This is the only picture that exists of us. It’s fitting, if you think about it. Our friendship was short; full, but incredibly short. Everything felt rushed because everything happened so quickly. We met in July 2010. Her cancer came back in September. It was in her liver by January. She died on July 3rd, 2011.

We celebrated many things, once. Halloween, once. My birthday, once. Her birthday, once. Christmas, once. Life, once. Then death, once. A lifetime worth of milestones in just a few short months.

On July 1st, I crawled into bed with her. She was leaving the next morning for California and I knew I would never see her again. She knew. Everybody knew but nobody was saying anything. So I crawled into bed with her and we linked our pinkies and let the silence swirl around us.

Eventually, I looked over and noticed she was crying. Then I noticed I was crying too. Then I found my words.

“I love you.”

“I love YOU.”

“I am going to miss you every day.”

“I am going to miss you too.”

“I’m scared.”

“So am I.”

“Thank you for inviting me to live with you.”

“I’m sorry for how things turned out.”

“So am I. But you know what? I am so glad I lived with you. If I had this whole year to do over, I would choose to be with you again in a heartbeat. Because you changed my life and I am better because of you. You are the bravest person I know. I am going to miss you all the time.”

“I love you. I’m scared.”

“Me too. I love you so much.”

She said more words but I have trouble remembering them. Maybe I’m just not ready to remember them. Maybe a lot of things.

I don’t know how long I stayed on the bed with her. Forcing myself to stand up, to kiss her forehead and leave the room was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. In my life, ever. I wanted time to stop and if I could have figured out how to make it happen, I would have existed forever in our sad little bubble on her bed. Instead, I told myself to count to three, kiss her forehead, and walk away. And I did. I walked out of her room, down the stairs, out of the house, down the street, and into the wooded trails near our house. I found a spot on the dirt, by the stream, and finally stopped walking. I collapsed and cried and cried and cried until I thought I would turn inside out and dissolve into the moss and mud.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the day we lost her. I’m still sad. I’m still angry. And I am still constantly surprised by how raw it feels, all the time, this space in which she used to exist, this space I now carry with me.

There is no optimistic message in this post. I’m sorry. I don’t have any stupid musings about how I’m a better person, or about being aware of the good things that have come from this. All I have is an overwhelming sense of sadness about how unfair this all is. I should have more than one picture of us. I should have gotten more than a bunch of Once celebrations. She should have gotten to see her dreams come true. We should have gotten more time.

I don’t know how to do this.

I can feel my heart.