I said it and I meant it.
And take heart, this isn’t one of those “She was in so much pain–” (she was) “– and now her suffering’s ended!” kind of stories, (even though the suffering’s ended, but more on my end) or “It was her time,” “God has a plan”, “It was meant to be,” or any of the other ridiculous platitudes that etiquette has taught us to say when someone is in pain.
By the by, all of those last few statements are damaging. They’re not even worthless, they’re Express Delivery Pain, and they wreck a person who is grieving. Better to say nothing when you don’t know what to say. Moving on.
Naomi was an artiste.
She participated in yoga, dance, performance arts, stage combat and renaissance festivals. Naomi practiced with a few religions and philosophies, loved to read and visit museums. She had a very exotic look (she was born in Russia, and her heritage is of Rom descent), and her tattoos were beautiful. I loved how delicate her skin was, and how her hair shone in the sun. She always managed to look glamorous, no matter what she was doing. Her face was the embodiment of Resting Bitch Face.
Only a few years older than me, but she had some mileage on her. As a teen addict and rape survivor, she’d managed to gain herself a steady income, decent living arrangement, clean and sober (apart from cigarettes; cloves, especially, were her vice). She was very ‘jaded’, as one might say (if one doesn’t have more depth than a teacup). Naomi was ever so much more than jaded; she was downright grisly. She was overripe with experience. Her font of knowledge was brackish water from a sewer system. Naomi had truly seen the underbelly of American Life as a runaway, and it stayed with her.
And yet we became friends. Fast friends, actually. I was only just twenty-ish when Naomi steamrolled her way into my world via social media. We talked for hours sometimes, and both of us liked to draw Tarot for the other. It became a regular thing for me to travel out to the East Coast to see her. I was the maid of honor at her wedding, and her ex-husband (they divorced shortly after, but remained friends) still keeps in contact with me. I met several of her friends, two of whom I have also now flown out to see, separately from Naomi, although we would send selfies to her.
The thing to keep in mind, though, is that over the years, Naomi never put away That Habit that some broken youths just can’t kick: the need for drama.
It makes you feel significant. You feel like you’re at the center of a play that’s only interesting if you’re speaking or being pandered to. When there’s drama, you feel important and like your life is far more tragic, amazing, complicated, full of hardship or whatever else is on the agenda for the day. Cultivating drama and seeking it out in what would otherwise be considered (by many, not just me) very normal, everyday encounters– that’s an addiction for some kids that have fucked-up backgrounds.
I should know. I am one.
Naomi was the kind of person that, if I was sound asleep in the spare bedroom, she would come into my space unannounced, and flump onto the mattress beside me and sigh. LOUDLY. I fell for it the first couple of times, but after she complained that an author friend of ours (who’d allowed us to stay at his home while we were visiting the township together) hadn’t made a move on her, even though she promised to fulfill his every wish, I’d had enough. I needed sleep. So I pretended to stay asleep. She bounced a little more, took off her shoes and said, “I just need to sleep in here tonight.” I made a quiet noise and turned over. “But I guess you’re asleep and not up for talking, huh?” Naomi said this at normal volume, full of petulance. With another anguished sigh, she picked up her boots and stomped to the couch.
One of the many things we talked about, as the best of friends, was nutrition and dietary specifications. We liked to experiment with replacing ingredients to either cut carbs, help out with digestions, etc. Herbs and supplements were never far from our mind to reach for, rather than a bottle of Aleve. We’re not hippies (hippies don’t hate the way we do), but we try to listen to our bodies and respond to small cues. We exhaust other avenues before seeking out a doctor.
She’d had a hard time kicking a bout of thrush, and had had no real success with a limited-ingredient diet. One morning, she called and said, “Uh… my skin is orange?” and I knew, immediately, that she was extremely ill. “Go to the hospital,” I breathed out, “and call me once you’re there.”
Naomi had a very rare form of neuroendocrinal cancer. It essentially starts in your brain and blooms into a tumor in a random part of the body. And the cancer was choking her pancreas. The mass was inoperable, but it responded to radiation, and we hoped to direct the radiation to shrink the mass away from this badly-needed organ just enough to allow for a surgeon to cut away the cancer. Instead, it started to shrink right where it was, and after a shunt was implanted to allow her pancreas to work, Naomi’s body threaded a new artery *through* the tumor, and several other veins as well, so the pancreas could still receive blood flow and remain intact and functional. It was almost as if her body wanted to hang onto the mass, regardless of malignancy.
Once the tumor measured at about the size of a tennis ball, they began chemotherapy. I would fly down to be with her during the week at the suites, and we would lounge with the television for hours together. I’d make her curry, she’d help me craft mocktails, it’d be a nice time. But every single time I visited, she and her husband were fighting. Once, in the middle of a dinner with another friend at the beach, she called me to say that they were getting divorced and she needed me to take my things and go to a hotel. But by the time I arrived home, they were quietly ignoring each other and behaved normally with me. Everything was apparently fine. They divorced shortly thereafter.
When it came time for the annual oncology review, the tumor was still present in the same position, but it also wasn’t getting bigger. As most of her organs were functioning perfectly fine in spite of the tumor, she was cleared to move up the coast to Brooklyn. She invited me to her parents’ house in the country, but I declined. I had just become pregnant with my daughter, and I didn’t want to travel. Naomi said she understood, but there was an edge to her voice.
Within a few months, I can tell you what the vast majority of our conversations were about:
-NYC is filthy
-her roommate is awful
-there are no pretty, single goth boys
-cancer is stupid
-hating her bosses
-hating her job
-hating her new roommate
-hating how she has to beg for attention from a guy she’s dating x6
-hating that nobody is nice to her
-hating the new job
-hating the other roommate, but only slightly less than the newer one, and never saying a thing about it to either of them
There was a notable shift in who she was as a person, and how she interacted with me, after I became pregnant. Perhaps it was because I was no longer available and had had her linked with my Emergency Contacts so my phone would always ring if Naomi called me. At some point, I broke my phone and never set up the Always Ring contacts in the new one. This lead to many impatient messages on the morning after, increasing in resentment the longer it took me to respond.
When my darling baby was born, cheerful and healthy, Naomi asked to be called the witchy godmother, and cooed at my wobbly infant. She sent me pastries from her favorite Jewish bakery, and shipped blankets with chewy spots for the baby. One day she told me that she felt much more attached and close to me and my child than she did her own sister and nephew.
Therein lays our friendship, at its core. We admired and adored the other from a distance, and shared intimate details of our love lives and inner feelings. I had been friends with Naomi for so long, when it became more one-sided, I chalked it up to the cancer and let it go. But I realized that it was just who she was as a person. She would always be the victim, the one who has it worse, who hurts more, who feels things so deeply no one could possibly understand what she’s going through. I began to avoid her questions of, “Do you have time to talk?” and only respond later when I could be more attentive, but by then, the moment (and the drama) had passed.
Finally, when my daughter was 4 months old and I was at the peak of my exhaustion and postpartum depression, Naomi’s gall bladder turned septic and she had to have an emergency surgeon to remove it. I knew she’d been at the hospital for about a week, and her boyfriend was making updates as best he could, but if I’d ever felt the energy to start texting or talking to anyone– not just Naomi– I would always stop before the first sentence left my fingertips. I wouldn’t have time for a conversation, or the energy to listen. I was pretty broken, and my gurgly baby was delightful and adorable and easy to handle but… postpartum depression is a monster. Perhaps I was wrong to think our friendship could survive a month without contact. Maybe I should’ve just sent the one or two-sentence text messages, just to let Naomi know that I was thinking about her.
But I didn’t. And for the better part of 6 weeks, neither of us reached out to the other.
And then she messaged me one day out the blue, opening with, “I am upset and I need to tell you what I’m feeling.” So I settled into Best Friend Mode and prepared myself for an hour or two of new/old complaints with minimal commentary on my part. But I was not prepared for what happened next.
She was pissed. Naomi was so angry at me.
“I almost died!!” she raged, “and you couldn’t even pick up the phone! But I’m just expected to remember every stupid detail about your kid!” and that’s about when she lost me. I’d heard about other people saying crazy things when their cancer gets to late-stage terminality, but I had also become (unfortunately) too experienced with people fighting cancer and then dying. And I don’t find this to be true.
My kid had nothing to do with this fight we were about to have. I tried my best to shelve the comment and look for what was underneath: she was in pain, she had no way of expressing it beyond rage and lashing out. I tried to commit to this conversation with everything I had, and I am still grateful that my kid was napping at that precise moment in history.
I listened and took in all of her words. I filtered out some of the hate and attacking phrases, and sent back a heartfelt apology, with a promise to do better in the future and to at least keep Naomi abreast of where I was emotionally. I apologized again, and said that I would understand if she needed to stay mad at me for a while, but I just needed to say the words “I’m sorry” first.
I’m not sure how everyone else on the planet receives apologies, but for me, all I want to hear is:
-acknowledge the pain that was caused, without excuse
-empathize as to how this could have affected you, were the tables turned
-admit fault, apologize sincerely
-have a plan for what to do differently next time (and/or how you intend to make it up)
Pretty sure I’d checked off all those boxes in my reply, but apparently, that’s not how Naomi liked her mea culpas, especially without a genuflection. I had ended my letter with love, but she instantly shot back, “Spare me diplomatic bullshit.”
I bristled, but was more hurt that she thought me insincere.
“I can see you are still very angry,” I responded, “so I’ll leave you be for now.” I was trying to just give her space to be angry without being more hurtful to me, and I thought I had conveyed that it wasn’t in my intention to block her out or turn away from her. I hoped my words had been received with love on some wavelength. That’s not what happened.
“I’ll leave you be for now.”
“what else is new”
That was over a year ago, in May of 2019. A lot has happened in the last 18 months.
Last week, I discovered that Naomi had been found dead in her bedroom by her parents. The cancer had progressed, she had had another emergency surgery, and she succumbed within a month. Her fight was finally over. Our mutual friends were sharing stories and crying over the loss of such a beautiful person, and what must I be feeling, as the very best friend of olde?
Well.. I felt relieved. I felt a tremendous weight fall away from my body.
Ah, yes, yes, I’m a horrible person, I know. Luckily, I also don’t care what anybody else thinks.
Was it surprising? Yes, of course. I hadn’t been in contact with Naomi for over a year.
Was *I* personally surprised? No, not at all.
Part of being the Best Friend meant helping her plan her will, her final wishes for rites and burial, for palliative care and, in case the worst of it came to pass, her plan for suicide. I had promised to assist. More than once, she used the phrase, “I don’t want to live like this anymore,” and I would comfort her as best I could, without asking if she was ready to die. One day, she told me she was ready, because the pain had become too much. I asked her to give me a day to get my affairs in order, and I’d get on the plane to NYC. By the end of the night, she’d messaged to say not to bother coming out, that she was fine.
When I found out Naomi was dead, I felt a deep pain in my heart for the relationship that we had shared. For the actual friendship, the late night talks, snuggling with her dogs, sharing costumes and garb for holidays and vacations. We loved each other, truly. But not everything is made to last forever.
As I scrolled through the memorials and testimonies that people were contributing in her honor, I felt mildly amused, thinking, “I doubt Naomi ever told these people the things she told me.” And it hit me– I’m glad she’s dead.
No more drama.
No more unnecessary calls.
No more seeking out the worst-case scenario and *betting on it*, in every situation.
No more shrieking, no more “Okay, but just five more minutes–” stretching into an hour every time.
No more pity party the size of Houston.
No more of any of it.
As it would have fallen to me, eventually, to untangle and sort through the mess of feelings she’d stirred together and dumped on me in that final conversation, and try to make sense of our friendship going forward, it still wouldn’t have been enough. Naomi always needed grandiose gestures to make her believe that a person was being honest and truthful. And I have never been the person to do that.
It would’ve been my job to fix that mess, because that’s the way it had always been. Helping her to see another’s perspective, and not assuming the worst intention of her lovers. Reminding her to breathe before she speaks, and never say the first thing that comes to mind. These are behaviors that every grown adult must learn to master for themselves, so they can be contributing members of society.
I was 35 years old before I realized that Naomi was completely dependent on me. I had never realized that our friendship had taken that turn, but looking back, it was so obvious.
I’m so very grateful that she is no longer suffering from migraines, nausea, aching all over and weariness. I am happy that Naomi has passed. Her body was terrible to her. But the emotional hellscape in which she lived, every single day, was the real demon, not the cancer. And it was largely her own doing, because she could never back away from being the center of attention. She had to repeat everything she heard or suspected about a person. There was no irritation too small that she couldn’t launch a full-scale critical review, complete with scathing commentary. If nobody had told Naomi that she was pretty at least once a week, she would post a new selfie with a comment: “felt cute might delete later” and then praise every person who complimented her. The reason I know she did this intentionally is because she told me.
I’m glad she is dead. I am relieved that my friend has died. I am happier because she’s dead; a tremendous burden has been lifted from me.
I don’t even know what her family intends to do with Naomi’s remains, but I’m not going to call them and ask, or insist on carrying out her final wishes. That was a promise I made to a friend. The woman who called me names and vilified me at my lowest point is not my friend.
I’m not obligated to fulfill anything on her behalf. I’ll never have to unravel another one of her messes ever again. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m glad she’s dead.
Post Script: if this kind of thing truly makes your insides twist, I am pleased that there are still people out there who have only experienced wholesome relationships that are full of goodwill and reciprocity. But since finding my voice about this and learning to say how I feel without needing to justify it, it has been made clear to me that many, many other people feel this way about now-deceased people from their pasts, and for far worse reasons than the ones I claim against Naomi. So to those people who’ve only experienced equitable relationships, I salute you. For everyone else, go ahead and say it out loud. I give you permission to say “I’m glad they’re dead,” and then reflect on any good times you may have shared, or at least share why it is that you are glad they’re gone. It has given me tremendous closure. Maybe your family or mutual friends don’t or won’t understand, but that’s okay.
You can say it to me, here, or you can write about it on your own, or you can tell it to The Band. We are here for you. But either way, go ahead and say it, see if it helps free you the way it did for me.
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