When I was 13 years old, I lost my best friend, grandma, aunt, and sister all rolled into one–my nanny. She had been there since my first birthday and through my thirteenth. She watched me grow up, made me laugh, taught me patience, argued with me, and loved me. Her presence was the one constant in my life as I learned what change was. She was humble and kind, and she made even the most menial tasks fun. We spent almost every day together, from school to drama class, to dance practice, and dinners in between. We went on weekend excursions to the zoo, spent summer evenings at ice cream shops, and took the occasional trip to a new city to explore. Her breakfast sandwiches were world famous, or at least in my eyes. Even on the rainiest of days, our card game tournaments made time pass too quickly. She always knew how to make me smile. She knew me better than I knew myself.
The last conversation I had with her was over the phone. It was after my middle school graduation, and I was still reeling from the delicious freedom of summer break. We made plans to have a card night soon, where we would play rummy, like we always did. It would be a weekly thing as I moved to high school, we decided. She asked about my friends and whether I got the photos she sent me from graduation. I chuckled, remembering the photo of the pepper grinder that I had taken randomly after graduation on the clunky, digital camera she had, and asked her why she printed that one. “I just thought it was really beautiful–all the colors. I didn’t realize that pepper could be so many different colors!” I gleefully hung up the phone to go swimming in the lake.
The next phone conversation I would have regarding her wouldn’t be so joyous. My aunt would pull me aside from a reading party with my cousins and hand me the phone. She would sit with me on the couch and say that my mother had something important, something serious to tell me. I would think it was my grandfather or our pet cat who had passed, but I would never imagine in a million years that it would be the person I was closest to in this universe. I would drop the phone upon hearing her name, unable to process what had happened. She couldn’t have died. They had to bring her back. They hadn’t tried hard enough. We had plans! She was supposed to be there for high school, and for high school graduation, and then college, and be my matron of honor at my wedding. She couldn’t be gone. It didn’t make sense. It didn’t fit into the plan. It wasn’t fair.
I sunk into a deep depression, spending days alone on my closet floor, writing senseless journal entries and hoping that she could somehow read them in the afterlife. I showered only because I needed a place to cry that was away from pitying eyes. I listened to songs on repeat, letting the words jumble and the melody lull me into a trance. I slept because being awake was hard. It was physically painful. I declined phone calls from friends and let the summer pass. I kept to myself at the beginning of high school, not willing to risk the trials of friendship with my broken heart.
It took me a long, long time to let someone else in after her passing, and I’m not even over it today. Losing my best friend shattered my world. It was the first loss I had experienced in my otherwise plush, happy life. It was the first time I knew what anger was, what sadness was like, what someone being a part of you meant.
She once told me that she was sure I was going to forget her someday as I got older and had less time for her. It’s ironic, really, because I’ve never passed a day without her coming to mind. Losing my best friend at age 13 meant that I would never forget the her, never forget the hurt I felt, that I would guard my heart fiercely, and that I would grow up a lot faster than I anticipated. But it also meant that I would always have someone up there, watching over me.
I emerged from this loss with a different heart. It may be a tad messy and permanently scarred, but it’s empathetic and capable of understanding the fragile beauty of life. I’ve found pieces of her in the people that surround me, and I hold on to them harder because of this. It’s more difficult for me to love, but also easier for me to give someone everything I have, because I know that phone call could come at any second, for anyone. I am the person I am because of her, and all the things she taught me both during and after her beautiful life.
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