I WILL NOT write about politics this week. I lost a dear friend suddenly last Monday, and I am mourning.
Karen was more than a friend to me. She was a sister, a mother, a mentor, a cohort, the one who first made me feel that I was a person and not just a tag-along runt.
I met her when I was 12, and though she was 12 years my senior, she enjoyed my company and listened to what I had to say. That was a strange sensation. I grew up in a family of opinionated adults who often interrupted me mid-sentence and did not notice if I continued talking or not. She actually stopped speaking to hear me; and for Karen, to stop speaking was no small thing.
I looked up to her and rightly so – she was a beautiful woman, a lovely person. She possessed (in every sense of those weighty words) pulchritude and elegance. She had a regal stature, and her Italian-American-Filipino heritage lent her an exotic mien that confused and intrigued people.
I remember one summer when we had nothing to do, we went to the Philippine Plaza Hotel to sip cool drinks by the pool and look out at the bay. We put on our Ray-bans and sat on a bench, enjoying our smoothies in a cordial silence.
The waiters thought she was Greek and I was Japanese, and they struggled to impress us with their English. We let them. Men looked; women glared. We let them. Finally, pointing to the tankers anchored in the distance, Karen said to me, “Look. Earlier the ships were pointing to the right and now they’re pointing at us. Did they move or did we?” to which I wisely responded, “Hmmm.” And we comfortably reverted to silence.
No matter where in the world she was, I always felt she was near me. Several times when she lived in Dallas, she would call me in the middle of the night local time and say, “Well, what’s up?” just when I was wrestling with some problem. No “hi, how are you” was necessary. Our conversation was a continuing stream that never needed hellos or goodbyes. I remember how I called her immediately upon returning from an extended trip abroad and woke up the next morning with the receiver in my hand. I had fallen asleep during our conversation, exhausted from jet lag. I called her again later that day and she merely said, “Yeah, you fell asleep…” and laughed. She had been talking for about 30 minutes before she realized I was snoring.
As the years passed and when I got married, our conversations lessened, but we saw each other when we could. She was based in Negros and I in Manila, yet our meetings, though not often, were as warm as if time and distance and life had not got in our way. It did not matter to me where in the world she was because I knew that she was there.
When I learned last Monday that she had died, it took a while for me to understand it. I had many questions. We had not talked lately; I was not aware of her current circumstances. We did not often discuss things as mundane as our illnesses. She had combated cancer several years ago when she was in the US and I only learned of it when she came home, victorious. So it was not unusual for us to be ignorant of our health issues.
I was confused and could not react. Finally, when it hit me that Karen was no longer in the world, no longer there – I understood, and crumpled.
I am grieving our effective separation though I believe it is not final. Still, that she is gone and I am here hurts deeply. She was the person who wove so much of the fabric that I am, and I miss her terribly. But I trust that, as before, our conversation continues in principle and will one day be resumed in fact when God decides.
I am blessed to have experienced a friendship such as ours with a person such as her. She taught me to speak the truth because life is short and hypocrisy is a waste of time. She taught me to be authentic because pretentiousness is déclassé and we are nothing if not cool. She taught me to be real.
In her memory, I am opting now to separate myself from persons and things that waste my time. In her honor, I commit to live authentically and no longer accommodate the eccentricities of the judgmental and uninformed. Life is short. We must all decide how to live it. This is how I choose to live mine.
Here’s to you, Karen.
Ciao. Mwah, Moi.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”