My friend Monica

Mood: Sobered | Drinking: Water

monwedding

In the summer of 1994, fresh out of college, I joined 9 other bright-eyed, know-it-all writers in Indianapolis.

We were Pulliam Fellows, part of a prestigious post-graduate journalism fellowship at The Indianapolis Star & The Indianapolis News. For three heady months we busied ourselves with bylines and more than one after-work beer binge in Broad Ripple.

I wrote stories about county fairs and boys with AIDS and even went “undercover” as a hippie for a feature story when the Grateful Dead came to town.

But one of the most memorable and longest-lasting memories of that bright summer came outside of the newsroom and my fellow Fellows. That summer, I met Monica Mertz.

The details of how we met have gone fuzzy, but I believe it had something to do with an ex-boyfriend who also happened to be interning in Indy that summer. The guy wasn’t a keeper, but Monica became a lifelong friend.

What I remember most about those early days is her quick wit, her sudden smile, and how easy it was to feel as if I had known her my entire life. I spent quite a bit of time at her house that summer, and after I moved back to Illinois, she came to visit.

Two years later, I stood up in her wedding to John Pryor. Yes, that’s me on the left up there with the fabulous pointy shoes. (It seems that in 1996 I had yet to discover the wonder of black hair dye.)

I spent a long time searching dusty photo albums last night for a good picture of Monica and I. Apparently we couldn’t be photogenic at the same time, because I have very few photos of the pair of us, and one of us looks wonky in each of them.

I chose this photo not because of my awesome 90s hairdo, but because I remember so much of that long-gone day. The giddy excitement of Monica’s sisters, Natalie & Kimberly. Monica cracking jokes as we all got ready, the smell of hairspray and curling irons everywhere. The calm sureness she had as she walked down the aisle. The way John stared as if there were no other woman in the world.

Monica and John moved to South Carolina to build their lives together, and we didn’t see much of each other for the next few years. In fact, the last time I saw Mon was when she played her gorgeous violin at my own wedding, in the middle of a Chicago blizzard.

We’ve kept in touch through emails and phone calls. So I knew, about a year and a half ago, that she had been diagnosed with lung cancer right after giving birth to her third child.

Even though it was the big “C” word, I wasn’t worried. Monica is one of the strongest people I know. I didn’t think cancer could stop her.

But this Monday, after 18 months of fighting, it did.

I’m not ready to start losing friends. I feel too young for it. I’ve known four other people my age who were diagnosed with cancer, but they survived. I guess I naively expected Monica would, too.

Death seems to be everywhere these days. I just attended a memorial service for the brother of one of my best friends. He was just 45. He, too, died of cancer.

Last year we buried my grandfather, and this Saturday I’m flying to Hawaii with my mom and sister to say goodbye to Nana, my mom’s mother, who has been diagnosed with lung cancer and given just a few weeks to live.

The finality of loss is hard to comprehend.

Monica comes from a strongly religious family, and everywhere on her facebook page are messages of hope, people telling her family how much fun Monica is having in heaven right now, pain- and cancer-free.

It’s not that I don’t believe she’s gone to a better place, as they say. I just want to be able to grovel in my grief for a little while. To mourn the sudden absence of that contagious smile, that kindred spirit.

So this is for you, Monica. You are already sorely missed, my friend. My heart is with you today, wherever heaven might be.

-Lo, who feels old and yet not old enough, all at the same time.

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