Yesterday, an old friend of mine died. Katie Anne was not chronologically old––in fact, she was only 28––but she was a friend I hadn’t seen in years. We knew each other during a stay at a medical hospital in Long Island, fourteen years ago. We were both in for anorexia, and while I got better a few years down the line, she never did. I harbor a little guilt over my relationship with her, because at one point, back in the days when AIM was a thing, she used to message me out of the blue to tell me how bad off she was, and it sparked a lot of negative feelings in me (typical eating disordered combo of jealousy and threat and hopelessness, for herself and for me and for everyone I knew from the hospital) so I told her I couldn’t talk to her until she was doing better. One second later, I unceremoniously blocked her. And that was that for a few years.
And then after my book came out, she emailed me to ask if I remembered her and to say she had read and liked it, particularly because she recognized so many of the people in it. We emailed often, after that. She was totally adorable, peppering her emails with a million emojis, which was an endearing habit coming from her. She was so quick to prop me up if I wrote something even the smallest bit self-deprecating, which I took to come from an acute sensitivity to another person’s suffering, honed after years of suffering herself, and being surrounded by young women quick to point out their many perceived flaws. I knew she had struggled a lot and gone through many rounds of treatment in many different institutions––she even had a stint in a Christian facility that she said attempted to exorcise girls of their issues/demons––but she was always trying to be optimistic about it. “It’s been rough but I’m finally on the right path!” I guess I had convinced myself that though she wasn’t totally well, she was probably just on the edge of fine, at least health-wise. We were supposed to meet up for lunch once, but scheduling got in the way: she was moving to Florida, where things would be better, she was sure. She had fond memories of Florida, having spent some productive time in treatment there. And the weather! That was enough to make anyone want to move, she thought.
And then yesterday, my friend texted to tell me Katie Anne was dead.
I was just sitting down to get my eyebrows waxed, and I started to cry slightly and the aesthetician thought it was because of the pain, so I told her no, someone had passed away, and she hugged me. It would have been funny if it hadn’t been so depressing. When I got back to my house (er, flat), I just sat there screaming inside my head for a while. What bullshit. What absolute fucking bullshit that kind of death is. I made the mistake of mentioning it to a professional acquaintance I was emailing with, and she wrote back that she had her own battle with anorexia too and so she “understood” and could help if I needed it. Perhaps unfairly, I found it patronizing. I don’t need anyone to explain this to me. I know all about this.
I’ve written and thought a lot about the strange, inevitable machinations of grief, and how sometimes the things we say and do in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy can look weird and self-serving. I probably spent a good fifteen minutes staring through blurry eyes at the funeral home guestbook yesterday, trying to decide what I could write there that wouldn’t sound like I was thinking about this in terms of me, rather than in terms of her. It was a regressive instinct, actually, because I used to think the only appropriate way to grieve, unless it was for a close family member or a best friend, was to be silent, but now I know better. Now I know that if you are human, and you have lost someone, even if it wasn’t your spouse or your kid or your parent, doing nothing is really not an option. And so saying something, even if it sounds awkward, even if it is about your pain more than the person who is gone––that’s okay. Because we’re all hurting, and it has to get out, somehow.
Last night before I went to sleep I scrolled through some old emails Katie Anne and I exchanged, and I came across one in which she talked about all the things she wanted to do once she was really and truly better: have a family (that hurt like hell to read), finish school, and travel. I told her a few of the places I’d been, and she responded:
“I want to go to all those places! And more!!!! I actually have cousins in the south of Spain (costa del sol?) so I figure that would be a great excuse to visit and not have to worry about hotel expenses! You wanna come?!😉
I also want to go to San Fran, San Diego, Napa valley, Big Sur……and Texas, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, Florida….I love the Carolina’s! I’ve never been out of the county yet though:( except for Bahamas. I know it sounds so cliche but I want to travel all over Europe! Swiss alps, Italy, Ireland. And South Africa looks amazing as well!
Better start saving huh?! Adventure and traveling are the two things that keep me going when I’m having a rough time…”
This morning I woke up at the crack of dawn and flew to Paris with my husband for the long weekend. We took the train into the city from the airport, and I stopped off at a cafe near Notre Dame to have a coffee and eat some baguette. Morning was breaking––the air was warming up, commuters were rushing to catch the Metro, and those discordant European ambulance sirens could be heard over the low drone of traffic. I finished my coffee and looked out across the Seine toward the Right Bank. Seems pretty unfair that I am here and not her, but if it has to be that way, then: Katie Anne, this adventure is for you.