I met Yodi my freshman year of college. She was a year ahead of me and we met in a Women’s Studies class. (of course) We became friends, and then more. Yodi taught me the wonders and joys of Sapphic love. Looking back, I realize how fortunate I was to have her as my first woman lover. She was gentle and patient, but passionate and loud and fun.
She left school after that year to pursue a different education and career in New York City. Our lives went in different directions and we slowly lost touch with each other.
Then, a few years ago, I received an email from her at work. She had tracked me down (even though I don’t do FaceBook!) and we re-connected as if nothing had changed. Well, of course not the intimate parts. We were now both in committed relationships. But the friendship picked up as if we hadn’t seen each other for a couple of days rather than a couple decades.
At that time I was going to Sloane-Kettering in NYC every other month for breast pre-cancer issues. Yodi would always arrange to meet me, we would have lunch at some little hole in the wall restaurant she had discovered and then go to some bizarre show - queer erotic art or some counter culture something. She enjoyed people who lived large and at the fringe. Those outings always made the medical part of the day worthwhile. We were like school girls walking around the city, arm in arm, giggling and sharing private jokes. Yodi was the friend who got me tickets to see Cate Blanchett in “A Streetcar Named Desire” a few years ago. (Yes, I was in the same room as Cate, breathing the same air. *swoon*) How do you ever thank a friend for such a gift?
Soon after, Yodi had a life changing experience and decided to go back to her spiritual roots and sensibilities to live on a kibbutz in Israel. There were, of course, lots of hugs and a tearful goodbye, and a promise to go visit her as soon as I could.
Two years ago I planned a trip, but was sidelined with breast cancer. Last year I planned another trip but was deterred by a second cancer surgery and radiation treatments. This past March I made reservations, again, and sent out an appeal to the universe that my health would hold up.
Then Yodi wrote to say she had been diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. Crap.
As my vacation date got closer, the Syrian war got bigger. Travel advisories became more onerous and Yodi’s health became more precarious. When I finally boarded a flight I had a heavy heart. Not only were there now serious threats of war in the region, but between March and August, her health had declined significantly. Gone were the plans for sightseeing tours and exploring all the weird and wonderful nooks and crannies of very gay Tel Aviv. The trip, I knew, was now a farewell tour.
Her friend Julia picked me up at the airport and we made the drive out to the desert where her small, agrarian kibbutz was located. I barely recognized my friend. The effects of chemo and the fluid retention had changed her. She had lost her hair and her girlish figure, but she did not lose her sense of humor or her sarcastic wit. Best of all, she was part of a family on this small kibbutz. Everyone obviously loved her as much as I did, and she was well cared for. I was much relieved.
We spent a week reminiscing about college days, friends and family, religion, the situation in Syria, how cancer sucks and death. There is something I admire about people of deep faith, and that profound sense of calm and acceptance about their own mortality. She had loved her life and now she was ready to go.
I spent a week with her. Trying to make her comfortable and to let her know how very much I loved her, how much I appreciated everything she had done for me and the world she had opened for me. I got to take a couple of tours of the kibbutz which was amazing, and took a quick side trip to Old Jerusalem to wander the ancient streets for a while. Mostly though I tried to soak up every bit of Yodi’s wit and wisdom before I had to leave. I wanted to make sure she was etched on my brain and my heart forever.
And then I had to say goodbye.
This past Wednesday night I got a call telling me she had died, peacefully. Yodi. The friend who introduced me to loving women. The friend who exposed me to a wonderfully weird perspective of the queer world. The friend who held my hand while doctors stuck long needles in my breasts. The friend who waited for me the very first time I went to the cemetery to see Daphne and allowed me to weep inconsolably in her arms. The friend whose laugh could fill an arena. The friend who got me tickets to be in the same space as Cate Blanchett. The friend who shared her Seders and prayers with me and allowed me to be part of her faith and her family. The friend who taught me most about atonement and forgiveness. The friend who just showed me how to graciously accept the inevitable passage.
I remember once asking my mother what the worst thing about aging was. And her answer was “watching your friends die.” I feel like I am now coming into that phase of life. Most of my friend’s parents have passed and we are now the next generation. It’s a very odd place to be - I still feel like I’m in my thirties, yet my body is telling me otherwise. My body chemistry has revealed that I have a very high probability for a cancer recurrence. I have already lost friends to disease and drugs and drunk drivers.
If I am to take the lessons from these people who lived wonderfully happy lives it is this - always choose love, enjoy the little things in life, give back, always help others, practice gratitude, always face in the direction you want to go, apologize when you're wrong, forgive others even when it is hard, especially when it is hard, be kind, give even more, don’t let the asshats get you down, laugh loud and often, and go in peace.
Not a bad gift of collected wisdom to live by.
Today I am honoring Yodi’s wishes to mourn but not despair. And to always celebrate life . . . especially the weird and bizarre.