When my sister emailed me the alarming news that her best friend had been hospitalized with a brain tumor last Friday I was horrified enough to stare at the two or three lines of text in her message, not knowing exactly what to write back. Not writer’s block. It was something much worse. It was as if I could feel her panic in each word she typed.
And yet I managed to respond that we often see young people recover from these things well enough. Soon enough, to take their lives back. I asked my sister please to tell her friend when she woke up at the hospital, after the surgery, that I wished her a quick and easy recovery. I told my sister I was going to be saying many Santo Anjos (that’s how we call the Guardian Angel prayer in Portuguese) as we always do, since we were little, and which my seven-year old nephew Arthur now says as well, before going to bed every night.
Gabrielle – Gabi – and my sister Aline have been friends since before Art’s age. Our parents built a house at the shore by Gabi’s grandparents’ home and the friendship that began in a summer vacation at some point in the 1970’s would last their entire lives. While my sister was fair and plump as a little girl, Gabi was skinny and darker. Whereas Aline and I as sisters over the years had our disagreements over different things, I can’t remember one single time where she and Gabi had a fight. They have always been soul mates in many ways.
We lost our grandparents and mom as the years passed. Gabi and her two sisters lost their own grandparents and dad. My sister went on to marry Gabi’s second cousin Andre, which only increased the intertwining of both our families. I can’t recall one birthday party since my nephew was born that was not attended by Gabi and occasionally her mother. To remember my sister’s childhood and teenage days at the beach house we so loved is to remember Gabi’s childhood – they were always together. If their professional choices took them to different schools and occupations years later, that never stopped them from being best friends.
And that’s why when Aline called me on Saturday, crying, to say her best friend had suffered brain hemorrhage, that the damage was just too massive and that she was not coming back, I felt like we both had crossed into a different dimension. A second type of reality where Gabi did not exist anymore. All I wanted was to get back to the other side, the good one, where healthy ladies in their forties don’t wake up in the morning for work, suffer a sudden dizziness and strong headache never to leave the hospital alive. Although the technical name for what happened to Gabrielle is death, I call these sudden passings disappearances. They are brutal. The only positive thing I can come up with is that Gabi never saw it coming and therefore never endured any physical or psychological agony. But for those around her, who like my sister had just talked on the phone with Gabi the prior evening, the shock is just too brutal.
I spent most of the Sunday afternoon in tears, imagining what my sister was going through, hoping she would call me at any moment to say a miracle had happened and that Gabi was out of danger. When she finally called it was late evening. They had decided to keep the machines on for another twelve hours at the hospital but there was no way around Gabi’s brain death. Aline spent most of the her Sunday between the hospital and Gabi’s condo, along with one Gabi’s sister’s, choosing clothes, shoes, jewelry, perfume for her viewing and funeral. She described Gabi’s daily book open over her desk, the nail polish and manicure tools on the table, waiting for her to return and put them away in the bathroom. Photos of my nephew Arthur all over the place. Aline described scenes of an interrupted life.
My husband said the biggest shock of losing someone of about our age and generation is that we are forced to face our own morality; it cuts deep. There may be some truth to that but the worse to me is the speed of how Gabi vanished. Too young and too good to leave so soon and so unexpectedly – no one had any chance to say good-bye. That’s what hurts so much. So many bad people should go first and free our world of their horrible presences – why should the good ones go so soon? My sister will grow old without her best friend now and my nephew will be denied the loving presence of someone who adored him.
This is an old song from and old band that may have broken apart years ago – I lost track of them; they were already old when I was a teenager. The Eagles. I think the name of the song is In a New York Minute:
You find somebody to love in this world
You gotta hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door.
One day they’re here
Next day they’re gone…