Last week, I lost a friend. We met in undergrad on the lush, middle-of-nowhere campus of Lincoln University, where the rural splendor that surrounded us made it almost impossible not to strike out and meet new people. Nikea and I were so different personality-wise — she was laid-back, mature and witty, I was loud, flighty and motor-mouthed — but we hit it off instantly, and I shuffled regularly to hang out in her dorm room. She lived in the suburban part of campus and I, true to nature, lived in the ‘hood, right in the middle of everything, so it was nice to get away to the serenity of her neck of the woods — literally — every now and again.
Once, after I’d shown up decked out in a massive bubble North Face, headscarf, XXL sweatpants and Winnie the Pooh slippers, she cracked her door open just wide enough to stare me down with one eye. I stood for a minute, wondering what the hold-up was, and she stood, sizing me up for what seemed like an infinity to a chick standing outside looking like the front-running contestant in a Miss Homely pageant. “You gonna let me in?” I asked.
“I’m trying to figure out if I should let somebody who came out the house looking like that into my room,” she snarked. I’m sure, even today, that she was only half-kidding.
Nikea and I didn’t talk on a regular basis. You know those friends you love and have a ball catching up with but life and kids and work and other obligations just keep you from chatting like you did way back when your biggest responsibility was writing a last-minute paper for a 3:00 class? Thank God for Facebook reconnecting us, where we could post on each others’ walls and fire off random shout-outs like “I miss you, friend!” She was just always there and that was good enough for me.
She passed away unexpectedly and I was shocked, of course. I was in the middle of a meeting when my boyfriend texted me the news. I race-walked to the ladies room, muffled my mouth with a wad of tissue and bawled. Not talking to her every day or even every week didn’t negate the hurt of knowing that she wouldn’t be there for me to talk to ever again. Or, more importantly, she wouldn’t be there for her husband, Corey, who’s also a Lincoln alum and my friend since freshman year, and their little girl. You know, “tomorrow isn’t promised” can sound oh-so-cliche and we yeah yeah yeah it away and move onto making plans for tomorrow anyhow, but I should know by now after losing my grandmother, an aunt, an uncle and another friend all in the space of a few short years that that saying is rooted in reality. Nikea’s passing isn’t just a reminder of how precious people really are, in general, but how valuable girlfriends are specifically.
I’ve never been anything but Black, so I can’t say this for certain, but I feel like there’s something intrinsically special about our friendships. I don’t know if it’s the knitting together that comes from the shared experiences of being doubly disadvantaged — historically, anyway — or just really understanding how to speak to another woman’s spirit. I didn’t grow up with a sister, but my friends are like the siblings I always wanted but could never convince my mother to have. We laugh, we cheerlead, we call each other in the middle of the night crying — and in the middle of the day steaming mad when we’re ready to cuss somebody out — we judge each others’ clothes, taste in men and life choices, we argue, we get on each others’ nerves, we do it all over again. I value my friends for who they are, every flaw, every fabulosity, because they’ve challenged me to love them unconditionally. They’re the kind of friends I couldn’t dump even if I wanted to because they’re a part of who I am. Plus, they’d probably show up at my house and lay me out anyway.
Nikea and I were supposed to have lunch last year for our birthdays — they’re nine days apart — but for whatever combination of reasons tugging on our time, we never met up. This year, I’ll celebrate because I’m even more appreciative of another 365 days of life, but I’ll also celebrate hers and her wonderful memory. She wasn’t a celebrity or a Nobel Prize winner or a gold medal athlete. But, she was an amazing woman in her right, in all of her honesty and humor and sassiness. She was smart and spiritual. She was a beautiful mother and a loving wife. And it was an honor to be her friend.