My friend Amy died last Wednesday. She would have been 38 on June 6th. Her obituary was in today's Packet, but for all the things it said I feel like it didn't even scratch the surface of who she was - so I thought I'd add to it in my own way. I keep going over in my mind the events of the last few weeks (and years for that matter). Maybe if I lay it all out there it will start to make some kind of sense....
Aside from Allison and my Mother, I don't think anyone else who is going to read this ever met Amy. She was the first friend I made when I moved to Hilton Head back in August of 1997. I remember the first moment I saw her like it was yesterday - I walked into the local Insty-Prints on a job interview for their Graphic Designer position, and saw this gorgeous blonde standing behind the counter. I told her why I was there and who I was there to see, and she gave me one of the biggest, friendliest smiles I'd ever received. I made a mental note to make sure I got this job, and of course did just that. We hit it off immediately, probably because we were the only people in the office under 50. Naturally she had a boyfriend, so I wasn't going to hit the jackpot completely, but at the time I was just happy to have made a friend in this strange and unfamiliar place called South Carolina.
Every day in Insty-Land (as she called it) was more fun than the next. She had a way of seeing the humor in every situation that I admired, and used that talent to keep an otherwise dull and pedantic job from ever becoming so. A few months later, I saw the ad in the Packet advertising that they needed a Graphic Designer. I did pause for a time, mostly at the thought of leaving my friend. In the end though, I needed to get my career going, and working for a Newspaper seemed like a big-deal at the time. I told her that I hated to leave, but as she rightly pointed out "The Island is only 12 miles wide dude - we'll see each other all the time!"
And so we did. We hung out every couple of Saturday's, sometimes just to eat lunch or rollerblade around Hilton Head Plantation. She had a Bachelors in Graphic Design, but it was from back in the days before Quark and Photoshop, so I helped her learn the new tools of the trade. I was making new friends at the Packet, but as I still had quite a crush on her she was my first priority. She would say to me "ahh, if only you were 5 years older" in that horribly annoying 'totally kidding but totally serious at the same time' voice that only a woman can have. It was a barrier I never could quite break through - no matter how hard I tried, she wasn't ready to date someone who couldn't order a beer. Even though I had no shot, I never really gave up entirely until I met and started dating Allison in March of '99. Once that was going on, I didn't see her nearly as much but I found that I enjoyed hanging out with Amy more once the whole unrequited love thing was out the window.
We continued to hang out on occasion, and one such time sticks out in my mind now. She had given notice to Insty-Land, and after her last day was over she called and wanted to go to Mickey's Pub to celebrate. I met her there and remember vividly her asking if she could buy me a drink. I told her no thank you, but she insisted. It was the first time in our almost three-year friendship that the subject had come up. I told her that I had no desire to drink, that I had seen it mess up too many lives and that I wanted nothing to do with it. She didn't say much, ordered a beer and quickly changed the subject. I had no way of knowing it at the time, but my rantings and righteous indignation about alcohol appears to have been something she filed away in her head and never forgot.
I said goodbye to her in May of 2001, and took off for Boise to go marry Allison. We kept in touch, exchanged a few letters and a Christmas card. When we moved back to SC in June of 2002, I looked her up a few weeks later. We began a pattern that repeated for the next 5 years - every few months she would call and we'd make plans to have lunch. We'd catch up, trade stories and share some laughs. During this time she got married as well, and seemed to be happy. As I have recently learned, she wasn't. In fact, she had begun going down a path that would eventually lead to her death.
I first noticed something was wrong about 18 months ago - we had lunch together and she didn't look right. She had recently been in a car accident, and was moving very slowly. Sometimes she would have trouble standing and had to lean on me to remain upright. I never pried all that much, but when she did talk about it she blamed it on "medication" or lack of sleep. She couldn't find a job - she worked part-time at the Humane Society, but never could land anything else. I tired to get her a job at the Packet as a customer service rep, only to have her completely bomb during the typing test. She blamed it on having long nails. I noticed that she was getting more and more thin - and she was already skinny to begin with. Allison and I had dinner with her and her husband one night at their place, and alcohol was everywhere - but she only had water. Maybe that's why I didn't see it - or didn't want to see it.
I saw her in February - we had lunch at Dosidos. She didn't seem completely like herself, but she was still laughing and joking about some crazy thing that had happened to her. She was wafer-thin - again, it was the "medication" she was taking, and that she'd be fine. She picked at her food, and wrapped up 98% of it in a to-go box. I told her that if there was anything wrong, she could talk to me about it. She said she knew that and appreciated it. What she didn't tell me was that she actually felt that I was the last person on Earth she wanted to talk about it with.
Her husband called me on April 10th to tell me that she was in the hospital, and that he highly suggested that I come as soon as possible - her liver was failing. I left work immediately and went to the Hilton Head Hospital. I wasn't prepared for what I found when I got there.....she was completely emaciated, her face ashen and her eyes recessed into the back of her head. The first thought I had was that she looked just like the people in pictures we've all seen of liberated concentration camps. I recovered pretty quickly, as her face lit up when she saw me. We made small talk and I told her she need to get better so that we could have lunch, to which she said she'd do her best. Her husband told me the Doctor's said she didn't have much time left, and that because of her alcoholism she wasn't a candidate for a transplant. He wasn't very clear and was having a hard time, so when he told me that her parents would be there soon I decided to wait until I could talk to them to get some answers.
I met her parents, Cody and Yvonne for the first time on the day I said goodbye to their daughter. Just like with Amy, I hit it off when them immediately, as they were clearly just the salt of the earth types. I was struck, however, by how calm they seemed, given how Amy looked laying there in her hospital bed. I chatted with Amy a little, then with her Father, as we were just getting to know each other. While we were talking, Amy fell asleep, so I took the opportunity to ask her Dad to leave the room with me. He told me that he was glad he could meet me as Amy loved me very much, and always spoke to them about how her friend Morgan would do anything for her and how proud she was that he "was running the newspaper". I asked him what in the world was going on - he was surprised that if I was such a good friend why didn't I have any idea how bad her drinking had gotten? I told him my only theory, which I had only come up with the night before - that she knew how I felt about alcohol, so in order to avoid disappointing me she took extreme measures to hide it. He said that made perfect sense, and told me how the alcoholic starts with small lies, then moves on to big ones, then eventually loses themselves to the persona they've created. He told me how they'd known this was coming since October, as she had been admitted then with the Doctors telling her then that IF she never had another sip of alcohol and IF she adhered to a strict diet, there was a CHANCE that she would live. She didn't take their advice, and here she was. I had no choice but to accept what he was saying - I went back into her room, kissed her forehead and said my goodbye.
I'm still trying to figure out how I missed the fact that my friend was slowly poisoning herself, as well how I made it so that she felt she couldn't talk to me about it. Her Mother told me there was nothing that I or anyone else could have done - that she knew what she was doing and that it was her choice. That's not an easy thing for me to accept. I feel like if I'd know how bad it was, I could have done something. That's a horrible feeling. Right now it's hard not to think of her and envision my friend laying in the hospital bed. But my hope is that over time when I think of her I will think of that beautiful woman who was full of life and love, the one who smiled at me that first day we met, and every day afterward. I offer a quote from a movie that Amy never would have seen (couldn't quite manage to turn her onto Star Trek)....
"Of my friend I can only say this....of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, hers was the most....human...."
Goodbye Amy. I'll miss you.