A long time ago, I lost my best friend to Cancer. She was in her early twenties with her whole life ahead of her and when she died, a little bit of me died too. It was a very dark time but I came out the other side, with a promise to live every day of my life and not take any of it for granted.
And I do this as much as I can but I still get haunted by the past. I think that’s normal when someone you love passes, I mean how can it not be? In the beginning especially, I just wanted to be with her - wherever that was. But interestingly enough, when offered a pick of things to remember her by, I chose one photo and got her initials tattooed across my skin. I wasn’t a minimalist back then, far from it but even then, I somehow knew that Gem was more than the clothes she had worn and the books she had read.
I knew that a part of her would live on within me always. It was why I got her name on my wrist, so that every time I looked down, she reminded me to look up, to smell the roses, the breathe in the air, to live. It’s one of the reasons why I was so drawn to minimalism - life is precious, every day is a gift and I really wanted to be intentional and spend my days appreciating what I had.
When I simplified my life I was left exposed. Because without mountains of stuff to hide behind, I got to know myself pretty deeply and I could no longer ignore the fact, that I wanted to write and not just for myself but for others. I wanted to tell my story because our stories connect us, both to who we are and to those around us. And I knew that if I could do that, wherever she was, Gem would be proud.
But I lacked the confidence to do so, until one day I came across Huma, of @ourstorytime on Instagram. I discovered that she was an author, a formal journalist and the creator of the creative writing course, The Quiet Words. With the Money that I had saved from not buying stuff, I took a gamble and bought myself something that would change my life forever - one word at a time. I got myself a place on Huma’s course and have never looked back.
The Quiet Words is restarting on the 4th February for anyone who wants to write. This is in no way an ad or a gifted post, just a share between friends, of someone who has taken me as I am and given me the courage to feel worthy enough, to share my tale.
I would love for anyone reading this to follow their dreams, be that writing or whatever you feel destined to do, even when, especially when, every part of you tells you, that you can’t.
The story I share below, is one that I wrote for my assignment as part of the course. A revisit to part of my own story, my soul written down on paper and something that I want to share - with you.
I hope that if you have loved and lost you still feel connected to that person, regardless of how many things you did or didn’t keep. Losing someone and the grief that follows is yours and yours alone, to do with as you wish. But for me, I really do believe that we are more than the belongings we leave behind. We are the memories we evoke in others, the messes that we made and the deepness of love that we gave.
My Very Best Friend Of All.
I never had just one best friend. I was forever the three in a friendship of three, it was always the two best friends and me. But at nineteen I found her and just knew that she was the one. You know those people, the ones whom you really want to love you, the ones whom you want to share the very depths of your soul? Well that was Gem Gem, my very best friend of all.
We met fresh out of college at our first job, both young and eager to please. She was the sensible to my wild, the tall to my short, the blond to my brown. I tucked myself perfectly into her arms and she fit comfortably into mine. We were inseparable and although an unlikely pair, we shared the same big passion - we both loved to read.
While friends were out in bars, drinking and being loud, we sat silently getting drunk on words. We would play ‘who could whisper the words the fastest,’ until we were dizzily gasping for air. We were best friends, Gem and I, the very best of friends. Her family welcomed me with open arms and her mother treated me as if she were mine. We would all walk through town together arm in arm, giggling with glee and although it could have seemed like I had found myself once again, in a friendship of three, this time, it really didn’t feel like them and me.
Gem had always been pale, with the greenest eyes, ‘the colour of life’ she would tell me. Until one day, she started looking grey. She became too ill to work and too tired to play. Her mother phoned me one afternoon and asked if I was sitting down, I wasn’t and so I did.
It was her breast she said through muffled sound, they had found a lump, maybe more. I screamed it couldn’t be. She would be alright I told myself, she was just like the women that she loved to read about, she was determined, courageous and strong. And she was. She defeated the baddie, just as I knew she would. We celebrated with sticky fried rice and noodles, eaten greedily from the pan. I wouldn’t let her out of my sight, until she laughingly, begged me to go.
Time passed. Gem fell in love and so did I, it got serous between them, as did me and mine. We drifted, a little but kept returning to the shore. For she was a my beacon home and no matter what, we always found our way. More time passed, one month, then two. We kept making plans but something always stood in our way. Gem feigned tiredness, or forgetfulness with sorry and I love you’s. And she talked a lot but it felt like she wasn’t saying much at all, it was stiff and the in-between silences were deafening.“You’re like a dithery old woman.” I teased, “I feel it.” she would reply.
A little while later I was asked to go over. It would seem that sitting down, wouldn’t cut it this time. I ran as fast as my legs would bring me, a frenzy of hot breath and stomach knots all the way to them, to her - to home.
Once again it had got her, only this time, it was here to stay. “It’s spread,” was all I heard before my knees gave way, “It’s spread.” I heard them cry. And it had, Gem was riddled with it - she hadn’t beaten it at all. That night we sat around the table, my very best friend and I. She spoke of how she would win this time and I nodded furiously, believing it. But then I caught the look in her mother’s eyes, and I felt my own, begin to cry.
There were long conversations whispered in corridors. It had intertwined itself within her very bones, like unwelcome weeds growing in places, you didn’t want them to grow. And despite talk of success rates and statistics we all knew how vigorous, unrelenting and poisonous this could be.
I silently shook, as I saw Gem bravely take on treatment and I’m sure that if I hadn’t known it to be her, I wouldn’t have recognised her at all. Her once blond hair which had been taken once before, now sat in wisps huddled together in pairs and her body inflated beyond it’s size, like those comedy weeble wobble toys.
Friends stopped visiting and her family grew apart - there is only so much you can see and do I guess but Gem stayed strong despite it all. I spent hours sat on scratchy chairs, reading her words from the books that she could no longer pick up. I was willing her away to a fantasy land, where they coudln’t get to her anymore.
She slowly gained strength and returned home a fiancé, walking stick and all. There had been talk of marriage before the spread but now they were going to make it happen. We busily planned for a day, that we didn’t know she would make but she insisted we plan anyway. I held her mother, as she cried in the kitchen and she held me in mine.
Gem practiced walking every day, one step, two step, three. First a room, next a hallway and then out onto the green. She stated that her final wish was to walk down the aisle and we helped her all we could. We reminded her daily that there was no place for final here, as we breathed in the air on the green.
As the big day got closer, an invisible force willed her on. Like a lost mitten moving forwards in the wind, up, down and all around but moving just the same. And she made it, we’d made it, her wish was about to come true. Gem got married on a cold bright day but I couldn’t have felt more warm. And as I took my steps behind her, I cried as she slowly took hers.
I had never seen her so happy, she shined brighter than all of the stars that day and it was magical to witness, a real life dream come true. Weeks later we sat side by side and marvelled at how incredible it had been, we giggled but somehow it seemed hollow, as if we both knew that she was slipping away. Her skin was as thin as paper and although her mouth was pointing upwards, her eyes had turned to stone.
She passed away shortly after, in a hospice where she took herself to die. All of her strength had been spent living out her final wish and now she was to weak to try. I went to the hospice but she was just a shell without a soul, in her head she had already gone yet her body protested, holding on. I got her name engraved into the very fibres of my skin, so the she was with me, every time I looked down.
I visited her body before it was buried into the ground because I wanted to remember her, as anything other than the vision of paper and bone. I arrived at the parlour at the top of the hill, on a stormy grey afternoon, I looked up and even the clouds were thick with mourning, I scratched at her name as the tears fell down.
My feet pressed into the ground, as if they were stuck with gum but I somehow forced my heaving body to step inside where I held my breath and sighed. It was her, Gem Gem, my very best friend of all. With cold hands pressed softly into mine, I smiled. Here laid the girl, that I had known so well and finally she could rest, pretty dress and all.
Her mother died not long after, a healthy woman with grief too heavy to bear. They placed her down gently beside her daughter and they were together, once again.
As for me, life went on. But Gem was everywhere, in the songs that she’d sung and in the stories that I told. Because she was more than just a body, she was a piece of me that I continued to carry, in my heart, on my arm and in my soul. She was my very best friend, with eyes the colour of life, Gem Gem - my very best friend of all.