
Then four years later she called me. I found out we would not “eventually get around to it”. I remember sitting cross-legged in the middle of my bed holding the phone while the words hung in the air, suspended somewhere between North Dakota and Texas: Pancreatic Cancer. Stage Four. Terminal.
The doctors gave her 10 months.
That was nearly two years ago. The cancer, she knew, would take her eventually, but not without a fight. And that is what she did. Kim was a warrior and fought for time, and she used that time to cross the country, spending every moment she could with friends and family. Daily pictures of Kim embracing people filled my Facebook feed. I was lucky enough to get to spend some of those moments with her. At the hospital, at a friends house, at her brother’s house, or just eating out.
When I saw her for the first time after her diagnosis, I tried to be strong. After her doctors’ appointments, the entire family went out to eat. I sat at the end of the table and caught a glimpse of her hugging her dad. The situation hit me like a ton of bricks. I grabbed my napkin and tried to hide the tears. She noticed, and came up behind me and wrapped her arms around me and blew a raspberry into my neck. I cracked up laughing. The moment was captured on a short video by a friend across the table. I love that image so much! Shortly after dinner, she took me aside and told me that she needed me to keep her laughing. The last thing she wanted was another sad face looking at her. I made that promise. And, for the most part, I kept it.
In January, 2019, a girls trip to California was planned, and I was all in! I bought my plane tickets for February 18th–21st, and blocked out that time at work. A handful of days later, I made the discovery that the trip was happening JANUARY 18th-21st, and I would be in New York City during that time! I was devastated.
Then in March, she came to Dallas for a Bob Seger concert. That was almost the memory I chose to share. The concert was amazing, and she radiated love and happiness and energy. Friends created wonderful memories and strangers became friends. The memories of that concert and the meals shared after will last a lifetime.
I saw her for the last time this past January. We curled up together on a giant bed and talked and giggled as if we were teenagers having a sleepover. Texas gave us a gorgeous spring-like afternoon, and we decided to have lunch by the pool. We stuffed our faces and laughed and took pictures and got too much sun. Then we went back upstairs for a nap. The conversation took a more serious turn, and she talked about the cancer and about dying and then she cried. She was scared no one would remember her. I told her that was impossible. She was a force. Like no other force I’ve ever known.
I got sick that night and wasn’t able to see her the next day. I was out of town in February. Then the world turned upside down in March. Isolation was bad for everyone, but I imagine for Kim it was the absolute worst. For someone who spent all of her time hugging people, it must have been unbearable. The last text conversation we had was April 27th, and she left this world 3 weeks later.
I got word that there would be a memorial for her on June 18th. I began to plan a road trip to North Dakota in the middle of a pandemic. Life took another quick turn, and I ended up out of town during that week. I had meant to write a memory to send to Maddie, Kim’s daughter, for the 18th, but I hadn’t gotten around to it. When it comes to writing, I am not normally a procrastinator. This was strange. I sent Maddie a text on the morning of the 18th, apologizing for not being there, and promising to write a memory… when I realized that I had the dates of the memorial wrong. The memorial, it turns out, was set for JULY 18th. Somewhere, I know Kim was looking down at me and laughing her ass off.
So with the extra time to write this, why have I still procrastinated? I set aside time this morning to do it. Instead, I cleaned out two junk drawers and made sure all the food and water stations for the birds and cats were filled. Then I videotaped the birds. Then I videotaped the squirrels.
The squirrels! I was literally distracted by squirrels.
Last night, Alexa played “Main Street” by Bob Seger as I fell asleep. I felt sobs begin to bubble up in my chest, and I realized I hadn’t cried yet. Not really. I hadn’t mourned. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.
So before I began typing this, I thought about why. Was it because of the current pandemic? I was already isolated from everyone, so maybe this just felt like any other isolation.
But no, that was not the reason. It’s because I had already said goodbye to her once before. Mourned her death after searching for her for 20 years. When she came back into my life 6 years ago, it was a miracle. She literally came back to life. I just don’t think I’m ready to let that feeling go quite yet. I know if she was curled up on this bed with me right now, and I told her I was just going to hang out with the memories for awhile before I let myself get sad, she would completely understand.
Some time in the future, when I’m ready, I will pour a glass of wine and put on Bob Seger and let myself cry until I’m done. But for now, I’m not yet ready to let the sadness take over. Which means I’m probably not the best person to write a memory for a memorial right now.
In late February, I tucked a small decorative tile with a mermaid on it into the console of my truck. I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget it the next time I drove to Houston to see Kim. The mermaid never made it to Houston, so I am going to FedEx that, rather than a memory, to North Dakota.
And for now, I will let the memories continue to swirl in my head while her laughter bubbles to the top.