melissa and i met through, what was then, a mutual friend (mf). i met our mf at a heart of now workshop and we just clicked. mf founded the amazing organization, LEAD. i’m not sure when i first met melissa – i’m thinking it may have been knitting. mf, melissa, and i are all knitters, and mf wanted to get together for a knitting circle. i think that’s when i met melissa for the first time. either that or at mf’s birthday party. i have a picture of melissa and i on mf’s couch at that birthday party, and, i’m quite certain it is the only picture of us together. i also have a hat she made. well, melissa didn’t intend for the hat to be a hat, it was supposed to be a purse. she brought it to one of our knitting circles and was talking about how it didn’t come out right, how it seemed to be too small to be a purse. me being who i am, i took it from her and put it on my head. honestly she thought i was being ridiculous – wearing a purse for a hat, but it made for the perfect hat for me. okay, it was a little tight, but through the years that purse hat has stretched and it’s my warmest hat i have. i know it made her smile when is sent her a picture of me wearing her purse hat up at temple fork. i wore it because it’s my best winter hat, and because melissa made it.
so, melissa and i didn’t meet until less than a year before i moved to utah for school. the time we had in eugene together though – well, it cemented this friendship. we went through similar things with mf personally (not professionally). we spent a lot of time just processing what we both experienced because it was nothing like either of us had ever experienced before.
our friendship was one that seemed to be, well, separate sort of. it was this sweet sweet relationship that i had outside of my circle of friends. yes, melissa was a justice seeker, but she did it in other ways than i did.
once i left melissa remained present in my life. i remember going to eugene once and had an evening where i felt kicked out of the friend’s house i was staying at (i wasn’t kicked out, my friend had birth family from the east coast in and she wanted to spend time with them, just her and them). i went to a park feeling sorry for myself, feeling abandoned, feeling rejected. i called mel and she was home and my evening went from feeling dejected to reconnecting with my dear friend. melissa was just who i needed to see in that moment, only i didn’t know it until i called her.
the last time i was in eugene was 2008? i think. it was a long time ago, but melissa stayed present on the phone. she put me on her a-list, so she could talk to me without going over her minutes! i felt honored. sometimes we’d go months without talking, but when we did reconnect it really and truly was one of those moments where no time had passed. other than filling in a few details for context, there we were, her in dexter, me in logan, processing hard stuff, and laughing about the ridiculous. she was my grounding stone.
we tried to find ways to get together. she talked about coming out to logan, about she and her blessed daughter k coming to logan to go camping and playing in the outdoors and hanging with me and my cats. we talked about meeting half-way too. we just couldn’t get it to happen. we still talked on the phone, as much as we could.
in february 2010 i found out that my dad was dying of his cancer. i know that the first person i called in eugene was melissa. i kept it from a lot of others there. i don’t know why, it just felt better that way. melissa was my grounding person, the one i could call with my burdens who i knew i wasn’t adding to already held burdens. there was a seamlessness to our friendship that i can’t describe. during much of my life i didn’t have any friends, then in eugene i found some. i got blessed with my friends sue and jen, and melissa. i don’t love melissa anymore than sue and jen, but what made our friendship was a different recipe than what makes my relationships with sue and jen. i can’t explain it, except that it was seamless, easy, and we knew that we loved each other as much as dear friends can love each other.
so, feb 2010 my dad started his dying process. i think it was march that melissa was diagnosed with stage 1 cancer. that time is a blur, but i remember spending lots of time on the phone with her talking to her about her diagnosis and treatment and my father dying. it was surreal. then dad died, and soon melissa was declared NED. life was going back to what it was, only with her having healed a part of her that hadn’t healed (not physically). it was good for her to go through that stage 1, for the most part.
then october came. and she called and told me she was in the hospital. they got the tumor on her brainstem, but then she faced the news that her team of docs had for her – that she wouldn’t make it to june 2011. stupid doctors, did they not really understand who they were treating? i think it was good they told her that, because then she could prove them wrong. really, idiots. they were dealing with a woman stronger than they could imagine. luckily her beloved main oncologist, dr. garrett, knew who she was dealing with – even though dr. garrett seemed to believe this too. i know that dr. g also knew melissa’s strength.
of course when melissa was diagnosed the first time i questioned her docs. i didn’t do a lot of questioning though, because it was stage 1. my auntie s had dealt with stage 1. compared to my dad’s cancer, stage 1 is nothin’. my questioning changed when she got her stage 4b diagnosis. i questioned who this dr. garrett was. i questioned her abilities. mel knew i was doing this out of love. i wanted melissa to go to sloan kettering, because they’d given dad so much extra time. she didn’t want to travel that far though, she didn’t want to uproot her life, she didn’t want to cause havoc in k’s life. i also told her about huntsman, down in slc. i told her what my blessed friend j said in not so many words – that if mel came to salt lake that i wouldn’t be the only one here to help her. yeah, crazy mormons that i love and adore, willing to offer help to a hippie from dexter who they didn’t even know.
i was reassured about dr. g when i heard that k, who melissa said has an inherent mistrust of doctors, had given dr. g her approval. yeah, yeah, k was only 16, but she is a badass, and i figured if badass k trusted doc g, so would i.
of course melissa plowed right through june 2011. she had what she wanted – a summer with k. they had a good summer, from all i could tell over the phone lines. and, of course, she was pursuing treatments, and i was on the other end of the phone with my computer and my access to articles and my knowledge of tracking things down on the internet. i read about cancer. i talked to people here in logan, i emailed a cancer survivor friend in seattle. i did everything i could to support mel from utah, and she assured me that doing what i was doing meant that i was supporting her. of course, we not only talked about the particulars of cancer, we also talked about the emotional side. unlike my dad, i got to do that with mel. we spoke the same emotional language. we talked about death and dying, about support for k, about k going to college, about financial things and what she was doing to give k as much of a nest egg as possible if she died. she told me about buying a car for k. she told me about her trips to the beach, about going to nyc with k, she made me envious because so many people were surrounding her and she was spending time in parts of oregon that i missed. she was having a great time living it up.
things started going downhill this fall. i waffled a lot on whether to go. i finally realized i suck at death. i’m a chicken shit when it comes to death. i did everything i could to rationalize not going to see her. i stayed on the phone with her, oh yeah, but going to see her? that was too scary. luckily i could tell mel that, what i learned about myself. of course melissa was so understanding and she didn’t get mad at me. she did say she wanted to see me, i did know that, but she wasn’t mad.
i ended up being given a gift by another logan friend. she’d drive with me most of the way to eugene. i’d drop her off in hood river, go down to eugene for 2 days, see mel, and then drive back. we were supposed to go 2 weeks ago, but 2 weeks ago there was ice covering 84 through the gorge (columbia) and snow in utah and idaho. no thanks, especially that damn ice in the gorge.
we spent last week looking at the weather. it was looking good and i knew the trip was going to be a go. we finalized that on friday night (27th). logan friend and i were going on a road trip and i was gonna get to see mel, and JEN! and SUE! and eat tofu pate and go to my favorite used bookstore. i was gonna get to hold her hand, and look into her eyes, and she was gonna be patient with me as i told her how much i loved her. and i was gonna respect her boundaries and only tell her i loved her a few times, because, as she put it on the phone, she got it. i was packed, ready to go, and then the 1.34 call came. the trip was cancelled.
it’s monday. i have a dissertation to write, but that feels overwhelming. i emailed k and told her about a financial commitment i was making to her education. i told her how much her mother loved her. i told her what melissa told me, that she was the greatest gift that melissa ever got. i didn’t know how she’d respond, because, really, k doesn’t know me very well. i’m this friend from far away who doesn’t know the rest of mel’s circle.
now it was k’s turn to reassure me. k responded. she told me she knew how much i love(d) her mother. she told me her mother told her that i’d be there to support her, and that my email proved it. k really is a piece of her mother. k really is her mother’s daughter. k wants to stay in touch, and she accepted my financial offer for her future education. i need to respond to her email and let her know how much it means she wants to stay in touch, but i don’t want to sound needy. i need to be the adult. it just means so much to me that k will let me be a part of the circle that melissa set out to create to support k when melissa was gone. she was purposeful about this circle. she needed to know that there was going to be a circle of women that would be there for k. i told melissa i’d do anything i could. i told melissa that k was already in my will and would be until the day i die. i don’t know how much $ k will get when i die (not planning to anytime soon), but every dollar helps. including k in my will, doing what i can, and what k will let me, to support k is my way of honoring my sister-friend. this time the tables are turned – i’m a friend of the parent who has passed away, instead of the child of the parent. maybe i can offer things to k that friends of my father can offer me (even though i was 20 years older than k is now when my father died). mel and i were dear friends for a reason, we’re a lot a like, and i’ll do what i can to keep the side of melissa i knew alive for her daughter. it’s an honor to be able to hold that, and i don’t take the responsibility lightly.
i miss you melissa. i love you melissa. now i’ve done what i can to write the story of our friendship. i know there’s more, there’s always more, but i can’t remember it all, and to really have it written down, you’d have to write your story. you can’t, so, we’ll have to accept what we have. right? it’s about acceptance, as much as we hate acceptance sometimes, we really gotta accept so we can move forward.. not so we can move on, but so we can move forward while keeping the past close to our hearts.