Saturday, 4 May 2013

Personal Essay: Don't think twice, it's all right



I have always wanted to be more like Elizabeth Walker. We met at 82 Queen, and I remember when we first officially hung out outside of work. It was her 21st birthday: February 9, 2000. In between the 21 shots she would consume, E blurted out her number to me that night, and it was etched in my brain from that point forward. I don’t know why, but those seven digits just stuck. Not the simplest one to recall but I somehow always did, which we always thought funny.

That night her infectious laughter and mission to make life as fun as possible became part of me forever. I had no idea how meaningful it would be later on, to be able to recall so many details about Elizabeth and our friendship. Little things I remember her doing and saying have become part of my makeup and the solution to keeping her alive in my everyday life.

After losing one of my most cherished friends on this planet to cancer seven months ago, it all seemed unbearable. And now as time passes, I miss her more and more, and it seems even more impossible that she’s not here. Perhaps sometimes it feels like she’s up in Manhattan living her life still, and is just too busy living it up to keep in touch. And though forgetting her friends (her family) was never, ever her way, maybe that helps me to put one foot in front of the other. But there are small things I remember her doing or saying that will always keep me satiated, too. I feel healthier, stronger, and happier with her little voice in my head advising me along in life. And doing these small things will help remind me that she will always be around, and knowing this will sometimes keep the tears at bay.

Take yesterday, for instance. I got up early, remembering also that she liked to get up early and chill out, taking her time getting ready for work. She liked to scramble eggs with veggies and watch the Today show before she left. I realize that this is why I now do the same. Another What Would E Do moment. I even drink the same coffee we drank in her Hell’s Kitchen studio, bought specifically in and sent to her from our friend in Charleston. We called it ‘crack coffee’ because I could run no less than 10Ks on the stuff, and I love remembering that this became a joke between us.

So she’s a part of my mornings now. And since her mother passed on to me a lot of her nice makeup, she gets to stay with me all day, too. I can hear her now raving to me about a great Bare Minerals mascara as we perused the 34th Street shop after one of her chemo treatments; and I remember our walks through Sephora—she, a kid in a candy store and I, simply in awe of her excitement. As usual, she passed on her enthusiasm to me in that store and other makeup counters where I’d be otherwise indifferent. She was really so beautiful without makeup but the way she would light up when finding a new eyeshadow—well, you couldn't argue with that.

Yesterday, I went to Trader Joe’s for a minute, and once inside I remembered coming to visit Elizabeth in New York for a weekend. I arrived to her announcement that she had especially gone to Trader Joe’s for some wine to celebrate my visit and to take the edge off after my long journey from Scotland, where I’d lived on and off for six years. I knew it wasn’t a short journey for her either, getting to Lincoln Square from the West 51st, and I always treasured this sweet gesture, even still as I buy my own wine in Trader Joe’s years later.

And then, I stopped at Whole Foods for some cooking oil. I passed through the breakfast section and saw that 365 house brand on a cereal box I distinctly remember E keeping in her apartment, bought from the Columbus Circle location where she regularly shopped. I stood there staring as if it were too much to see her cereal box in this store. I concentrated on the memory so hard, as if doing so would transport me back to living and laughing with her three years ago when nothing could touch us.

Food shopping always reminds me of E, and I try to listen for her old advice so I can replicate her healthy ways. Should I want something sweet, I remember that she told me to put grapes or bananas in the freezer. I did that last night, wondering if she could see me and imagining she was giving me the thumbs up. If I want an easy and healthy lunch to take to work, I remember she’d take a can of tuna and a salad. And if I want some fries—our favorite— I remember her joking, “If we keep this up, we’re gonna have to resort to a diet of lettuce and mustard!”

And then at the gym last night, I was so tired. But I remembered how long E would spend at the gym, and I made sure to stick it out. Whenever I’m not feeling it, I suck it up and try to get in another mile, knowing that it’s for her. She never took for granted that she was alive and healthy. She was always alive as could be. She pushed herself to complete the NYC half marathon a few years ago, and then qualified in 2010 for the 2011 marathon that she never ran because of her diagnosis. So now I run for her, because that is what she would love to be doing if only she were still here.

Her absence is a change I will never get used to, but I hope to cope with it better as she continues to teach me more and more about life and how to enjoy it and prolong it. I remember when she changed her number from that Charleston number. It was four years ago, and it was surprisingly distressing for many who, like myself, had grown attached to those reliable digits. But she was ready to embrace her life as a New Yorker and get her new number, never afraid to shake things up a little and teaching me yet another lesson that would (who knew?) help me through these hard days without her: You can disagree with change and fight it tooth and nail, and though it may be absolutely none of your business to ever understand it, there comes a time when you have to trust that this is how it has to be, and that everything will be just fine. Eventually.

I miss you so much, E. I know you'll be with us tonight, and even if Bob doesn't sing your anthem, I promise that we will: Don't think twice, it's all right.

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