For most people, New Year’s is a time for optimism, a time to look forward, to think about things they’d like to accomplish in the coming year, things they’d like to improve about themselves, and maybe the world they live in. But for me, New Year’s is a little different.
December 31 was my longtime girlfriend Lara’s birthday. Those who know me well or who read the blog already know her story , but on this date I can’t help but write a bit more about her. Because on New Year’s Eve I find myself thinking not of what’s to come, but what’s already passed, the calendar pages that she and I watched flip by together.
I think back to 2003, the first New Year’s Eve I spent with Lara, her twenty-fourth birthday.
We saw a band at an Irish bar in Berkeley, drank Guinness (well, I did) with a bunch of her high school and college friends, who after everything are still mostly my friends. When we drove home, late, it was raining hard, and she pulled into her parents’ driveway and stopped the car and sat and apologized to me, telling me she regretted that she’d hid her illness from me—she had Cystic Fibrosis, and I only found out about it when she got sick and had to quit her first attempt at graduate school, when a mutual friend almost literally dragged the admission from her. She said she needed me to forgive her for the sake of our relationship. I appreciated the apology, but it wasn’t really necessary. I understood that she hadn’t wanted people to know she had a chronic disease, to look at her differently for it, and I’d forgiven her months earlier.
I think about New Year’s Eve 2004, her twenty-fifth birthday, when we were living together in Portland, shortly after she’d decided to drop out of grad school a second time, once again too sick to manage her work load, and to return to California to go on Stanford’s transplant list. We ate a dinner that she didn’t enjoy, and then we went home and she fell asleep on the couch, her head on my lap, before midnight.
I think about New Year’s Eve 2005. She was on the transplant list, and we celebrated a birthday that had every possibility of being her last with a little party at her parents’ house, where she put together her own version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey: Pin the Lungs on the Lolly. It was remarkable to watch how she handled the degradation of her health, the grace she showed while facing her own mortality.
I think about New Year’s Eve 2008, her twenty-ninth birthday. She was more than two years removed from her transplant at that point, less than six months past competing in the Transplant Olympics, probably the healthiest she would ever be.
That December I’d planned a trip up to Tahoe with all our friends, but I got the stomach flu the night before we were supposed to leave, and ended up staying home. It was our last New Year’s together, and we were two-hundred miles apart. Maybe there’s a metaphor there. I don’t know. It seems more like a simple, sad twist fate to me.
I think about New Year’s Eve 2009, her thirtieth birthday. We had broken up just a little more than a month earlier, after six years together, but she agreed to let me buy her brunch to celebrate the milestone. At some point during our conversation, I mentioned that she hadn’t thought she would make it to thirty. At least, that was the prevailing medical wisdom when she was born. She said, I always thought I would make it. Of course she did.
I think about New Year’s Eve 2010, her thirty-first birthday. I was living in Brooklyn, hadn’t spoken to her since I’d moved east four months earlier. I didn’t call her to say happy birthday. I wasn’t being hostile, wasn’t trying to make a point. Neither of us had called the other since I’d moved. I think we were each in the process of trying to let the other move on with life. Her birthday simply slipped my mind.
It turned out that I wouldn’t have a chance to make amends. She didn’t make it to her thirty-second birthday.
Today is December 31, 2013. Ten years have passed since I spent my first New Year’s Eve with Lara. She would have turned thirty-four today.
When I woke up this morning, I listened to this song.
I don’t know which is worse: To wake up and see the sun, or to be the one that’s gone?
That’s a question I’ve often asked myself since her passing. There have been times I felt so broken that it sure seemed worse to be the one that had to face the day. And yet I’m still here, still waking up, day after day, and when I pick myself up out of bed tomorrow, it’ll be 2014, and maybe then I’ll think about what I want to make out of the new year. Maybe then I’ll think about what I can do to take advantage of the time and the opportunities that Lara didn’t get.
But for today I’m looking back. Today, I’m taking the time to say, I miss you, Lolly. And I love you. Always.