by Liza Lavrova
We were sort of half-assed friends. Like, I wrote her a birthday card. But I didn’t mail it because I didn’t have her address. I could’ve looked it up, I knew just where the street would be on Google Maps. But instead I messaged her and she told me not to bother. Just bring it next time you’re around. And when I came home the next week, I forgot the card. The next time too. In the end, I was tired of seeing it on my windowsill so I dropped it in the blue mail box on the corner, four months late.
The spring her mother died, I came to town for the funeral. There were flowers and speeches and I sat two seats away from her, separated by our other friend Tommy and a cousin from out of state. The grief in the room was palpable but it wasn’t mine. Tommy reached for my hand and I saw that he was holding the cousin’s hand, who was holding, in turn, hers. Tommy’s fingers were cold and rigid and mine were hot, the temperature gradient jarring when his hand first brushed mine.
Afterwards, we went to her house. After that, I mean way after, she asked me to take her to the 24-hour CVS. She was no longer wearing black—she’d changed into blue jeans and a purple turtleneck. She walked along the aisles, looking at everything and nothing, her demeanor carefully normal. She touched makeup products and Easter chocolates on clearance as if to say, look, life goes on. I didn’t know how to ask so I never found out how her mother died. I had a vague idea—melanoma—but none of the details. My mind went between images of hospital beds, her vast and clean living room, ringing alarms, the quiet of her empty kitchen. When she was done looking at things, we stood a while in the parking lot. I was ready to go but she made no sign of wanting to get into the car, just stood there leaning against the passenger door, gazing up. I could see her breath going into the night.
We met once more before I left town, over coffee. She said she was doing fine, as fine as one could be doing, that she was thinking of going back to work. I told her to call me whenever and paid for the bill.
On the train ride back, I overheard two girls talking about one of their fathers. “The doctors said they had another patient like him and he’s still doing fine. It’s funny, he feels no different, but there’s cancer all over his body.” The blonde began to cry, and the brunette took her into her arms, shielding her body from sight.
I thought of how, once, she’d put her arm around me in the sunny street the next town over, where we’d heard of a yard full of kittens. On that sloping street behind the grocery store, we found a fenced yard, tangled green, and a house with blank windows. We stood and waited for the kittens but instead a neighbor came and cursed the owner for abandoning the animals, for traveling and leaving them behind. It takes responsibility to care for a life smaller than your own. We stood a while longer, looking into the windows, and the grasses in the yard, shifting in the hot wind. I thought I could see white fur moving beyond the fence posts. Then she put her arm around my shoulders and we went home.
Some friendships fall by the wayside not because they weren't good but through unintentional neglect. I wanted to describe that feeling of loss: of distance, of the silence of not knowing what to say or how to help, of good intentions that never materialize into action.
Liza Lavrova works in cancer research in Boston, MA. She can often be found daydreaming about cat ownership, an expansion of her plant collection, and a more sustainable future for our planet. You can follow her musings on Instagram at @shower_poet.