Did I ever show y’all the painting Jason Waskey, my dear friend who happens to be kind of an amazing artist, did for me? I commissioned the piece for Kim’s 31st birthday, which was on April 30th. You remember the unicorn and the narwhal, right? Or brave, plastic cancer fighters with the battle horns? I showed them to Ole Jasers and he took the narwhal and made the most beautiful painting I’ve ever seen:
Kim loved it. She immediately hung it on the wall in our entry way, so we would see it every time we came home and every time before leaving. It was a constant reminder of her bravery, her humor, and the importance of believing in magic.
This past weekend was full of more transitions and hurdles. Saturday night was Kim’s memorial service at Grand Central Bakery, the famous bakery in Pioneer Square where she worked for years creating delicious soups. To be honest, I was dreading it and I could not figure out why. So I mustered my bravery and focused on my love for Kim and put on my most colorful dress and bright green sweater and stuck a red flower in my hair. When we arrived, I realized why I didn’t want to be there. The place was filling up with so many people who loved Kim and they were all sharing stories born in years of friendship. That’s when it hit me: I’m jealous. My friendship with Kim existed solely in the realm of her cancer. I never really got to know her before words like Stage IV, terminal, chemo, radiation, embolism, and hospice entered the picture. I didn’t even get a year with her. And I’m having moments where I feel sorry for myself, where I focus on how unfair this all seems.
But then I talked to her mother. And we were both saying how unfair it is that she died and jerks get to live and how we can’t understand this disease and I told her how sad I was I only got barely a year to know Kim. And then I realized — Kim’s mom only got 31 years with her daughter and THAT isn’t fair at all. She should never have had to see her daughter die. And I told her that and told her sorry I am. And then we cried.
I planned long ago to go out with my friends after the memorial. The Facebook event was called Many Drinks. My chosen family circled around me and we headed off to a bar in West Seattle where we toasted Kim with tequila shots and pineapple juice chasers. One shot. Then another. Then another. Then a fourth.
So here’s the funny part. I’ve only had good experiences when I’m drinking. I’m a cheerful drunk, y’all. Happy. Hilarious. A little stumbly. That’s why I planned the night of many many much drinking. I assumed it would cheer me up. So imagine my SHOCK when, over the remnants of tequila and pizza, I started SOBBING. It hit me so fast and I could. Not. Stop. Then my friends and I had this conversation:
Me: I (sob) don’t (sob) understand why this (sob) is HAPPENING! (SOB)
Them: Um, we’ve all kind of been waiting for this to happen.
Me: What? (sob) Why?
Them: Because you’ve been through so much lately!
Me: I know that! But I’m usually (sob) such a happy drunk! I didn’t expect (sob) to cry like this!
Them: Alida. Alcohol is a depressant and also intensifies whatever mood you’re in.
Me: WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME?? I DO NOT REMEMBER THIS FROM D.A.R.E.!
So Betty Nebraska walked me outside and we stood in the cool night air, me hunched over and sobbing, and her stroking my hair.
Me: I don’t like that this is happening!
Her: I know. I promise it’ll feel more okay soon.
Me: Not that. All these strangers.
Her: It’s okay to cry in front of strangers.
Me: Nu-uh. They think I’m crying over a BOY! (SOB!)
Because even in that moment, when I was feeling Kim’s death in such a raw way, I was indignant that people would think I was the girl in the bar crying over a boy. I’m 30 and I have NEVER been the girl in the bar crying over a boy. Which, apparently, is very important to me.
We walked back to Betty and Bowie’s house, ate ice cream and played inappropriate Jenga, which always makes everything better. I chugged some water, took some Advil, and went to bed feeling drained, thankful for my chosen family, and sad.
The next morning I woke up hangover-free and ready to move. Betty and KD and I picked up the U-Haul and people came over at 10am to help us move. I had 14 people helping us move, y’all. My friends are maybe the most incredibly generous people in the world. With so many helping hands, we had the truck loaded, driven to the new house, and unloaded in just over an hour and 15 minutes.
After brunch and a few more errands, my roommate and I returned to our new house, ready to begin the process of turning a house into our home. We agreed to start on our own rooms and deal with the common areas later. So of course we flopped onto the couch and didn’t move for 10 minutes. Then Yale mentioned she had a painting that would look nice on the wall opposite us, so she found it and we hung it. Then we realized we had another piece of art that would look perfect on the wall behind us, so we hung that. And before we realized what was happening, we were hanging art all over the living room and kitchen.
And that’s when I knew it was time. I started looking for a certain box, a small, carefully-packed box that held some items that have become very dear to me. I found it in my room and brought it out into the living room. Gingerly, we opened it and unwrapped the painting inside. Without a word, while tears filled our eyes, we hammered a nail into a wall and gently hung the painting of the Narwhal.
As Yale and I work to make our home a sanctuary, The Narwhal on the Wall will be a reminder of many things — the fragility of life, the importance of fighting, of bravery, of friendship, and of love. It’s going to take a long time to find my words about what it was like, watching her accept her diagnosis, fight, and then accept that her fight was ending. Until then, the Narwhal on the Wall will remind me that she was in my life, that I got to know her, that I got to experience this with her, and that life moves on more quickly than I ever realized. And, above everything else, the Narwhal on the Wall reminds me of Kim. As I process the sadness of the last few months, the good memories will begin to surface. And someday, with time, the good memories will outnumber the sad ones. The grief will turn into healing and the things I learned from Kim will stay with me forever.
As will the Narwhal on the Wall.