On May 6, 2011, Lara Borowski, my first love and best friend, died after a month of being sedated and intubated in the Stanford Hospital ICU; after her body rejected the lungs she’d received in a transplant five years earlier; after thirty-one years of living with Cystic Fibrosis.
I’ve written all of this before. I feel as if I’ve written all the words I could ever have to say about Lolly. I used to put together a remembrance for her on this date every year, but after a while I stopped. It seemed to me that at some point these pieces all just ended up being about me, not about her. I suppose that makes sense. After all, you run out of new things to say when no new memories are being created.
What’s more, as time goes by, the old memories start to fade. They became things that you know happened, not things that you feel happened. Some of the things you don’t even know for sure happened anymore. I suppose that makes sense, too. It’s probably even healthy. If I had to live every day with the grief I felt in the summer of 2011, I wouldn’t be here today. I barely made it through those first few months, as it was.
But here I am, and what can I say, when I think of Lolly today, I can’t help but wonder what she’d say to me, what she’d think of the person I am now, if we could sit down together and talk.
Mostly, I don’t think she’d be too surprised. She’d look at me living in Brooklyn and say, “Of course that’s where you ended up.” I’d moved here before she died, and even then she told me she knew that’s what I’d do.
I can picture her face when I told her about the job I’ve had the last few years, the places I’ve gotten to visit. Sushi in Japan. Swimming in the South Pacific. Seeing kangaroos in Australia. Her eyes would get huge, her cheeks bright red. She’d punch me, but she’d be laughing when she did it.
I can also see her squinting her eyes when she saw the pack of smokes in my shirt pocket. “Cigarettes? Are you fucking kidding me?” I’d shrug it off, try to change the subject. She’d punch me again, not laughing this time.
I’d like to play a song or two on guitar for her. I played while we were together, but I’ve gotten considerably better in the years since. I think she’d be pretty impressed—and she was never easy to impress. I’d play “In My Life” for her, because it was a song she loved, not because it was the song I played when a small group of family and friends scattered her ashes on Sands Beach in Santa Barbara.
(When I die, that’s where I want my ashes to be scattered as well, at least half of them, with the other part going to the plot of land in the Catskills where my family spread the ashes of my grandmother.)
Would Lolly be surprised I still haven’t settled down with anyone else? I’m not sure. I think part of her would be, because when I was at my best with her, I was my best self: devoted, caring, fun. But part of her wouldn’t be, because she understood the ways that I’m fundamentally damaged, unhappy, impossible to live with.
Either way, I think she would want me to find someone else. To which I’d say, maybe I will, and maybe I won’t. But if the last ten years have taught me anything, it’s that I won’t find anyone else quite like her. Someone who could take such immense suffering and channel it into such deep caring for others. Someone who could find incredible joy in the tiniest, silliest things. She wasn’t perfect—I could enumerate all sorts of faults, if I wanted to—but she was just about the best the human race has ever had to offer.
So, here we are. I set out to write about Lolly, and I ended up writing about myself. Same as always. I guess it’s natural—I’m still here, and she’s not.
But if I could say one thing to her today, it’s this: Lara, you are still here. The time we spent together may grow distant, but you will always be a part of me. Always. And I can’t thank you enough, for every minute.
Very touching, Justin. I somehow stumbled upon your blog about a year ago and it inspired me to create my own Desert Island Disc list. I had a lot of fun reading your lists and making my own. I posted it on FB and encouraged others to make their own using your criteria: no greatest hits or live albums! Amazing how many people like to bend (or pummel) those simple rules. Anyway, glad to see another post from you, even if it is under such sad circumstances. You’ve done Lolly proud, I’m sure.
I think I was supposed to find your blog. I was lying on the floor a few minutes ago with my cat, who’s not doing too well these days, and found myself thinking about Frank Deford’s daughter Alex for no apparent reason. Alex passed from CF in 1979 or thereabouts. And then I opened my laptop to check something for work really quickly and Steve Earle’s song “CCKMP” jumped into my head, and for some reason instead of calling the song itself up from my HDD or YouTube I just Googled the first line. Which led me to your post about best drug songs (damn fine list, by the way.) So after I got done reading that I clicked your site’s title to see when it had been last updated. Which brings us to where we are right now. And my name’s Justin, too.
This was a lovely post. I hope you’re doing okay.