Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Mountain is High, The Valley is Low

I was never that cool, but I won't be taken for a fool
If they wanna talk trash, they can talk talk talk
But they better come correct
And if you ever need me, call me, I'll come runnin' straight to you
Straight from the airport
Cut through the customs line
Bust down the courthouse doors
Sydney, I will testify.

"Sydney I'll Come Running" - Brett Dennen

I heard this song on my way into work a couple of weeks ago, and I credit it with ultimately bursting my bubble. The bubble of living in a world where Niki was still alive. She had been gone for awhile at that point, but I wasn't facing it, not truly. I'd been hunkered in my protective shell, feeling like if I didn't think too hard, her death didn't actually happen. And something about the lyrics to this song at that moment--cryptic lyrics that tell a specific story I don't want to know about--slapped me into reality. Because I feel like they apply to us, to our history and friendship. We weren't always together, but we'd always be together. We'd always have each other's backs when it counted, no matter what. Never mind that nobody would dream of talking trash to Niki - she would make you regret trying with one perfectly timed, cutting sentence. Never mind that in the end, I wasn't there. I didn't go to the airport when I knew she was dying. The point is, I heard that song and all the tears that wouldn't come and wouldn't come... came. As I waited at a stoplight on a cold December morning. Because of a college radio station choosing that moment to play something that I'd never heard before.

Its fitting that a song would be what brought me around, because music was shorthand, in our friendship. It was a shared language for us. A bond. Music was memories, but it was also integral to the time at hand, at the making of them. It was in the background when we were riding endless loops in Niki's mom's Cavalier. Essential and inspirational when choreographing cheerleading routines and just-for-fun dances. Just hanging out, always. The Christmas that Nik got the "Totally 80s" CD collection is burned in my mind like a tattoo, and thankfully there's video proof of how that turned out. And because music was everything to us, and because music is everywhere, I can't hear anything without it bringing Niki to mind. On one hand, it's a blessing because in that way she's still very much alive. But on the other hand, when I'm at the grocery store and "Don't Ask Me Why" by Billy Joel comes on, I can't text her about it. And that realization is devastating.

Here's a thing: I knew she was dying a long time before I made a peep about her in here. When I wrote about her being sick just a little bit before she died, I had gotten the call that it would probably be soon, but she'd been a constant heavy presence in my heart and mind for quite some time. I wasn't ready to talk about it in any way, certainly not here, and certainly not where Nik actually might read it when she was still OK enough to do so. When she was first diagnosed over 5 years ago, it never even crossed my mind that the cancer would get her. Like, the doctors got this. There's no way she won't be free and clear. And then another time when it came back, HR had just been born and I was in a panic of new motherhood, and facing the reality that what was going on with her was really bad didn't seem possible. She bounced back, then, before I absorbed the gravity of it, and I got to see her a couple of times and I was cautiously optimistic that it would last. But then I got the message from her in September that it was back, and how it was back, and let me tell you, I almost threw up as I read it. Not that I claim to be any kind of medical expert, but you don't work in the field I do for as long as I have without knowing when you need a miracle.

Not to say that I gave up hope completely. But any time I talked to her after the last hit, I had an awareness that it could be the very last time. I wanted to go see her, I truly thought I'd get to, until the time I realized I wouldn't. It went too fast. And maybe I regret that I didn't just get on a plane right away, but it doesn't matter now. It doesn't matter how I'm affected whether or not I got to see her at the end. What matters is that she was one of my oldest, dearest, sister friends. And it's so fucking wrong that she had to go through what she had to go through and that in the end the only miracle was for us, those who loved her, that she graced us for as long as she did.

Niki died a month ago yesterday. I'm not done missing her. I'm not done being sad. I'm not done writing about her or loving her or calling her my friend, not by a long shot. In many ways I haven't even gotten started. I'm not going to go on with anecdotes or even about what she was like as a person, because if you knew her, you knew. And if you didn't, it doesn't matter. Just know that for those who loved her, she was ours and she's not the type of person you get over losing. She was the best and that's the saddest goddamn fact.

I'm not going to link the Brett Dennen song here, because I know for sure that Nik did not approve of creepy ginger hippies. Instead I will link this, because... she would know why.

See you at the Emporium, babe.

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