My dear friend Natalie,
Today is Sunday, March 23, 2014, and I’m tapping away at my laptop at around five in the afternoon. It’s a pretty day, though cold, with a glorious blue sky and simple white clouds, no hint of rain or a storm. It’s taken me a couple of hours to set about this task, writing to you like this, because, well, my heart is broken, and when one finds himself in such a state, sometimes it’s best to wait and let his thoughts catch up to his emotions.
I learned about your passing this morning at around eight-thirty. I hadn’t slept much last night, after having seen your brother’s post to your facebook wall saying that you were resting comfortably, and that he and his wife and your father were not leaving your side. It was time-stamped a little after eleven in the morning but, in my usual selfish way, I hadn’t really checked into facebook all day because I hadn’t posted anything and so I wasn’t keeping tabs, and so I didn’t see it until around ten-fifteen. I’ll admit, when I saw it, my first instinct was to cry. In fact, soon thereafter I allowed it to happen.
Crying as I did, like a child lost in a mall, without the knowledge that his parents were moving heaven and earth to find him, indeed, that society as a whole was keeping a watchful, though distanced eye until a parent arrived on scene, joined with my head cold, left me lying in bed with a pounding headache until close to two o’clock this morning. Finally, sleep took me. And when my alarm sounded this morning, I turned it down, grabbed my phone, and went to your facebook page.
I guess I knew last night that you were leaving us. Maybe that’s why my mind wouldn’t let me drift off to sleep any earlier. I’ll admit something here, something I never could have told you were you in front of me: I said a prayer for you, but not that you’d be spared, or not that you’d get better, because it was obvious to all that that wasn’t going to happen. No, Natalie, in truth, I asked God to bring you the strength to find calm in what you were going through. I’m not a religious person. I never have been. But like most agnostics, when confronted with something so wholly out of our control, there is comfort in handing it over to a higher power. And so that’s what I did. I assumed then and there, in the cold, darkness of my mind, that when I awoke you would be gone. And that’s what has happened.
I know we’ve only known each other for about three and a half years. And in that time we’ve only actually spoken perhaps two dozen times. But even still, I want you to know that you’ve mattered to me; I want you to know that, among hundreds, perhaps thousands of others, my life is changed for having known you.
I’m not sure how you would feel knowing that this is going on facebook. I imagine that, personally, you’d never do such a thing and would probably counsel against it. But I also know that, for me, you might make an exception. Having read through my Rachel posts, having read through the poems that I’ve shared on here, having read through my comic, and more importantly having shared more than a few conversations out back behind the bar where we met, while one or the other or both of us would be grabbing a smoke, you know that I don’t fit in with your usual group of friends. We’ve even discussed that. Well, more accurately, I’ve mentioned it and you sort of agreed.
We met in the summer of 2010. It was probably September. I had recently started my diet and exercising, and so I went up to one of the only bars in walking distance to my home to celebrate with a couple of beers. At the time, I had already dropped twenty pounds, and so I figured one or two beers was probably within the bounds of good taste. I was feeling more confident than is my norm, and so, after speaking with the bartender, Kathy, I asked her to grab a drink for the girl at the end of the bar who looked sort of sad, or maybe just disappointed that her friends were late in joining her. I didn’t know at the time that you and Kathy were friends. I didn’t know that you and I would become friends. All I knew was that you looked like you could use a friendly gesture, and so with Kathy’s help, one was given. Almost immediately you came over to thank me, and insisted that you would buy my next one. I declined, explaining that I was leaving shortly. You insisted on paying me, as you had a boyfriend and you didn’t want him or me to get the wrong impression. Again, I stubbornly said, “No,” adding that, were he to arrive before I left, I would buy him a drink as well. I’m not sure if you thought I was being dismissive or rude or whatever, the truth is I really was just trying to buy a drink for a woman who looked in need of a nice gesture.
Over the next few weeks, I would work out all week long, knowing that come Saturday evening I would go up to the bar for a couple of drinks, but secretly hoping that I would find you there. It helps, of course, that you’re beautiful. And that, though you have a strong wall around you, for good reason, I would learn, I happen to be the sort who doesn’t care for walls in the people around him, as peering over my own proves complicated enough without the added distance brought on by another’s. When December of that year finally came upon us, I explained that I wouldn’t be coming in for a few months, since the weather would complicate my walk, and so I told you that I would see you in the Spring. One of us, and here I’ll admit I don’t remember, mentioned that we should be facebook friends and so, there, in the darkness of the bar, we set about sending and accepting friend requests. (It was probably me… it sounds like the kind of needy thing I would do.)
The next morning, as has happened numerous times with other women I’ve friended on facebook, I checked to see how many friends you had and saw that it was many, many hundreds. I always check, so that I can set up the defense in my mind, “Well, yeah, she hasn’t commented or liked any of your stuff on facebook, but she has four hundred friends, she probably never saw it.” Actually, at the time, you had over seven hundred friends. And so I figured that nothing I did would even register. Which was fine. Sharing a couple of words on most Saturdays over the last few months had been enough, and I figured I’d see you again.
Which I did, in February, as the weather was nice enough to justify a walk up to the bar. By then Kathy was gone, replaced by another “instant” friend of yours, who became a friend of mine as well. It was around that time that I mentioned to you that my facebook page was about to have updates about the passing of my friend Rachel. We met in March, and she passed in April, and so I had written poems in the past and intended to share them with a wider audience (though I personally only have a handful of facebook friends).
It was only because of a discussion I heard you and our new bartender share that I even bothered to sign up for foursquare. My three year anniversary was last Friday, though I didn’t actually check-in anywhere until March 26, 2011, as I was waiting until a Saturday, when I could check-in at the bar, as a timestamp both of where we met and why I had even bothered to get involved with foursquare. (You fell away from it for months and months and months, but I’ll get to that.)
It was the week before, March 20th, however, that I knew, though you were happily involved with Tom and I would never seek to cause any problems for that relationship, I knew that, were you ever to be single, there was no chance of us being together. Which I guess I knew anyway, since we have lived such very different lives, but finally that night I had my reason. I mentioned in passing that I had posted some poems about my friend Rachel, and you’re response was, “Yes, I know, I read them. You told me I should.” And maybe it was more that you’re friends with people who are paid to write, at least one of your friends has a book available for purchase, more so than my usual self-defeating attitude, that cause me to say, “I appreciate you reading them, as they’re not very good.” The only time you’ve ever raised your voice to me, the only time, I hope, you had reason to, was that night. You immediately scolded me, saying, “Don’t do that… I hate when you do that… stop putting yourself down.” That’s when I knew that I had already lost the battle. Your relationship with Tom aside, I knew that you would never see past the way I had attacked myself, and of course, you shouldn’t. Nobody should. See, of all the women I’ve ever known, of all the women who have ever told me to stop putting myself down, most of the examples are easily dismissed, easily ignored. But not this one. Not you. Not that night. It has stuck with me, through all this time, as my single, biggest blunder of the past few years. I knew, honestly I knew, that you were not the kind of person to be friends with somebody unworthy, and, though I considered us friends, I didn’t know that you considered me the same, and so when I fell into my usual routine of playing down expectations, you jumped at me. And I’ll always remember it. Oh sure, I still beat up on myself. That’s such an ingrained part of who I am there isn’t much chance of correcting it at this point. But sometimes, when I’m in the right frame of mind, by which I mean I’m calm and speaking to a woman who doesn’t already now about my esteem issues, I hear your voice telling me to cut it out. It was while walking home that evening that I messaged you for the first time on facebook. It is the only drunk facebook messaging I’ve ever done, so you should be proud of that, wherein I thanked you for having read the poems, I explained how your having done so was so very important to me, and then I asked you to send along my best to Kathy. You never responded. I asked about it the following week and you were nice about the whole thing. I have to imagine that you’ve received a good share of drunken facebook messages from various hearts you’ve touched. I’m just sorry that I sunk to add my name to that list.
Anyway… a few weeks later our new shared friend, our bartender, was no longer at the bar and I decided to boycott the place. I did so knowing that through so doing I would be seeing less of you, but I figured we were facebook friends and, to be honest, seeing your statuses on facebook was a much better insight into who you were than our few shared conversations had ever proved.
And then in July you announced that you were moving to Las Vegas to be with your dad, who needed help as he was sick. I messaged you again, joking that I was doing so while stone sober, wishing you all the best, though I told you that I would miss you. Because I knew that I would. And I did. It was during your stay there, which had been meant as permanent, that you started to feel as if something wasn’t right. I think it was late Fall when you came back to Michigan and went in for a bunch of tests. It was cervical cancer, pretty advanced, but there was hope. And you beat it. With strength, with faith, by the grace of God and modern science, you beat it.
Eventually, it must have been in mid-2012, after ownership of the bar changed hands, I did end up back at the bar. And eventually I saw you again. You probably know this, because you’re smart and have a keen sense of the obvious, but the only reason I went back in there was for the chance to see you. No. I guess that’s not true. The chance of seeing you was the biggest reason, though just being there, where we had met, was enough to get me there. It brought calmness to me, even before any beer had been consumed. Because it was there, meeting you, that I realized that there really isn’t anything wrong with me. If someone as brilliant, as beautiful, as witty as you would allow me even the smallest glimpse into her life, then surely there was enough in me worth the attempt at salvage.
My timeline might be off a little bit. I’m going off of memory here, since I don’t have a paper trail as it were. But I think the general outline holds.
It was after we had met up again, after months apart, with your trip to Vegas, your diagnosis, and your success in beating back cancer, that you mentioned your problems with Tom on facebook. When I saw you at the bar however, when you mentioned them to me in person, something fundamental between us changed. See, even though I’ve considered you a friend since the night we met, I guess I always assumed that you had enough friends and I was just another guy in the bar that you spoke with when we happened to be in close proximity. But that night, when you really opened up to me, I somehow knew that you considered me an actual, honest to God friend. And suddenly, the long drought that was my incapability to make new friends, vanished.
The weather turned bleak again, and so I stopped going up to the bar. But I still kept a close watch over you, the way so many others did, through your facebook posts. Oh, sure, the arrangement was far from perfect. But I knew enough by then to know that you had real (read: non-facebook friends) that you had known for years who were looking out for you. And so I kept my observations to myself, confident that you were going to be all right. And then 2013 was upon us. And I barely, almost never, made it up to the bar. But you didn’t go there as much anymore either, or if you did, you rarely checked-in on foursquare and so I never knew about it.
It must have been sometime in the summer of that year, last year, 2013, that you posted a status updating everyone on Tom’s recent human failings. It is only because you mentioned them on facebook, and since I’m writing this as a time capsule for myself, (knowing that others will read it) that I’ll give a rough outline. Tom cheated on you while you were in the hospital battling cervical cancer. And when you found out and confronted him, his weak defense was that he thought you were dying and so he didn’t think that it mattered. I don’t know that I’ll ever see him again. But I promise you, here in writing, that I won’t make a scene. Even though I want to, and even though, last I knew, you were at a point where you would see it as “well, that’s what you get…”, I won’t bother. Because that ass isn’t worth my time. I’m just sorry that for a long time he had you convinced that he was worth yours. Maybe he was. Or is. Maybe at your wake I’ll see him and I’ll end up looking like an ass for having written anything about him at all. But I doubt it. And even if you’ve forgiven him, even if your family and friends forgive him, even if the Holy Trinity forgives him, I never will. Not ever. Soon thereafter, or maybe in tandem, it really is hard for me to remember, you started to feel poorly again and went in for a new batch of tests.
Last October I went to Brooklyn for the wedding of a friend. And while there, I was the recipient of a small kindness by a little girl holding a balloon, who took the time to wave to me, a random stranger looking out to the street through a window. And I wrote up a little description of what had happened. And though you’ve ‘liked’ or commented on a handful of my statuses, and the same with my silly little comic (you’ve even shared at least one), truly, the only time I felt that I had ever had any effect on you through something I had written was that story. I don’t remember your exact words, and to be honest if I look back through my statuses to find it I’ll end up in a ridiculous rabbit hole of joy and sadness, longing and regret, and might not ever find my way back to this proven rambling letter. Suffice to say, you mentioned that it was “Beautiful” and thanked me for sharing it. And in all the years I’d known you, I finally had the sense that you understood me. That you finally ‘got’ me. And it was through something I had written. Maybe I’ve blown that whole thing up much larger than it deserves. But I’m keeping it. That’s mine. And I’m not giving it up for anybody or anything.
It was either the week I got back or the following week that you were told that your cancer had returned. It was no longer cervical, but lung, and had metastasized into your bones. Still, you were optimistic. Through all of the horrible things that have been thrown at you in your life, things I barely even know about, where I can only, vaguely see an outline, this second diagnosis of cancer was surely the worst. In my mind, it was the most unfair. Because it would eventually take you from us. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time.
When I got back from Brooklyn, I felt like a changed man. I felt that things were looking up for me. As such, I wanted to share some of my newfound optimism with the people I care about. And so I thought about heading up to the bar. But I never saw you checking-in. And then, you shared a fundraising link a friend had set up for you to help you raise funds for your treatment, as you didn’t have health insurance. I shared that link. I shared it more than once. I even promised my friends that I would let them write a strip for my comic if they sent money in and let me know. And you commented on one of my posts, saying that you feel truly honored to have me as a friend. And through it all, I felt that optimism.
It was for this reason that, one weeknight in early November, while lying in bed, when a push-notification came to my phone saying that Natalie Loren was at our bar that I jumped out of bed, threw on some clothes, and made the twenty-five minute walk up to the bar in under fifteen minutes. When I got there, you were busy speaking with some friends. Not wishing to interfere, I grabbed a drink and sat at a table off to the side of the bar. Soon though, as you were leaving, you spotted me. You came over. We shared one of our awkward hugs (awkward because I never want to use both hands for fear of never being able to let go). You told me you were scared, but that you were going to fight like hell. And I told you that you would win. I told you that I had faith that you would win. Because I did. And because it’s the kind of thing people say in that situation, whether or not it turns out to be true. You thanked me for having shared your fundraiser. When I told you that my one friend’s children were sending me their allowances, you almost cried. I think that’s the only time I’ve ever seen you do that, now that I’m thinking about it. You asked me to thank them, which I did via fb message a few days later. You said that it was nice to see me, since you didn’t think you’d ever be back at the bar, since you were planning on moving out near Lakeside. I said that I probably wouldn’t be coming back either, since without you there what would be the point? And then I said that, in the Spring, when you were doing better, I would drive out to pick you up and we would grab a cup of coffee and finally hang out the way actual friends do, maybe even during the day. Which made you smile. I gave you another hug, though this second one was a real one, and told you that I’d be thinking about you, that I trusted if you needed anything that you’d let me know. And then you said, “Being sick really let’s you know who your friends are.” I said that I hope that I’ve proven myself a part of that group. You said that I had. I didn’t say it at the time, but I had already had in my head the plan to donate to your fundraiser anonymously. That’s how I generally handle those things. I don’t need people knowing my business with respect to finances. For everything else, obviously, I’m an open book. The plan was to donated under the name of one of my comic characters, hoping that you might get the joke. But of course, I pushed it too far. I donated under the name V _____. That’s Veronica from the comic. I’m not going to put the last name here, though I used it with the donation, because other people are going to read this (maybe) and I still haven’t given her name out in the strip. I figured it was the kind of thing you and I could joke about when we met up in the Spring for coffee. I honestly thought you had more time. That night, in the bar, knowing that I’d never see you again at the bar because you were moving, but sure I’d see you in the Spring, it seemed like a good idea. I hope you know that I contributed. I guess it doesn’t matter now, but I hope you know that I did. I told you that night at the bar that I would. I always keep my word. And then you left. And I finished my beer. And then I left. And when I got home, I put up a status on facebook saying, “Totally worth it.” And you ‘liked’ that status. And I felt connected to you, though miles apart.
Two days later you were in the hospital. And weeks later, around Thanksgiving, you mentioned that you’d have to spend your holiday in there. And I should have left well enough alone. I should have just taken what you had given me back at the bar, with the hugs and the kind words… but I couldn’t, because I’m me, and I knew that you were miserable. And so I messaged you and said that I didn’t live that far from the hospital (I named it), and that if you needed anything or just wanted a little company to let me know. And your response, hours later, was “I’m n”. I’m n. And then it dawned on me. I had mentioned the wrong hospital of the two in Grosse Pointe, Bon Securs and Cottage, that had both been bought out and hence renamed. And so maybe your response was going to be “I’m not at ___” but you changed your mind and never sent it, but accidentally sent “I’m n”, worried that if you said, I’m not at A but at B, then I’d see that as an invitation. So I sent a single question mark in response. I received no response back.
And then you mentioned in a facebook status that you would most likely be spending your Christmas in the hospital. And then they moved your hospital. I knew that, not only because you mentioned in on facebook, but because you checked-in to the new place on foursquare. Over the next few weeks, you’d check-in for the various hospital changes. And every time I saw one, my heart sank more and more. Because only occasionally did I see the clinic on Little Mack where you’d go for your infusions. And I knew that things weren’t getting better, they were getting worse. And your statuses were fewer and fewer, and more sparse, and in their absence your friends were leaving lots of things on your page, some of which, if I’m being honest, I found really tasteless, while others showed a closeness and understanding of you as a friend of theirs that I knew was less than my own. And so I didn’t write anything.
And then in mid-December you seemed to be improving. You asked for visitors and for people to send you candy. You wanted candy! But I can’t remember how many exclamation points you used. And so I went to Kroger and bought a whole mess of candy. And I boxed it up. And I sent it to you. And the day I sent it, it turns out that there was a problem with your pacemaker and so they put you into emergency surgery. And that box languished, as far as I know, in the flower room at the Beaumont in Royal Oak. Even though you mentioned other cards received, even though you mentioned flowers you could see through the window of your room but they wouldn’t give you because you were still waiting for your new pacemaker, I never found out if you got the candy I sent. About a week later, when you were doing a little better, you did mention to a friend you posted about coming to see you “Don’t bring candy.” I’m not sure if that’s because you’d been inundated by dozens of people sending you candy, or if the box I had sent was now a shared joke among you and others. But I doubt the latter. That doesn’t seem your style. Maybe you never even knew about the box I sent. But I did send it. I even took a photo on my phone of the contents before they were boxed and the box after it was addressed, so that I would remember, if nobody else. You see, Nat, I have horrible luck, too. Not as bad as yours. I’d never contend that. But still pretty bad. And so it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you’d never even heard about the box.
It was sometime in January that you got the news that the cancer was spreading again. And in February I fought the urge to send you a Valentine in the hospital. And then you were around facebook less and less and I got worried again. And then you wrote that they had told you that your diagnosis was terminal. And more and more people started to write on your wall. But we only share one fb friend, Nat, and almost everyone on there knows so other people. And so I sent you a message. A private, just thinking about you message. And a few days later you responded, “Thanks, Chris. I appreciate it. I just wish the pain would stop. I could handle everything else.” And I sent a hug the second after I read it, which was the second it popped onto my phone. And you sent one of those little facebook photos messenger uses, a dog I guess it was. And then you sent a little smiley face.
And that’s how things stayed. Until the second week of March when I sent you another message, with my phone number, saying that if you needed anything or just wanted company, or even just to chat, let me know. And that’s the last time we interacted.
In fact, I’m not sure if you even read that. Maybe you did. Maybe you read it and decided that you would rather spend the limited time you had left with your family and close friends you’ve known longer. I’m not sure. I don’t begrudge you any decision you may have made. Maybe you didn’t make a decision. Maybe it was made for you, by people helping you with your phone. I have no idea.
In any case, a few days later, last Wednesday, March 19th you posted that they had told you that you had weeks to months. And you asked people to send prayers your way. And I did. Little agnostic, angry at God if he exists, Christopher took the time from his usual generalized anger at the world to say a prayer for a friend because she had asked. I didn’t write on your wall the way so many others chose to do. I still assumed that these other people, these real life friends of yours had known you longer and their words would mean more. I figured I’d wait a few days and send you another private message. They told you that you had weeks to months.
But they lied! They fucking lied. You were gone from us three to four days later.
And my heart is broken. And I’ve lost a friend. And the world has lost one of the most meaningful lives I’ve ever known. The outpouring of support shown for you over the last few hours has been amazing. I always knew you were important to me. I always knew you were important. But now it’s clear to anyone lucky enough to have been included in your circle of facebook friends.
Thank you, Natalie, for allowing me inside. Thank you for sharing a part of yourself with somebody who truly appreciates it, who truly needed you in his life when we met. I’m sorry for any of the times I may have seemed weird, or ‘heavy’, or intense. That’s just my nature. And I’m sorry that you had to deal with so much hurt and grief and sadness in your life. The little I know is enough to guarantee you a spot in the heavens. And I’m sure there was so much more.
I don’t know if anything exists after we pass. Every fiber of my being tells me that there isn’t. But if I’m ever wrong about anything, I pray that it’s this. I hope there is something else out there, something those of us still struggling through this horrid, wretched world can’t see, because we haven’t paid out dues. You’ve paid yours, my dear. You’ve paid yours and more. And if there is anything else, whatever it proves to be, I hope that you’re able to finally be at peace. Because you deserve that and so much more.
I’ll always heart you, Nat. And I’ll miss you.
It’s probably obvious by now, but there won’t be a comic today. No problems, no major issues, just the confluence of two events. First, I’m involved in a new project at work for one of our “sister” companies. We need to update an old, tired website to a better, stronger one. Before those of you who harbor the wrong impression of me as a member of the pocket protector brigade over-think it, I’m merely involved because I have one of those eyes that catches grammatical errors. Most of the work has already been done by a team in India… I’m just helping with the final touches. Anyway, I spent a good part of my Saturday, and a few hours yesterday, working on it from home. When the time came late in the afternoon to work on the comics for the week, I noticed that the flash drive that was supposed to have the “artwork” (by which I mean previous strips I Mary Shelley into new ones) did not, in fact, have said artwork. And I couldn’t be bothered to pull old ones off of the internet and tweak them, as they would have all of those funky shadows and what not and it would have taken forever. Did you forget that I’m lazy? Anyway, the two events are the project and the issue with the flash drive. I suppose I could have spent the time it took to type this up making today’s and then hope to find time for the others later on or even tonight. But I can’t be bothered. So, sadly, the comic is on hiatus until next Monday. Please address all complaints to wherever one addresses such things, and have a good balance of your day.