Last week, I received terrible news about a friend's passing. It was unexpected, and I was a little taken back when I first heard it. Juliana was quite the healthy woman five years ago when I last saw her. Due to our respective busy lives, we have not communicated very much since our last meeting. I must admit, now that I have some time to ponder on everything that had transpired, it was I who should be blamed for our lack of correspondence. You see, Juliana was one of the most beautiful human being I've ever known, both in spirit and body. In many ways, she was the sister I never had.
When I was much younger, I found myself without money and a job, trying to make my way through university sans scholarship and such financial assistance. My parents were poor blue-collar workers just going through the days, struggling to stay afloat in a rather dim economy. Being the eldest daughter, I did all I could to be accepted to an institution of higher learning. The university I attended was not the greatest, but it was everything I could have hoped for. I was going to be a scholar, a professor, and earn my prestige and wealth, so my parents would be proud. But the reality of university life was unexpectedly sad. I'd spent almost all of my savings on tuition, books, and lodging, leaving very little to survive. There were times when I was so hungry, concentrating in class was impossible. That was when Juliana entered my life, and everything changed.
Juliana was a few years older than I, a senior in university, and was incredibly smart. She tutored me in philosophy as the professor's assistant, and we became instant friends. Juliana was kind, sweet, and almost unbearably helpful in every aspect of my life during that time. She would bring me my meals, help me in my homework, and buy me simple gifts to cheer me up every now and then when I was depressed. But like so many young girls my age, I did not think too much of her kindness. I appreciated everything she did for me, but I did not make any effort to get to know her. Come to think of it, I was like a sponge, taking, not giving. And it was quite all right for me, because I did not know better.
Years after we first met, after my graduation, she'd still write me; she would call me every Christmas to wish me the best of the season, and she had never missed my birthday; every year she'd send me a card with the same three sentences: "Miss you. Love you. And a happy birthday!" No more, no less.
I never kept any of her cards, never saved a single photograph, never thought too much of anything. I was focused on my life, myself, and everything I had wanted to achieve.
Five years ago, she'd asked me to meet her at a coffee shop just to catch up—she was passing through on her way to a conference. I did go. I did sit down with her for a coffee. But it was only for no more than a half hour. I had made plans with my colleagues—we were to catch the latest matinee that day—and I had quickly made my excuses and left in a hurry.
Now, looking back, I would've done everything differently. Juliana was my dearest friend, and I never really saw it until the day she passed away.
I did not attend her funeral—I could, but I chose not to. But what difference would that have made? The dead does not see, and I, the living, can only hope to learn from my past.
Juliana once told me in passing that sometimes in life, we should aim to be the best friend anyone could ever have, instead of constantly looking too hard for the best friend who never exists. And she was right. She had always been right.
Dear friends, please think kindly of me, for tonight I sleep not.
Ms. Lilly Brightbottom
July 12, 2014