I have to figure out who my oldest friend is now, since my oldest friend died. She went in for a simple office-visit procedure – an hour or two in the office, two or three days recovery. Instead, she got a hole in her stomach, which led to internal bleeding, infection and a coma. The hole let her stomach acid seep out and eat away at her lungs, which then got infected, too. She went in for a simple procedure and now she’s gone.
For an entire week, I got email and Facebook status updates from her friends and family with news that went up and down. They’re going to try to induce hypothermia to slow the infection and she might wake up afterward. It didn’t work. Michelle is awake! Oh, sorry, no, she’s not. She’s on a ventilator, but her brain function is good! Oh, it’s not. She never woke up again until they finally pulled the plug a week after her simple procedure. Michelle and I live thousands of miles apart, so I couldn’t be there for her. I couldn’t even go to her funeral.
As an aside, watching your friend die over Facebook is a new and altogether unpleasant experience. Somehow, I think being tenuously tethered through text to all of our friends’ lives in real-time takes away the specialness of actually seeing your friends in person. Granted, if not for Facebook and the like, I probably wouldn’t have had as much contact with Michelle as I did since I moved away from Michigan fifteen years ago. But is commenting on pictures and “I saw this and thought of you” link forwards really a friendship after all? Isn’t there more to a friendship than Facebook quizzes? It gives the impression of friendship and connection without actually, really having it.
I’m not sure if the arduous, week-long process of watching of her cling to life and ultimately fail is better or worse than just getting a phone call with the news. Either way, it sucks. I watched my friend die through words; without any real human contact, without getting to hold her hand. She never got to say goodbye.
Michelle was my longest continuous friend. I knew her from the time we were teenagers. We shared a lot of stupid things together; drinking in Canada when we were both underage, road trips, and all the trials and tribulations that a twenty-year friendship will bring. She was always there for me. Particularly during a time when my world fell apart and nobody sided with me. She did. She was my staunch supporter through thick and thin. She read all my stupid blog posts. She was goofy, cheerful and positive; three things that are nearly the opposite of me most times. Her outlook was almost innocent when contrasted to my cynical and bitter viewpoint. She saw the best in people and would try to bring it out of them if she could. She could find the good in any situation, no matter what.
And here I am, living and breathing, selfishly going through another existential crisis, not unlike the one I had when I was a teen, around the time I first met Michelle. A mid-life crisis? Possibly, except I don’t want to run out and buy a red Corvette. I don’t need to make myself feel younger or prettier or more desirable to people who are twenty years younger than me. I’m trying desperately to find a meaning in a haystack where one does not exist. Except, unlike when I was a teenager, I don’t have the illusion of omniscience anymore. I don’t know anything. I don’t believe that I can find any greater meaning in this crazy, mixed up world of unfairness and randomness. I know that I don’t have any answers. I don’t think anyone does. I’m not sure if any of it really has any meaning; I’m not even sure it needs to have any.
The fact is, we’re all thrown into this thing called life without an owner’s manual and we have to figure everything out for ourselves. Michelle had her machine mostly in working order. She knew what it was about. She relished the little things. While I, even though I’m still alive in a strictly technical sense, am not so sure anymore. The little things just aren’t enough to compensate for the big things.
Michelle is still my friend on Facebook. And now, insensitively, Facebook is telling me to “Reconnect with Michelle! Send her a message.” If only I could. I’d tell her that I miss her. I’d tell her that I need her strength right about now. I need her to tell me all this fretting is silly and for nothing. She’d tell me to get over it and just live my life the best way I know how. I’d tell her that I’m trying.