In some cultures, it’s common to refer to the paths ours lives take as “threads.” It’s such an interesting comparison to make, because threads have so many different qualities that make them unique. Threads can be many different colors and sizes, and combine fabrics to make something that’s so much larger the sum of its parts. Unfortunately though, like threads, lives can be cut short, and sometimes, threads can be stretched taut until they snap.
I met Carrie in my third year of college. She was in one of my general education classes. Despite our majors being substantively different, our threads still intermingled. It’s weird how that works, and kind of beautiful in the grand scheme of things.
We didn’t sit next to each other, nor would we probably have ever talked, but we got paired up for a group project by our teacher and ended up hitting it off remarkably fast. The reason our teacher paired us? Both our last names started with “L.”
Carrie’s family owned a small textile company somewhere in the eastern U.S. that produced some kind of old-fashioned, high quality fabrics. She was expected to go into the family business, but was majoring in a STEM field because, as she said, she simply lacked the interest. I found it fascinating that she wanted to turn down the inheritance of a successful company business to go off and do her own thing, but that quality was what initially drew me to her. Carrie knew what she wanted and was willing to work through every obstacle in her way to achieve it. Simply calling her “driven” almost didn’t seem like enough.
Me? I was going for a career in journalism. The art of writing, I guess. Quite different from Carrie’s biology major, and yet, we found so many similarities between ourselves. The way she could describe cellular functions was poetic, which was remarkable in that she understood her passion well enough to explain it beautifully in layman’s terms to someone like me, a person whose scientific knowledge started in my 7th grade life science class and ended in my 8th grade earth science class. It’s funny, really, remembering her expression when I stared stupidly back at her during bar trivia the first time she realized how truly lacking my knowledge of science was. She guessed – correctly, I might add – the answer to a question, “mitochondria,” and spent the next ten minutes explaining to me things I probably should’ve remembered from 10th grade, but totally either forgot or blocked out.
The weird thing though, was the joy that radiated from her eyes, her tone, the way she sparkled when she spoke about what she loved. I couldn’t care too much less about eukaryotic cells, but I could’ve listened to her speak vividly about them all night. She lit up so brightly when she got to talk about that stuff.
Carrie and I were friends for only a few weeks before we started dating. I say “only” a few weeks because I never moved quickly into relationships. The beginning of my first year in college, I spent so much time writing and submitting articles and columns to various sites, magazines, and papers that I literally ruined a budding relationship that I’d put a couple of months of work into by that point. The same thing happened again at the end of my first year, so I just sort of swore it off unless it seemed like it could be a casual thing. I was really focused on breaking into the career I’d always dreamed about, and for some reason, finally seeing that focus in someone else made me appreciate Carrie all that much more.
We both knew immediately that our time together would be limited as we approached mid-terms that semester, but that was fine. I really didn’t consider anything about our relationship “casual,” and yet, I was supposed to have sworn that off. I guess I found it really hard to have found something so special in someone, and yet have to not let fate take its course. Our threads had met and intertwined, and I didn’t want them to drift apart. That I was sure of.
Mid-terms came and went, and our time together was stretched thin, but even just meeting for lunch or walking her across campus to her dorm in the evening was enough. I was in it for the long-haul, and if seeing Carrie infrequently now was what it took to see her more frequently at some undisclosed point in the future, then I was up for it. Seeing her smiling face, hearing her laugh and gentle whispers of “I love you” when we parted for the day, I knew the feeling was mutual. There was no need to confirm, no need to bring up pointless things. Carrie’s thread and mine might as well have been one.
Every once in a while, Carrie visited her parents and fell off the face of the earth for a day or two. She always told me ahead of time and blamed her lack of communication on spotty cell coverage in her home town, compounded upon her parents’ requests of family time. I didn’t mind, of course, it was just another thing that kept us apart.
My senior year was spent searching for an internship, and subsequently pouring my time into the one I found. It was exhaustively time-consuming. Every time I opened up my word processing software, I thought about how much more I wished I could be texting Carrie. It was a daily struggle to be responsible, and every once in a while, I could tell it was for her too. I think we both did pretty well in hiding just how much we wanted to spend more time together, but there were times I really got depressed about it. I don’t think Carrie ever noticed, because as soon as I saw her, those negative feelings evaporated.
I don’t think it ever affected my studies. In fact, it might’ve even helped. I knew that failure in my classes meant repeating them, which meant more time spent with books and Microsoft Word instead of Carrie. That was something that really kept me going sometimes.
A month before we were set to graduate, Carrie started acting weird. Or, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I started noticing that Carrie was acting weird. Not in a suspicious way, but it was still very concerning. I must’ve asked her twenty times what was bothering her, but over and over, she assured me that nothing was wrong. I couldn’t figure out why she was lying to me, and I knew that’s exactly what her assurances were. Carrie had never lied to me in such an obvious way, and I wasn’t sure how to confront her about it. It was such a blatant shift in her character, yet I didn’t for a second suspect her of any wrongdoing. I figured maybe the exhaustion from finishing up finals and college coming to a close had finally begun to take its toll, as she certainly had begun looking a little more fatigued than usual.
The day before graduation, Carrie stopped responding to my texts and calls. The next day, her name was called and she wasn’t there to walk across the stage. I was there, and I heard my name being called, but I distinctly remember feeling like I was somewhere else. I shook the dean’s hand and accepted my diploma, but my mind was with Carrie. I’d asked her friends, I’d left messages on her Facebook and Twitter; I literally didn’t know where else to turn. She’d just up and disappeared.
Two days later, Carrie finally responded to my texts. By then, I was a wreck. I’d called the police, but they apparently don’t take 21-year olds looking for their missing girlfriends very seriously. The night before she finally responded, I’d cried myself to sleep and ended up waking up with a fever. I had literally worried myself sick.
Carrie’s reply was simple in its devastation. “We need to talk.” I expected what I thought was the worst, which in retrospect, didn’t make much sense. In fact, looking back, the conclusion that I jumped to almost seems narcissistic. I thought she wanted to break up with me. I thought it was so awkward and embarrassing for her that she’d skipped her own college graduation.
In actuality, when I showed up to Carrie’s apartment that day, her family was there. I didn’t understand why she’d ask to meet me with them present. After all, it was the first time I’d met her parents and her younger sister.
And it’s when I learned Carrie was dying.
Carrie smiled at me when she broke the news. She’d known for a long time, and she’d kept it from me, and from all of her friends. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t know how to react, so I just blankly stared at her as she explained. Carrie had been sick for a long time, but she was fine most of the time up until now. Those times she’d disappeared on “visits to her parents’ house,” she was actually in doctors’ offices and hospitals getting various tests and studies done. But nothing had ever helped, and her diagnosis was a fatal one.
She didn’t want me to worry, so she’d never told me. I didn’t – and to this day still don’t – fully understand why she would’ve thought keeping that from me was a good idea. It was maybe even a little cruel, despite her circumstances, but as the pieces began to fall into place, I finally understood why she was so driven. She knew that she didn’t have a future, so the family business was out of the question. Instead, she hoped to be able to find answers to her own body’s malfunction by majoring in something entirely different.
As I broke down, Carrie smiled sweetly and apologized for keeping her condition from me, but my head was too far into a down-spiral of melancholy thoughts. What was wrong with her was very unpredictable, and though she’d originally been given another couple of years, the diagnosis had recently changed when the condition became more aggressive, and she took a turn for the worse. Doctors were only giving her a few months at that point, maybe half a year if she was lucky.
It wasn’t fair that Carrie’s thread was so short. We’d formed such an amazing bond, I just couldn’t imagine life without her. Yet, four months later, I didn’t have a choice. I watched her silently slip away, and personally bore witness to her thread coming to an end; to the parting of hers from mine. To say that I was broken up about it would be an understatement, but I suppose you could expect as much. The girl I thought I’d spend my life with was taken from me, after all. I couldn’t write for a long time, but when I finally picked it back up many months later, stories started coming to me more easily than worldly observations.
I carry her memory with me even now, 6 years later. The beginning of my first novel, just before the first chapter, contains a very simple memorial to her, and I couldn’t have been prouder that so many thousands of people had read those words: “For Carrie, whose thread was cut so short, despite all of the promise she brought to the world and to me.”