“So I was just thinking, if you want to come to Europe, would you want to stay here for any length of time?”
This is the last message I’ll ever receive from my best friend Anthony, a message he typed out as he was packing his bags to go back into hospital.
In 2014, multiple myeloma happens to him but he doesn’t let it hinder his life any more than necessary. He submits to surgery, a stem cell transplant, and various protocols with nary a whimper, having decided not to let cancer bother him.
And, mostly, it doesn’t. Knowing there is no cure doesn’t stop him from setting up a business with his partner, working on a memoir outline, or asking me to come stay with him.
Anthony knows I’m planning to travel back to France and stay indefinitely to lend moral support to my father as my stepmom undergoes treatment for metastatic breast cancer. He lives in Sussex, just a hop and a skip across the Channel. As his partner needs to go home for a while to look after her mom, I’ll take over while she’s away as Anthony can’t live alone.
“There are few others [we] trust enough to look after me (and not to shag me),” he says.
Typical Anthony. My husband laughs.
“I’m glad and honored you asked me,” I reply as my heart starts doing cartwheels in my chest.
The prospect of seeing him again for the first time since 2014 is thrilling.
After years steeped in depression, I have an opportunity to help and this is something to look forward to. I start getting organized and even get the county auditor’s office to send me an early ballot so I won’t have to wait until after the U.S. midterms to leave.
When I don’t get a reply, I initially chalk it down to the 8-hour time difference between the West Coast and the UK.
But when his silence persists, I worry as it is completely out of character.
Several emails later, I learn he’s in the ICU and needs help breathing, heavily sedated therefore unable to interact with anyone. “Anthony is a strong guy, he will pull through,” his partner writes me. His mom doesn’t seem alarmed either.
Exactly one week after he asked me to come stay with him, he dies.
It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve written this and how many people I’ve shared this news with since last Friday, it doesn’t make it any more real. I keep looking at my Skype messages and at his prescient — and last — status update. “Today, I am very far away…”
Although I had four years to get ready for this moment, I wasn’t prepared.
Because Anthony seemed to weather everything and defy all odds, no one expected him to die now.
He didn’t either, he never even made a will. His going back into hospital because he had a fever and wasn’t breathing very well didn’t faze him. To him, it was just another routine hospital stay, he’d be home in no time.
I thought shock was something that wore off but it still hasn’t.
Adapting to a world that doesn’t contain Anthony is beyond my abilities so I’m not even going to try, at least not until I get back to Europe.
My mind point blank refuses to accept his death but my body has a mind of its own. My skin is ablaze, there’s this weird throbbing pain at the back of my head, and sleep is something I really wish I didn’t have to deal with. When I do, my subconscious goes nuts and the nightmares are off the charts, a great big nonsensical mix of everything I’m trying not to pay attention to.
I’m so terrified of depression paralyzing me again that I force myself to tackle the page. I write something I have no recollection of writing or submitting; I reach out to a friend I have no recollection of reaching out to. He replies, because that’s what friends do, and I wish I wasn’t so far away from England.
I don’t even know how to mourn Anthony, I’m not even sure who I am without him. All I know is that I have lost my one witness in this life and I didn’t get to say goodbye. I can still hear his voice, and thanks to the internet, I can listen to it as often as I need to.
Our friendship was kinship, a deep bond forged by over two decades of love and mutual adoration.
Without him, a part of me is gone.
But what remains will forever bear the imprint of having been loved — and having loved — unconditionally for so many years.
He left behind a legacy of love.