April 21, 2000

It’s been 16 years.

It was a solemn day. Our beautiful college roommate Karen was being buried that day. Three of us – Paula, Lisa and I – were there for the service. It was beautiful. It was the first time I ever touched a dead body, even though Paula would later tell me she thought I’d done it many times before because it didn’t seem to bother me. I’m not sure “bother me” is how I would describe it – it was the moment I realized that a dead body is more than hard and cold. It’s empty. There’s nothing there. There’s no soul. There’s no spirit. Nothing. Hollow. Empty.

Elvis has left the building.

Oh, Karen. She was so beautiful. She was so full of life. She glowed. Her laugh was robust and spirited. She would turn the head of any breathing man simply by swinging her long blonde hair, flashing her smile or showing off her voluptuous curves. That wasn’t who Karen really was, though. She had a full heart. Twinkling eyes. And that laugh.

Karen was Aqua Net and hot rollers. She loved chocolate-covered Oreos – I could always tell when she’d taken from my stash while I was gone, even though she went to great lengths to replace what she’d borrowed.

But Karen always had my back. I suffered from low self-esteem way back then even more than I do now, and probably it’s mostly because I hadn’t been diagnosed yet with depression.She would always remind me that I was a beautiful person inside and out. She’d build up my good qualities, wanted to see me succeed, wanted me to think more of myself than I did. Kare-Bear was more than a pretty face; she had a beautiful heart.

After Karen was diagnosed with brain cancer, I always seemed to have a dream when something had changed. I’m not sure why I had those dreams, but I always knew when her health had taken a turn. After one such dream, the summer before she died, I called her. We talked for over an hour. About everything. We laughed. We talked about God. I told her how much I valued our friendship. We said ‘I love you’.

This memory is one of the most priceless gifts I’ve ever received in my life, and I treasure it. It survives in my heart.

I still remember my final dream about Karen. She was sitting in a room. The walls were painted bright orange. There was a window to her right and the sun was shining. Karen was sitting in a chair, her long hair hung wavy over her shoulders without a strand out of place, her eyes were bright and she had a smile on her face. She was telling me something, but I couldn’t understand what she was saying. The next morning I called her number. Her older sister answered. She sounded just like Karen. She became rather agitated when I called her ‘Karen’, and once I told her who I was she softened. Apparently Karen had taken a final turn for the worse a day or so before.

I didn’t realize I had any tears left to cry, but I bawled like a baby as I wrote this post. 

It’s been 16 years, but I still sense Karen near me. I envision her surrounded by a golden glow. She has a smile on her face. Sometimes I even hear her voice, and she’s telling me something I need to hear, something to boost my spirits or self-esteem. She’s still got my back.

And that laugh. I can still hear Karen’s laugh. 

And it makes me smile.