When the Tumor Took My Friend
Updated: May 18
When the tumor took my friend, I sat in silence for a long while before I cried.
I had known her almost nine years, and she was my very best friend. A little older than I, a few years and maybe one or two more. We were often mistaken for a couple. Not mistaken, of course, since we were a couple of friends close enough to share the quiet ideas, the secret thoughts. Those feelings slight and grand, always unspoken to others. Several times we were addressed as siblings, and as life left neither of us able to imagine such a relationship as healthy, the preposterousness always brought chuckle. I would see her husband and children during calendar events when the celebrations brought us to mingle. Most of our friendship, though, was spent with each other or our co-workers.
We shared tours and programs at a large museum, and it was something we loved, practicing our craft of melding, and welding connections into meaningful stories of the past. We didn’t think of it as work, never called it work.
We were classmates at the beginning. That’s what the nonprofit called the new people. It was difficult to qualify, to be chosen by the large, well-funded hierarchy enlisted to manage the telling of a family story. A family large and powerful enough to shape history, vs merely make it. The small classes opened with coveted infrequency, and many would drop out, as most of the first year was spent on study and preparation. As work so often offers bonds, our commitment to sharing period shaped accuracy in a manner to incite question and conversation brought us close in ways those who share the craft can explain.
We laughed together in the natural way of friends. Laughed in this ease from the first day. People talked sometimes, about the way we laughed. About our comfort. And my friend came to enjoy neighbors or gossiping acquaintance catching sight of us at lunch. She never created a scene, nor provided false fodder for the comedy. Well, maybe there was that one time when she knew the stalker and loosened her foot from sandal to rub against mine under the table.
Friends know you differently than lovers. In many ways, more intimately. My life partner is the woman my friend described as the companion most suited for my happiness. A woman she never met. Never knew. Yet she described her to me in uncanny detail.
We sometimes talked of the power of a friendship between a man and a woman without taking the steps towards sensuality. Neither definition nor conclusion was ever reached. Though another coffee or shared tiramisu was often ordered through continued exploration. There is a rare quality in the platonic nature of love. Too often portrayed as successful through restraint, the point is usually lost in rag ringing wash of two people holding back, afraid to cross the line to love.
In real life, at least in our life, there was never a line and that’s what made our connection so strong. Friendship was always the purpose. Discovering deeper meanings to the simple elements surrounding always moved our companionship forward.
If you live a museum life, you end up going to friends’ funerals. Museums have a wide range of ages involved, with the older or much older an essential part of the diversity. I always got along with the old and older, and became very close to several. Enduring their loss became a sad and familiar expectation.
My friend was too young to be taken, but that didn’t matter to the mass that grew inside her brain. There was nothing natural or foreseen in the rapid scythe of tissue and all that mattered.
Too often I remember my friend as part of a past story instead of a whole story. A story of the now. Her love still guides, sculpts my todays and tomorrows in her unspoken manner. I like to think the simple grace of our friendship sinks deeper into my unconscious motivations to continue with some type of decency.
Memories don’t come in tidy timelines. I always tire of those narratives where the character flashes back through perfectly sequenced detail. Memories come in jumbled messes. Short snips and snapshots and sometimes I can’t even remember when we last spoke, my friend and I. But I do recall the times. The times of life. The times of love.
And the time when the tumor took my friend. I sat in silence for a long while before I cried.
1. Title photo, Sandip Kalal, Unsplash.
2. Photo, Inga Gezalian, Unsplash
© Copyright William Hazel, 2023