Thursday, February 23, 2017

It's So Good to Be Alive

These are the flowers Sonia and I got one another for Valentine's Day. Most of them are still going strong.

Last Friday, I lost a friend. Molly was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis as a child, and lived her life on borrowed time. She was diagnosed in the 80's, when it was rare for people to live past their teen years. She made it to 35.

Cystic fibrosis affects the lungs and digestive system. It's a hereditary condition in which the body produces heavy mucus and eventually shuts down multiple organs.

We lived together for three years, in a three-bedroom house in Center City with two different roommates. The first roommate was standoffish; the second became a friend.

Molly loved the Steelers, and she loved to drink. She was gorgeous and vibrant and blonde. She mastered the art of the flowy shirt to hide her CF-bloated belly. She was welcoming of my partners and curious about my queer identity. It seemed to me as though she simply hadn't known many gay people, especially women. Molly also loved men.

It was the early days of my nonprofit job. I went about three years without a day off, besides the common holidays. I remember one of the first weeks I took off, for a trip to Florida with my partner to see friends. It wasn't even a whole week.

Molly said, "You work so much. You deserve some time off."

At the time, I remember thinking I had her fooled. I didn't really deserve it.

I didn't have a clear picture then of how lazy many people are in their jobs. Instead of competing against humans, I was competing against my own best ideal of what I could do. I fell short every time.

Her words stayed with me. They brought tears to my eyes, even as I denied them. Over the years, they have rung in my ears whenever I'm being too hard on a friend, partner or coworker. I give myself permission to be generous in the way that Molly was to me. Even though I didn't think I deserved it, it felt nice to have someone else believe in both my hard work and inherent worth.

Just as we'd settled on what felt like a comfortable, drama-free household, our ancient landlady showed up one morning. She hadn't seen the neighborhood in 10 years, but that didn't stop her from using her own key to enter our home as Molly and I ate breakfast. She couldn't believe how the neighborhood had changed.

Within a month, we received notice that she would be selling the house. We needed to find a new home. Our roommate moved in with her boyfriend. Molly stayed with family for a brief time, then with the boyfriend who became her fiancé. I moved to West Philadelphia and made new friends.

Since Molly died, I've found myself reaching for Sonia more often, more desperately. The way I feel reminds me of the Stephen Dunn poem, I Came Home Wanting to Touch Everyone. Even in her death, Molly brings me an appreciation of each breath.

It's so good to be alive, to be able to work and love. No qualifications.

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