Sunday, May 26, 2013
I moved the summer before our freshman year of high school not long after this picture was taken. I only moved an hour and a half north, but this was before cell phones, email, and facebook. Basically the stone age. We wrote each other letters. I went to visit, and they came to visit. They became my "best friends from junior high" which is still how I refer to all of them. It's like because of the move they couldn't ever move on from that label.
We had some very good times. Carmen had a juke box and a bottled coke machine at her house so of course that was our favorite hang out spot. The sleep overs we would have. Carmen and I cheered together, and we used to call each other and tell each other to make sure to wear our favorite "tradition" cheerleading shirts with neon green shorts the next day. Being twins was super cool at 13. Carmen is the reason I like country music. I always felt good enough with Carmen as my best friend. She was smart, pretty, and so kind. We had crushes on best friends. We made up nicknames for our crushes on those best friends. We traveled to Myrtle Beach for cheerleading competitions. We spent hours listening to Joe Diffie's album, 3rd Rock from the Sun, and cracking up over the two ridiculously silly songs at the end. The somewhat ridiculous Jason Aldean song, 1994, takes me back so clearly to that time. We watched the movie 8 Seconds and cried our eyes out late at night. We passed a ridiculous amount of notes (that I still have). We helped each other through insecurities and made each other love life.
After I moved, we did stay in touch. We actually ended up both attending Purdue. We didn't see each other a lot, but whenever her roomates and she would have a party, she would invite me and I would go and catch up. Sometimes Nicole would come up from IU, and we would all hang out. They were still best friends, no junior high adjective needed. We grew apart. She had a serious boyfriend, and I was busy with my various college involvements (there were a lot). We were both good students. We lost touch.
After college she went on to get her Physician's Assistant degree. We reconnected via Myspace. She lived in Pittsburgh for awhile and then back to our small town outside of Louisville. I moved to South Carolina. And then one early Sunday morning, I received a call from Kathryn, which was unusual. I was actually getting ready for church and almost didn't answer, but it took me by such surprise that I did. She told me that Carmen was dying of cancer. I think colon cancer. Not that she had cancer; that she was dying of cancer. She said it had been going on for the last few months (nothing was on myspace), and she and some of our other friends realized that I probably didn't know. She wanted to let me know to see if I could make it up to our small town hospital to say my goodbyes. I would need to come within the next week or two. I didn't make it. She died during that week. That Sunday in October will live forever in my mind. The guilt I felt for not knowing and getting to try to comfort her and say goodbye, the complete and utterly overwhelming sadness, the sermon at church that seemed to be aimed directly at me and this situation even though it wasn't. The phone call to my mom where I could barely speak for crying. Ben was understanding, but he didn't know Carmen. My mom did. She knew she was special. She went to the hospital and saw Carmen and her mom and some of my old friends. She shared that sorrow with me.
I made it to the funeral in Indiana the following Saturday, not even a full week after I heard the news. It was such an odd time. I was excited and happy to see my friends who I hadn't seen in years. Some of them I literally had not seen since I moved. But how can you be happy at a funeral for a friend who made us all friends? We laughed, and we cried. I felt like an intruder to their sorrow. I felt so sad, but I kind of felt like I didn't deserve to be that sad because Carmen and I had lost touch. They were the ones there for her for the past few years, not me. It's a weird weird feeling. I sometimes still feel that guilt or intrusion, like I shouldn't miss her like they do. I don't deserve it. But the truth is that I do miss her. I don't know how to describe it, but even when we lost touch, it comforted me to know she was out there in the world living her life. When you love someone, I think you don't ever want to truly let them go from your life. She made my life better, and I still grieve for her. I can still hear her laugh. She had a great laugh.
Carmen was a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a fiance, a dog mom, a PA, and the very best kind of friend. She lost her battle with cancer at the age of 27, and she would have turned 32 yesterday. It was 18 years ago today that we took that picture. I always think of her on May 25th and will always be grateful for the memories I have and for May birthdays. She made this world a better place.