When I was little, there was a woman who would come over and help take care of me. Her name was Yvette.
Yvette was short in comparison to my mother, but to me, she was just the perfect height for my death-grip hugs. Her short brown hair fell in soft waves that skimmed her kind, present face and almond eyes that sparkled with mischief. Her skin was flawless, her makeup enhancing everything about her feisty, fun-loving, soft yet unmistakably pronounced features. She smelled like florals and Calvin Klein Obsession and adventure. Her chin was clefted just like mine.
As the story would go, Yvette would take me out to run errands with her and people would think I was hers. We shared the same high cheekbones, the same almond eyes, the same clefted chin and curious nature. Even as a small child, I could tell Yvette and I were so much alike. She’d babysit my brother and I but was never a “babysitter” – she was more like extended family coming over to hang. At night, she’d change into “fancy” clothes and I’d watch her do her makeup in the vanity’s mirror. “Are you going on a hot date?” I used to tease. “You’re such a party animal.” We’d laugh and I’d watch her curl her eyelashes and spray her hair into a defined shape on top of her head. My parents would get home, I’d hug her goodbye, and she was off to her mystery evening out in the world way beyond my little West Valley cul-de-sac. She smelled like florals and Calvin Klein Obsession and adventure. If I hugged her long enough, sometimes it would linger on my nightgown. We were so much alike. I never knew where she really went.
When I was twelve years old, I got my period for the first time. It was the day of the seventh grade Disneyland trip, a once-a-year opportunity they gave to the kids at school who had been accepted into the honors program. I learned how to use a pad on the spot (no pun intended) and had a blast at Disneyland with the added bonus of knowing I was 2% more mature and “adult” than I had been the night before. This period thing is no big deal, I thought. Why do people make such a big deal of it?
Well, I found out the next day why people made such a big deal of it. On the bus ride home, I was doubled over in pain from the debilitating cramps I was experiencing for the very first time ever. I slouched down and buried myself in fetal position between my seat and the seat in front of me, the girls around me rubbing my back and looking on in concern. None of us knew what was going on. None of us had dealt with this before.
A friend of mine, bless her soul, walked me home through the rain, except I needed to tie my rain coat over my waist as I’d made the rookie mistake of not accounting for “second day flow.” As I turned my key into the door, drenched in rain and my own tears, I prayed someone would be home…
The door opened before I could get the key through. It was Yvette. Mortified, I showed her my jeans. She looked at me with the kind of empathy that only older, wiser women who have “been there” possess, and she hugged me tight as I replayed my quintessential seventh-grade-female horror story over and over in my brain. She smelled of flowers and Calvin Klein and adventure, and somehow her hugs made my foreign cramps begin to ease. Nothing could hurt that much for that long while she was around.
She was at my sixth grade graduation. She was at my first theatre performance. I remember the exact moment of Princess Diana’s car crash and how traumatic it was to the world, and it’s all because Yvette turned on the TV and let me watch with her, like two sisters sitting side by side watching history happen. When I came home from college one winter, after not seeing her for quite some time, she was lounging on the couch laughing and drinking wine with my mom just like they’d always done. It was close to Christmas. She gave me a necklace. She was dressed up to go somewhere, except that “somewhere” was here and the adventure was now. Yvette was there for everything.
Until one day, she wasn’t. We know she’d moved to live near her sister, and we know at some point she was out of the country to help a sick family member. But that’s all we know. Or what we think we know. It all blurs together now. We used to talk on the phone every few months, then every few months became holidays and birthdays, then holidays and birthdays became every year at some point in time.
And then one day, the calls stopped. The phone number we’d been using had been disconnected. That’s it. One day, just gone.
I never knew where she really went.
Loss is a funny thing. Not funny ha-ha, but funny as in it gives you that sour feeling in your stomach and aching feeling in your heart that you hate you can place.
With death, it’s finite. It’s devastating and in some of the worst cases unexpected. It leaves you with dark blank space and a piece of the puzzle that is your heart ripped out and gone forever. Death is obvious and brutal.
But what about the kind of loss that isn’t so finite? What about the characters that come into our lives, making a profound impact, then vanish without so much as a heads up or warning sign?
I think about loss every day. I’ve come to learn this a blessing and a curse when you’re a highly sensitive and self-aware soul. On one hand, I’m constantly reminding myself of the fleeting nature of things. This couch. This room. This kiss. This look. This street. This weather. This moment. On the other hand, I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the littlest and biggest and even the most mediocre middlest-of-the-road things.
From the outside, to people who don’t really know me, I can see how my ever-present gratitude might come off as overly-consistent enthusiasm or doe-eyed naiveté about how the world really works. But I know better. I know the high highs don’t come without the low lows, and every brightest light has a darkest dark. I walk through life constantly balancing the two; I celebrate and mourn simultaneously.
So how does it work, then? When you want to see someone so badly but don’t even know where to start? When you miss something so fiercely, but can barely describe what you’re missing anymore? It’s not a thing, it’s not an action. I miss the feelings. I miss the presence. I miss her being there.
I found Yvette a while ago on Facebook. At least I think it was her. I recognized her sister’s name on her “Friends” list, and her nephew too. There was no profile picture.
I wrote her a message with shaky hands. I used the nickname I’d made for her as a child.
“Ya-Ya? Is this you?”
I waited, and waited, and waited. Finally, six months later, I saw a notification under my message.
My message had been read…two weeks prior.
I hated the thought that entered my mind, and I hated that it could be right.
What if she doesn’t want to be found?
Loss happens in so many ways. In death, in relationships, in friendships, in people disappearing. But we also lose parts of ourselves along our journey. We lose who we were, become who we are.
That kind of loss usually happens in three ways. In Option A, we go through metamorphosis – those old parts informing the new-and-improved version of us we’re presenting to the world. The old parts of us are still there, just in different forms. The butterfly still has the eyes of the caterpillar; the bird still the same beak of the fuzzy chick.
But if we’re not self-aware, Option B comes in. The old us simply…vanishes. In Option B, we wake up one day and have become unrecognizable to ourselves. Option B terrifies me to the core.
And then sometimes, there’s a third option. In Option C, we lose ourselves intentionally in order to create the new someone we know we need to be.
I vote for Option A. I will always be Team Option A. But that doesn’t mean I have the right to force it on others and pretend like I know their story.
Is Option C necessary for some, I wonder? Is my intense self-awareness blinding me to the fact that some people NEED to consciously wipe the slate clean to get a fresh new start? I’d like to think that we are handed our good times AND bad all for a reason, and each moment is a learning opportunity and chance to grow into the person we know we’re meant to be, and that Option A is the rightest option there is, plain and simple…
But some people aren’t there. Some people need to forget to let go. And we cannot fault them for it. We are all on our unique journeys through this lifetime, and learn the same exact lessons, just not at the same exact times. We don’t even learn them in the same exact WAYS. Sometimes we lose people in our lives because they need to go find themselves in theirs.
There’s not a week that goes by I don’t miss Yvette. I wish I could call her, I wish I could tell her about New York. I wish I could joke about us going out and hitting the town, but really just have her visit and come over and drink wine and laugh on my couch. I wish we could reminisce about the time she was there for me when I walked home in the rain, I wish we could remember about when big history-making happenings happened, I wish she could remind me of things I said or did that I’ve long forgotten about now. I wish she could meet my husband, I wish she could learn my life. I wish I could see that she’s happy.
But I can’t. All the above is me thinking of myself, of my own journey and the way I do things. And my journey is my own to be accountable for, just like Yvette’s is all her own. We cannot create opinions about someone else’s story based on how we want them to fit into ours.
Who knows what seeing my Facebook message might have brought up for her, if that was in fact her? I will never know. I never knew where she went after leaving my cul-de-sac, and I never knew where she went after that last voicemail I remember receiving around the time of my 19th birthday over a decade ago. I need to be at peace knowing that the time we spent together was beautiful and funny and warm and it served its purpose to show us off onto our separate ways.
I do know that wherever she is, she is discovering her own journey and learning who she is meant to be, and has been all along. I am able to both mourn the loss of her in my life, and hope that there’s cause to celebrate the presence of her own self in hers. Because she was lightness personified. I always saw it. I’m not sure she did. I can only hope her eyes have been opened to her brilliance. She sparkled with mischief. Her chin was clefted just like mine.
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