Oh, my friend

I originally published this with my friend's identity clear. I had to substitute the name when a family member changed their mind and asked me to remove it. I stand by what I wrote, though. It is honestly how I felt about my friend. I miss her so very much.

One of my oldest and dearest friends died in October. I just found out from her dad, who found traces of me in her things.

She was two weeks older than me. We met when we were 19, both working at KLCC in Eugene. (She and Mark Fryer are the only evidence I was ever in Eugene at all.) (And for reference, I am now 56.) We became fast friends when she left, growing closer when she came back.

In our Eugene days, we drank. And drank. And drank. And did a whole f*ckton of drugs. I have no idea how we survived, seriously.

I moved to Portland, I got married, she sobered up, I sobered up, I got divorced. She got married in my back yard, in as close to a fairy tale of a wedding as I've ever heard of. She and her husband were deliriously happy. And they decided to move to New York City. "Come out! Come out! You belong here!" she'd crow on the phone. No, I'd say, I'm a Portland girl.

My friend would tell me stories about how exciting her life was in NYC, how fulfilling. But the stories became more jangly, more disjointed; she moved from radio station to station, and began to express serious doubts about...well, about everything.

The phone calls became less frequent, and then they stopped altogether. I didn't hear from her for a couple of years, until I was remarried and happy. My friend turned up, ashamed and newly sober; she and her husband had divorced, in a period when she'd gone back to drinking and drug use. She'd gotten involved with this new guy--she was getting married. She was having a baby.

I'm going to cut a big chunk out here--the part where she held on as best she could for her son's sake, where she'd finally had enough and left, where she called me to check in and tell me about the latest drug-addled man she'd become involved with, where she discovered she had bipolar II, same as me.

I'll cut to almost the end. It was the last time I saw my friend, a little over three years ago. I hadn't had the stroke yet, nor had we had the house fire. She was thin, so thin, and her hair was dyed almost black; she kept it tied back in a kerchief. She came to town ostensibly to see me. John went out with her the first night, staying out till one or two in the morning before leaving her, of her own volition; she came home with the sun. That's how it went each night: she'd sleep for a couple of hours, go out "to check things over," stop by briefly just before bedtime, and then vanish. The three days she was with us were surreal, and I saw little of her. John and I agreed: she had to be using.

After that, I had the stroke, and I was cut off from everyone and everything for months. I resurfaced, and heard little bits from her, but no real report on how she was. Me, I was thrilled she was alive, and even more thrilled to find out she'd once again gotten sober.

"I was thrilled she was alive." How strange that sounds, now that she's truly gone. But I was.