10 Years Gone

In the story we would tell ourselves, we lived in Brookline.

We had one of those oversized duplex houses, with four bedrooms on each floor and ample front porches. I lived upstairs. She lived downstairs. I was less bothered by stairs than she was.

And we would talk about how she would babysit my children, never having children of her own, even in our 20-something fantasies, and then I'd come back from date night with Mr. and she and I would spend the rest of the night on the porch, whiling away the hours with bawdy jokes and gin and tonics. She loved smoking Camel Lites. And really, once you have Stage 4 cancer, why would you stop smoking?

The night she told me she was dying, I had a date. An Internet date, in the early years of Internet dating, and he was a nice boy who didn't have a cell phone and was going to meet me at a place in Harvard Square after his class. She met me at the B-Side Lounge and told me of the past months of painful cramps, laid out on her bathroom floor, of the medical tests, of the doctors who told her she was just fat, that was her problem...

But now they'd figured it out and she had cancer. Bad cancer. And not much time.

But she wanted me to still go on my date. Because her cancer wasn't going to mess up anyone's anything.

My date, who didn't like drinkers, sat and watched me pound martinis, telling him I was so so so sorry that my best frined just told me she was dying but still made me go meet him.

None of us could save her. All women must die.

I wrote five years ago about her loss, and it was still so very accute for me that my words still had a rawness. A frailty.

I no longer carry that weight. But there are still days when I see someone being a dick on the subway and think, "I have to tell Phatiwe about..."

You never lose the desire to share your world with them. Even a decade after you got to tell her words she could hear.

Love does not, in fact, expire.

Who was Phatwie Sharon Cohen, born Sept. 27, 1977, in Botswana? She grew up in Africa, and the only story I remember that she told was of having to make gin and tonics for grown ups when she was too young for that shit. I remember she moved to Boston and she didn't have enough, but she was still brilliant enough to survive being hungry and cold to make it to Dartmouth, where she seemed to thrive. It was hard for her, in many ways, but many of us loved her.

After we left school, we lived together in Boston, then she lived with Vanessa and Chayya, and then she lived alone. And then she moved back in with her father in Lowell, and I would drive out and visit her there. Growing thinner. But never quieter.

My last weekend with her was the weekend they chose the Nazi pope. My mother came up and we hung out, making jewelry and watching CNN to see who would be elected pope. It was a beautifully normal, beautifully weird day.

She made a silver and turquoise necklace that day.

I still have that necklace.

I always will.


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