On October 28th, my best friend would have turned 30. We had always dreamed of our children having playdates and us having wine nights together, but life had a different plan in store.
In honor of Nicole's life and in spirit of rediscovering the lost writing from the past nine months, here are a few stories about her. The first is a recollection of snowpea and me visiting Nicole's grave in September and the second is a snapshot of her life and legacy shared on the second anniversary of her passing.
I wasn’t sure which flowers to buy — would daisies be too cheerful? But they matched our summer dresses, so I went with my gut.
I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t visited since her funeral. I had been in and out of my hometown all summer and today was my last chance before giving birth, so I went for it.
I wasn’t sure if I could do it alone with snowpea. How would she act in a cemetery? Would she try to pick other people’s flowers or run through the graves? What questions would she ask and how would I know how to answer?
She wasn’t wild but solemn as we walked through the cemetery. She held onto her stuffed monkey and slowly danced him across the grass.
I explained to her we were visiting mommy’s friend’s grave.
“Grave?” She sounded out the word.
“Like the ones next to our house. We’re going to celebrate her.”
I wasn’t sure where to find her, so we walked and walked, clutching tightly onto our bouquet and monkey. The day was bright but we were almost alone, free to wander and explore.
“Here!” I exclaimed after close to an hour of slow meandering back and forth between the plots.
“Hooray!” snowpea squealed. “Found it!”
I promised her she could take the bouquet when we arrived and she happily accepted, placing it just so in its spot.
“There,” she said, satisfied, standing the flowers upright.
Jack Johnson sang through my phone and I scooped snowpea up to dance. I may still be unfamiliar with cemetery etiquette, but finally I knew exactly what we were doing here. I beamed a smile, knowing Nicole would have been so happy to see snowpea, me, and my belly, all dressed up with daisies, dancing in the sun.
After the song was done, we made the short trek back to our car. “People’s graves,” snowpea said, observing the stones and flowers around her.
“Mhmm, in the cemetery. Where we come to sing and dance and laugh and cry and celebrate them.”
“Haha! Wah!” snowpea said jovially, and I nodded to her, admiring her understanding that tears and laughter could coexist.
At 7, we sat together in hard-backed school desks doodling shooting stars. I remember the day your dad came to school to play guitar. When he sang “You Are My Sunshine”, I couldn’t help but look up from my artwork of tiny hearts, wondering what it must be like to grow up without a mom to braid your hair or pack you peanut butter and jelly. You were too young to be alone, but you said your daddy was there for you.
At 14, we sat in hidden nooks of a bookstore tracing our fingers across titles with happy endings. We wanted lives of adventure, stories worth telling, but mostly, we wanted to feel free. I remember the spring break we made a picnic of vodka and pink lemonade. That night, we sat together in the backseat of a cop car — you in tears, me dead-faced but vibrating inside. We were too young to throw our lives away, and your dad let you hear it when he came for you in his pickup truck.
At 18, I lost you. We were too old to sneak out, steal makeup samples, or fear small-town mall cops. Your tone was hazy and your eyes were far away when we talked. I wondered if this was what it meant to “drift apart”.
At 24, you lost your dad. I waited days to hear from you after you wrote “I’ll see you in heaven” on your Facebook wall. I was waiting in the terminal for a flight to Myanmar when you told me you had gone off the grid for a while but were doing okay. You were too young to be an orphan.
At 26, I saw you one last time. We sat together on your sofa, roughed up and gnawed on by your tiny dog. You had always asked me in high school if I wanted to try your dad’s weed, and one last time, you asked me if I wanted to smoke. One last time, I said no, and instead you made tea. You drove me to the airport before sunrise, speeding because we were late. You were paranoid cop cars were following you, and I couldn’t understand why. We weren’t high. (Were you?)
At 28, I went to your funeral in my hometown. They played “Banana Pancakes” on a Bluetooth speaker and placed your ashes beside your dad’s. I couldn’t cry in public and felt ashamed. But my baby girl danced in the grass and I could imagine you looking down through the sunshine and squealing, "Aww!" The ceremony came a year too late, and we can blame the pandemic for that.
At 30, I’m too young to have lost my best friend and I still mourn the memories we’ll never have together — how can I ever have a wedding without you as my bridesmaid? Or smell chocolate chip cookies without thinking of you? I still grieve the fact that you'll be young forever and I'll grow old without you. But I’m wise enough now to know how lucky I was to have had you as my best friend forever, the angel and devil on my shoulder, and my eternal partner in crime.