She told me once that there was always a cloud over her head; that she might as well carry an umbrella around just in case the downpour started when she wasn’t prepared for it. It was a poetic way for her to describe her sadness. It was a terrible thing for her to live through though.
I’d had no clue before she said something. It made me feel like an awful friend. Like I’d let her down by not noticing; like I seemingly didn’t even care. Of course I cared, though. She knew I did, but being a guy, sometimes it took me longer to notice those sorts of things.
It was honestly pretty weird that she was as cheerful as she was. She walked around with this smile that she had to have forced. Maybe she was hiding it; maybe it was a mask, but it seemed so genuine that it hurt me to think that I’d ever felt sorry for myself if she could manage a real smile through everything she’d been through.
As a child, she lost her mom in a pedestrian/vehicle accident. She told me about it once without very much detail. I could tell it hurt her to think about it, so I didn’t press for more information than she was willing to voluntarily provide, but it was the kind of accident that violently ripped a loving mother from her five year old daughter and her husband of only six years. I don’t know how her dad carried on. I can’t even imagine having to go to the hospital to identify your wife as she lay mangled and dead from being slammed by two tons of steel and plastic and aluminum moving at 50 miles per hour.
Somehow, though, that man made it through everything. Raised his daughter by himself. Made a good life for her. But, his one mistake was taking up smoking to cope with the loss of his wife. It would kill him 20 years later, just weeks after his wife had died years earlier.
She didn’t tell me that she had any other family, but I knew she was an only child, and I knew her parents were gone, so I assumed she was alone in the world. Maybe she had some some aunts and uncles. Maybe some grandparents. But none of that replaced her parents, and understandably so.
Yet, she managed to wear that smile, day after day, like it was her job; like it was the one thing from keeping her world from collapsing on itself.
And then, as if the world had to pry with a knife at her open wounds, her best friend of the past 12 years was hospitalized with a rare heart disease and little chance of survival.
I wanted so much to make it better for her. The world had already taken so much from her and for it to keep on taking…well, it hurt for me to think about, and I wasn’t even in her shoes. I couldn’t even imagine losing the things she’d lost. Carrying on after all of that may have seemed like more trouble than it was worth.
It was for that reason that I was with her as often as I was. I knew that the world could be a wonderful place even if it took a shit on you every once in a while, and I tried my best to pass that on to her with simple jokes and friendly smiles that I hoped would get that point across.
Usually, I considered her my best friend. Sometimes I thought she might mean more to me than that, but something in her eyes always kept me from saying anything. I think it was her intense fear that anyone that got too close to her would share the fate that her parents and friend had suffered. She didn’t want boyfriends, she didn’t even call me her best friend, even though I knew I was.
But that was okay. I didn’t mind, because despite what she’d been through, she was still in one piece, and she was still my friend. And sometimes you just need a friend to lean on.