I had been in the bathroom for quite a while at my parents after the party. “Are you alright?” my sister said so blithely. I had fallen into the bathtub fully clothed and replied, “I’m fine!” She opened the door and as I sat up, blood poured from my head, down my face and into my mouth.
You see, my Aunt Jippy throws good parties. It was her 50th birthday party that night, and I had a blast with my family just eating, drinking, and dancing to Frank Sinatra covers. Very atypical for me.
As soon as I got back to my apartment, I called my best friend, Gabrielle Thora Sweder. I left her a slurred yet detailed voicemail about my escapade of the night and compared it to one we had together in the past.
I loved her middle name. Especially since it was the name of an actor in Ghost World, a movie we associated deeply with our friendship.
Once I hung up the phone, I saw messages from her baby sister BreAnna asking me if I had spoken to her mom or to call her as soon as possible. I shrugged it off a bit mentally. I was drunk and Gabby had been in and out of rehabs for years. It was strenuous to keep up with.
“Nothing surprises me with her,” I told BreAnna, “I’m always on stand-by for you guys.”
I assumed she relapsed, crashed her or her parents’ car again, her Hepatitis C was acting up badly, something serious but typical. But something felt wrong, a strange sense of foreboding loomed.
I took a moment to inspect Facebook, since Gabby’s mother was more or less an addict. I read her post, “We have decided to let our loved ones, family and friends know that our daughter Gabrielle has given up the fight and is now with God!”
It looked fake and I hated the exclamation point in her status. Why would they lie like this? Why would you say she’s dead so soon?
That’s what I thought instantly. It was not true. She would never give up the fight.
“Is she dead?” I asked BreAnna. “Thank you, and yes.”
On the way to the airport, I felt nothing. Gabby and her family had moved to North Carolina some years ago. However, for a lot of that time, Gabby was living in Florida.
She was living in Florida at rehabs and halfway houses, then moving back home to North Carolina, repeat. The cycle was vicious and unforgiving.
It was exhausting for everyone, but mostly, for her. Gabrielle suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder, which drove her into drug addiction.
I flew into NC with BreAnna. Once I saw her in the terminal, I was stunned at how they looked so much alike except that Gabrielle carried darkness, while her baby sister is full of light.
A face a can say so much, and be so hard to read.
Dawn (BreAnna and Gabby’s mom) picked us up from the airport in Raleigh, NC. From there, we went directly to the home of a family friend of theirs.
Apparently, it was the Super Bowl that night. There were platters of fruit, sandwiches, chips, dip, and beer covering the counter tops.
There was too much food. No one ate; I still don’t know what team won the super bowl or who even played.
I never had the chance to visit her home in NC while she was alive. She always wanted to come to stay with me. She couldn’t though, between her tendency to purloin and get high, she couldn’t be trusted to visit me in Philadelphia.
I walked in the door of Gabby’s house with my purple suitcase feeling like a burden, an intruder. I was overcome with longing as I looked into her bedroom.
The family asked me to stay in her bedroom, where she had died. So I did, I slept in the bed where she died and petted her cat, Opi.
Each night Opi cried in a way I have never heard a cat cry before. After he stopped, he would curl into the bed with me. He was foisted into this. Cats should not grieve.
“I’ve been expecting this for years, but that certainly doesn’t make it any easier,” Dawn said to me.
A mother who had been expecting the death of her oldest daughter, and the harrowing shadow that looms over a grief that thick, that devastating. Expecting the death of your drug addicted and mentally ill daughter is logical. And when it happens, that logic is no longer applicable.
The service was intimately held in the middle of nowhere at a funeral home, so darkly quaint, and so dry. The vintage style chairs felt like heavy carpet .
A playlist conjured from the masters of catharsis set my ears on fire. Tears fell from my eyes and trickled to the floor.
I entered the funeral home with the family and gazed upon the urn that held most of Gabrielle and grabbed a program.
“In loving memory of Gabrielle Dawn Sweder.”
I read it and looked around myself waiting for a camera crew to come out and laugh at me.
“Her middle name isn’t Thora?” I exclaimed to Gabby’s mom, Dawn. She almost fell over laughing, and in-between gasps for air she said, “I wondered why the card on the flowers you sent said, “Gabrielle Thora!”
There was no use denying her proclivity for telling lies. Fifteen years of friendship, and only after her death did I know my best friend’s real name. That was the only thing typical.