Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert--
That from heaven or near it
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Higher still and higher
From the earth thou springest,
Like a cloud of fire;
The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest…
We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
Yet, if we could scorn
Hate and pride and fear,
If we were things born
Not to shed a tear
I know not how thy joy we should ever come near.
Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!
Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow,
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, from “To a Skylark”
I practiced those lines over and over in the waiting room of the funeral home so I wouldn’t break out in tears when I read them at Teri Smith’s memorial service. It wasn’t enough.
Oh, I got through the excerpt. With a group of friends and beta readers, I read my part in her favorite section of our book -- the scene that shows the power of wishes and the bonds between friends. A gust of wind opened the door to the chapel as we began the reading. Everyone insisted it was Teri checking in.
It still wasn’t enough.
A Highlander fan group brought us together ten years ago. At first we circled around each other, as friends and writers, not quite believing we’d found the other half of our respective brains. Phone calls followed, lots of them, from ten o’clock in a Saturday evening to five the following morning.
Our fan fiction morphed into original stories. We first met face to face at DragonCon, and the meeting became part of our personal myth -- as did the flowers her soon-to-be husband sent all the way from England. She moved to Virginia. Her husband arrived a year later. They lived close enough for me to walk to their apartment, and for the last year, I did, almost every day.
A friend who was widowed young described her grief as a meat hook in the gut. You can’t breathe without your body twisting itself ever tighter around the very thing that’s hurting you. I wouldn’t presume to say I comprehend the magnitude of her loss or the emptiness facing Teri’s husband SJ. But I recognize the feeling.
Losing a friend isn’t as simple as amputating a limb or even cutting out your heart. It’s as if some generous symbiote took up residence within you, changing the way you see, think and feel for the better. When that guest of the heart is torn from you, you don’t lose one part of yourself, you lose something of every part. Suddenly, you’re missing the muscles of your arm, the sensation in your hand, the breath in your lungs, the toes you need to dance.
I can’t make tea without thinking of all the cups we shared, solving the problems of the world -- and incidentally our own -- as we finished the pot. She introduced me to anime. She found me when I got lost in my corset. Twice. Laughing, she explained the meaning of “circle jerk” and “cluster f-” and a host of other things the Colonel made sure his red-haired daughter never knew.
We started a magazine together. We mourned the death of our fathers less than six months apart. She shared her grandkids with me. She addicted me to BPAL. She found me outrageous shoes on eBay. She named my car. We wrote a book together and worked out the plots for a dozen more.
She even gave me my cat. He appeared in her hallway on my birthday, and she knew, even before we exhausted all leads to finding the owner, the cat would belong to me. After all, hadn’t she told me I needed one just the week before?
The irony is I really do need him now, especially during the thousand times a day I get up to call her about something wonderful or silly or downright awful. “We made Pammie play Pandora.” “Oh God, they’ve made a car that parallel parks by itself. We’ll never have to do the Chinese fire drill ever again!”
I think the worst part of losing my best friend is not being able to share my life with her. She owns pieces of my soul no one, not even my dearest love, ever occupied before. I never even knew they were there until she found them. Then she left them, and me, behind.
I hear the memories of her in my head, so clearly I could quote whole stories, complete with gestures and facial expressions. But that’s all I have. I’ll never have any more. I’m desperate to write them down, because if they fade, as memories will, I won’t even be able to hear her in my head.
And (Damn it!) I’m not ready to say goodbye.