This October 29th, I have but one birthday wish: to avoid throwing up.
I love this picture. Liz (at left, with our friend Jenny, aka Spike) is mugging over the birthday cake she made for me the day I turned twenty. I'd only been her friend for a short time, so the cake was completely unexpected. It was such a thoughtful thing to do--I didn't know yet that it was typical of her.
In 2007, the year I turned 36, I received a phone call from Liz. She lay in a hospital bed at Brigham & Women's Hospital in Boston, there for what everyone hoped was just the world's worst-ever case of pneumonia. In truth, her body was shutting down, wrecked beyond repair by cancer. Somehow, despite great physical and emotional pain, she summoned the energy to call me and ask how I was doing, since she knew this birthday would be the first one I'd celebrate since I fell out with my parents and sister. I was stunned.
Liz tried to be optimistic. She mentioned the possibility of chasing down a clinical trial somewhere and asked if I'd visit her at the Mayo Clinic. I said I would meet her anywhere. I kept my voice light and happy, but never in my life have I felt so afraid. The last words we spoke to one another were "I love you."
Matt and the kids took me out to Davanni's that night. The world's best hoagie tasted like cardboard. I went home and promptly threw it up. Liz died three weeks later.
Last year, in another emotional purging, I posted a long and painful piece on my old MySpace blog about the baffling behavior of my former best friend, a woman whom I once considered close as a sister. At some point, she decided that our friendship was over, without bothering to inform me. I couldn't help but contrast her coldness with Liz's warmth, with Liz's need to make sure I was feeling okay on my birthday even as she lay in the hospital, dying.
Matt and the kids bought me an ice cream cake and a bottle of wine. I devoured them both, and then, a few hours later, threw it all up.
A birthday is meant to celebrate the fact that you're alive. Since the year 2007, all I have felt on October 29 is grief, pain, and a sadness so deep it's physically intolerable.
So please, bear with me on Thursday. If I'm not smiling, it's because I'm holding all the vomit in.