A few months before she died, my friend Lisa walked in the door at a friends house and I’m sure I did not do a good job of hiding my shock at how thin she had become. She had always been skinny, but this was something else — the kind of skeletal nothingness you see in commercials for charities, set to some terrible Sarah McLaughlan song. It had been a while since I had seen her, as ours was a friendship that was never terribly concerned with the trappings of space and time. She was the type to just get up and leave my apartment if the mood suited her, the queen of the Irish Goodbye, and weeks or months may pass before I walked in to her dorm room unannounced and we’d be right back in the middle of the same conversation. We had been busy and living in different cities for the summer, our paths never quite crossing. She had to live at her parents house for a few months and I knew it was hard on her, but she always absorbed the blows. We AIM chatted and LiveJournaled and occasionally called each other but hadn’t had any significant face time until she moved back to town and came to this party. I was shocked and terrified to see her in that state, but I also didn’t know what to say. Is a house party really the place to have a heart to heart? Would she shut me down if I asked her what was going on? Shouldn’t I just enjoy that my friend is back? She’ll be better now that she’s out of her parents house and back around friends, right? I gave her a hug and made a half-hearted joke about “geez, Lis, eat a sandwich will you?” and got her a cup and we ignored the emaciated elephant in the room.
It was obvious that something was very wrong. In the following months she was hospitalized twice for a collapsed lung because she was so thin there was nothing left between the sharpness of her ribcage and the meat of her lungs. While in the hospital her parents begged her to stay and tried to point out how disordered and serious the situation had become, but as she told me it wasn’t that she had a problem, it was that she had just suddenly become a “strict vegan” and no one was willing to help her stick to her moral diet. I never knew she was in the hospital until after she got out.
A week before she died, Lisa called me and asked if I wanted to get lunch. By this time she was just collarbone and pallor. I had tried to see her more often but I was going through my own stuff at the time and also wasn’t really even sure how to be a friend and was worried I’d scare her away…but mostly every time I saw her it pained me. I’d admonish her “eat a sandwich, Lis!”. She’d laugh and call me a bitch. I’d pour full cream and chocolate powder into her coffee and she’d accept it. On this particular day we had lunch, she said she wanted sushi. I ran down to Takara and ordered her the 3 roll vegan lunch special. We met up and she had 2 sips of miso soup and 3 pieces of sushi. I tried to use the same charms we would both always employ to get weird middle-aged men to do whatever it was we wanted to do but she was smarter than that. She saw right through it. I started to panic.
The day before Lisa died she had asked me to call her on Friday morning to have coffee and I was honestly so drained and scared I wasn’t sure if I was going to go through with it. She called me and said she needed coffee so I headed out from my apartment and got her a cup at Steep n Brew and loaded it with cream and cocoa, as usual. When I got to her apartment, she was barely able to get up to open the door. She spent most of her time in a big chair, surrounded by piles of food and candy and presents just for her — crossword books and art supplies and soft things. The first thing she told me was that she tried to take the garbage out but it was too heavy and she fell down. The second thing she told me was that she was really excited to get better so that we could do xyz things we had always wanted to do. Camping trips and visits with friends and adventures unknown. It was an incredibly positive, future forward conversation and it ended with me having to go to work and then do family stuff the next day, but I told her I’d call her Sunday and that I’d have my car so she should think of whatever craft supplies she wanted and I’d pick them up. I hugged her goodbye and took out the garbage and returned some videos for her (oh, early 2000s).
By Sunday I had received a call that she had died.
That same Friday night she had finally allowed herself to be admitted to the hospital. It was it was already too late, her heart was too damaged, it failed, she died.
I really try to not dwell on Lisa’s last few hours. I don’t know how aware she was that it was already too late. I don’t know if she was scared, realized how severe her illness had gotten, that it was terminal. I do know that, at her funeral, when I introduced myself to her father he told me that Lisa told him I had come by that afternoon to visit.