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When someone great is gone

Reflections on suicide and friendship

Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Two celebrities who died this month by suicide. I have nothing to add that hasn’t already been said. I have no advice for people who might consider suicide. All I have is a story of my friend who was here one day and gone the next because she, too, decided to make an early exit.

This month marks the 14th anniversary of her death and her birthday is actually next week. I remember this detail every year because I spent my 25th birthday at her funeral, watching them lower her casket on the day that we should have been out, running around the town, cracking each other up and toasting to birthdays, to youth, to the Queen!

My friend C. was one of the most brilliant, exuberant people I’ve ever met. She was a human spark plug who illuminated everything around her. She was barely five feet tall and crackled with energy. Around her, everything was just a little bit more hilarious, a little bit more interesting, a little bit more absurd. When we were together, we egged each other on and one upp-ed each other in daring feats and hilarious comments. She always won, but I loved making throw her head back with her full throated cackle when she found something truly delightful or hilarious.

We became friends at 15 when we were both exchange students in France. It was a friendship that is unique in its intensity to teenaged girls, made even more so because of living in a foreign country. We were obsessed with the same things, enamored of the same boy, and insular to the point of obnoxious. We were oblivious because we were having too much fun.

We updated each other daily through notes or brief conversations about the boy we both had a crush on whom we named Mr. Stoic. He remained profoundly uninterested in either of us. We would end our daily briefings by tearing down the cobblestones of the town square, singing American pop songs or reciting comedic movie lines at the top of our lungs (“We are the knights who say NEE!”), gorging ourselves on enormous bowls of fancy French sundaes and going home feeling vaguely ill and ready to do it all over again the next day.

One day I came to school to find her crouching under the stairs like a troll. When I asked what she was doing, she got a glint in her eye ,grinned widely and told me that she was jumping out at unsuspecting students and pegging their pants. “Pegging! I’m bringing back the 80s!”

There were darker moments like in Barcelona when she delivered a dramatic reading of Gregory Corso’s Marriage from memory, words tumbling out of her in a fever pitch. Later that night, she had gotten angry about something and ran down to the hotel lobby. I ran after her and she closed the front doors in front of me. She held the door closed, turned to look at me with a dark glittering stare, pulled the blade of a Swiss Army knife out with her teeth and ran out into the night. We spent hours looking for her and she showed up again later as if nothing had happened. I realize now that she was going through a manic episode, which got worse over the years.

What I never knew about C. was how close she felt to me. I thought of her as a dear friend, my best friend there, but I never knew if she felt the same. She would retreat into the dark places in her mind and I always felt on the verge of losing her. Would she find another friend who was funnier, smarter, better? I always felt like I had to work hard to keep her attention and to anchor her from retreating into herself.

Throughout the rest of high school and college, we still spoke but drifted because we were at different schools.

In 2004, I was living in San Francisco and she in New York when a mutual friend called to tell me that she had jumped from the high floor of an apartment building. I flew to her funeral and honored her death on a day that should have been meant as a celebration of life. Afterward, a bunch of us went out to toast C. and, oh yeah, my birthday.

I still think about her often all these years later and get mad all over again when I see something that I know would make her cackle with glee. How could she have left this world when there were so many things afoot that she would have loved: a million cat videos, the movie Bridesmaids, the absurdity of this Presidential administration?

I don’t have anything to add other than the fact that I miss my friend who decided to duck out early and I won’t ever really understand why. It was the ultimate Irish goodbye. She left a good party before the lights went up and the booze ran out. The world is a little less glittery without her in it, lighting up the dancefloor like a human disco ball.

Originally published at www.rheawong.com

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