Elliana reached out by email after finding my contact information on an old high school graduation list she found posted online somewhere. Her email was titled Do You Remember Me?, so I clicked on it and immediately recognized the name. “I can’t believe I found you, or at least I hope it’s you,” she wrote. “I’d love to catch up.” I replied with a brief update on my life and enclosed my phone number.
When she called, it was all laughs and memories, a rekindling of a friendship that had once meant the world to us. And then we found ourselves wading through tragedy as we combed through a long list of people who we admired, who we expected would go on to live interesting lives, but had died instead in car accidents, from rare cancers, or as a way to escape depression.
“What about Isabelle? Have you heard from her?” I laughed, recalling the trouble we got ourselves into the time we were caught snooping in the teacher’s lounge. “The last time I saw her was senior year…”
“She went to Highlands?” Elliana interrupted.
“Not exactly. She was home schooled through their program though,” I clarified. “I almost didn’t recognize her. She was dressed in all black, her hair, make up, all black.”
“Yeah, she was Goth the last time I saw her too,” she paused. “That’s actually why I was trying to find you.”
I waited for her to continue instead of jumping in, but I knew more bad news was coming, rolling in like tumbleweed on a windy day, a mass of dry stems that would knock me over.
“Isabelle passed away a few months ago…from pneumonia and you know,” she paused again because we did know.
We had always known that she wouldn’t have a long life, that her muscles would get so weak her heart would no longer be able to pump, but growing up we had pushed these details to the side, let play protect us.
It was always the three of us, leading the school in dodgeball tournaments, tag, and Simon Says. We were everyone’s friends, but we were especially each other’s friends, sharing dolls, playing dress up, spending nights together building forts, watching movies, telling secrets we pinky-swore to keep forever. Birthday parties and Halloween were a favorite, and we were first on each other’s friend list, even after short-lived squabbles that left us in tears. We arrived with neatly wrapped gifts and giggles, ready to partake in the celebration.
“Do you remember Isabelle’s 10th birthday party?” Elliana asked, trying to shift the mood from sad to joyful.
“The one Michael Jackson came to?” I laughed.
“I can’t believe you thought he was the real Michael Jackson.”
“Isabelle talked about it for weeks. She was so excited,” I explained. “It never occurred to me that she was talking about a look-a-like.”
“Not even the picture he signed?” she teased.
“It was maybe a year later that I realized I hadn’t, in fact, met Michael Jackson.”
“All her birthday parties were big, elaborate,” she recalled. “I was mad at my parents because they never threw me parties like that.”
“You? Mine either. I was lucky to get a cake, and I had to help my mother make it,” I complained. “Everyone thought Isabelle was so lucky.”
“We were so jealous, but being her best friends meant we got to share in the fun.”
“Her grandparents always included us…”
“Oh, remember when we didn’t have costumes that year?”
“No, we had costumes, but Isabelle wanted us all to match,” I interrupted.
“Yeah…and her grandparents went out and bought us costumes.”
“What were we? I don’t even remember anymore.”
“Me either,” she laughed, and I joined.
There was so much we remembered and so much we didn’t, but we both felt the weight of the loss and were grateful none of us knew then the gravity of what was to come so that life for Isabelle was a celebration, an adventure.