I'VE SKIPPED OVER part of the story. In fact I've skipped over quite a few parts of the story. They're not the most pertinent ones per se but they're important and they're important for me to remember. And it would be no fun for me if I did it all in complete order and I don't know how to do anything in order-order, do you? I need to introduce you to my friend Al, she was briefly mentioned here. She's a real ray of sunshine, she's no bullshit, she'll get it done and she'll say it with a smile. People think she's sweet on the surface (which she is), but this woman is really tough as nails. Don't let the friendly Canadian exterior fool you. She makes amazing videos like this, where sometimes if I'm lucky I get to play the banana; she plays the ukulele; she's a documentary filmmaker and is an all around gem of a human being. By some random twist of fate, we ran into each other (literally) a couple of years ago. I was working on an event at Google in NYC and the elevator doors opened and there she was and boom we slammed right into each other! We went to the same university (at different times) and we share a mutual best friend, Samira, who had been telling us both that we had to get to know each other for ages. I recognized her and we started friend-dating.
Cut-to a couple of months later and by another wild twist of fate we both happen to be going for the same job. We didn't know if there were even two positions available but we were interviewing at the same place at the same time via completely different avenues. It was wild. As new friends, it was a little awkward, because we were obviously both gunning for it and both wanting it and not knowing if the other one would get it. As fate (and luck) would have it, we both got offered different positions and thus began a beautiful union. We were each other's support in our working world, at first, not so much, and from time to time. I think it took us a minute to find our groove as friends in the workplace, it was uncomfortable. We were finding our footing and figuring out our jobs and the first 6 months was sort of scary and hard to navigate (as both employees and friends). As time went on, she became what can only be described as my 'work wife' and the lightest, brightest part of my day. I've heard tell of that expression and only just realised that I've had one, in the flesh.
She brings out the best in people, in such a gentle way. If I was being lazy sitting at my desk all day (which was most of the time) she'd say 'Wanna go for a walk? Let's do a few laps around the building.' She inspired me to get a standing desk and spend some of the day on my feet. If we were hanging out after work she'd say 'Hey, why don't we walk downtown and cook something, it's healthier.' Even better, she's an early riser (which I am decidedly not), she'd always manage to get me out of bed for an early morning exercise class and breakfast. I'd show up grumpy and leave elated, which shows a lot more about what a patient friend she is and what a monster I am (in the morning). More recently, I was saying how bad it was that I showed up late to everything. She asked me, in her matter of fact way, 'Well what if you just left a few minutes earlier and didn't do that?' So simple, so easy and so damn true. Just don't do it anymore. She's a few years younger than I am and in a lot of ways I feel like her big sister but the irony is she's constantly teaching me things. We supported each other in our work and personal lives and then when it came to my liver failure and subsequent bumpy recovery, she blew my mind with how consistent and steady she was in showing up, time and again. And always, always, showing up with a smile and a good attitude. She never shied away from seeing difficult things, of always believing in the best outcome, and offering so much: her time, her talent and so many thoughtful gifts.
She was leaving the show when this all started happening. Her last week at work was my first week in the hospital. I've sometimes joked that I couldn't deal with her leaving so I had to go into liver failure to get over it. I have since returned to work without my sweet AlPal and it isn't always easy to not see her smiling face when I walk into work or have someone to kick my ass into gear and get my legs moving. Luckily I've got resident mother hen Sam as my deskmate so she's currently keeping me in check (and sane).
Enough with the 'how great are my friends' schtick and back to the story at hand. I know it's a bit cringe, but at least they make for good fodder and make super jokes videos like:
But you know, the friends part is a huge part, and I have to honour that. I see my friends and my family and work colleagues and doctors and even strangers as carrying me through the fire and back again from the flames so I can't not talk about them when I tell this story. They are the characters that lived it with me and they each had a massive role to play. So there I am back at work on Wednesday after the clusterfuck of arriving back early Tuesday morning from Bali and going straight into work after a 36 hour flight. I'm so pumped because later that night we are going to a concert put on by all the staff at our show. It's a group of very talented people that put together The Tonight Show and a lot of people have their own band on the side. Alex and her mother would be performing as The Ukeladies and they were first up on the lineup. I was so excited I made a bum bag with their faces on it as merch and wore it to the party. They were so good.
They performed a medley of songs, one of which was 'Big Yellow Taxi' by Joni Mitchell, you know the one. The one you were obsessed with at 13 years old and you really got it because you had experienced loss (true but overwrought) and the world just didn't understand you (alright, calm down hormones) and everything was just SO teenage (woe is me, life is so hard, who am I, wahhh). Or was that just me? I just watched the video Alex sent us the day after their performance again for the first time since it happened and I hadn't remembered they did that song. You can sort of see me on the sidelines cheering them on in the video Al's godsister shot. Watching them sing these songs made me smile and cry at the same time. For all the things I have lost (literally and figuratively) along the way and for all the things that are slowly coming back. And the things I kept, like steadfast friends who never once left my side. I have truly never understood that lyric so acutely until now. I never lost my health before. If you don't have your health, you don't have much, and having your health--really having it--is the most incredible gift in the world. All the rest of it is just noise. The enormity of losing a liver sometimes weighs down on me. That's the most important working organ in your body. I miss it sometimes. I am sad I had to say goodbye. I was so young, I was 28 years old. I don't think it's fair. That's just the straight up truth of how I feel sometimes and it's important to me to be honest about that. Then I move to how fortunate am I to live in modern times when this was an option for me, and that a liver was found in time for me to still be alive and generally kicking (I was pretty weak at the best of times, so don't expect much).
Can I just do a quick sidebar about the person who made this image and what an absolute legend they are, this is what came under the licensing for it: 'Licensed under absolutely nothing. Have a fucking field day. Abuse this for your own sick pleasures.' See the full diatribe here. The internet is a funny place.
The funny thing is, I don't recognize Al in the video now. I mean, of course I recognize her, I remember what my friend looks like, but, in my mind's eye and when I see her in person she looks a little different now. She hasn't changed much, it's only been 8 months since that party. But now she sort of stands tall like a beacon of kindness and generosity, which is what I thought of her before, but maybe I just see life differently and so I see the ones I love differently, too. I also think this whole thing just solidified us as family. She is my family and I'm so grateful to have her in my life.
I remember speaking to Claire on the phone outside the venue before I went into the show. It was 7am her time. Whenever we leave each other it takes us a few days to adjust, and we still want to chat and call every five minutes and catch each other up on what's going on. Then life kicks in and we don't get to speak for weeks at a time. But she called me to ask about my day, tell me about hers and we both were stumped on how surprising and bizarre it was that I was still feeling ill. I told her I vomited a few times at work that day. Both of us chalked it up to being jet-lagged and overtired and maybe from having eaten something funny in Bali. We decided we would keep talking over the week if it got worse. It did, obviously. I went inside the party and had a great time, I had a few glasses of wine (which, who knows whether that made it worse, I was so clueless to anything at this point, I hadn't even had my first blood test yet. I can't focus too much on the before because there is no point in chastising myself for something I had no control over and no awareness of). Then, when I reached the pinnacle of exhaustion I dragged myself home to Greenpoint. I remember this part so well: Al was having dinner with her mother and a few friends. They invited me along to celebrate the show with them. I was so bummed because I wanted to celebrate and get to have dinner with them too. I had to decline because I felt so unwell. It was the first time I couldn't do exactly what I wanted because of what was going on, and I didn't even know what it was or how serious it was going to be! At this point I was still chalking it up to jetlag and a funny stomach. I went home to sleep and spent half the night throwing up. I slept, but my sleep was mired by nightmares. I woke up the next day and did the same thing all over again, stayed at work until only 6pm and pushed through to Friday.
Friday morning rolls around and I go into work, get through the day and make a plan with Al to go get dinner since we have barely seen each other in almost a month. I wanted to be able to hang out and catch up with my best friend, but I'm feeling absolutely horrible. In retrospect, I should have just collapsed right there in a puddle on the ground, but I didn't. I took photos of my cute outfit on my way into work and we took a walk over to the West Side Highway where there was live music and it was high summer and life was just grand. We both felt alive, we both felt excited for things to come, we both felt good about being back in New York after a little time away.
So we walk over to The Meatball Shop. I'm not going to name the location of this particular Meatball Shop for my own sake so I don't get hate-mail but there are currently only 9 people reading this blog so at least for the time-being I think I'm good. I'd just like to apologize in advance to all The Meatball Shops around the world for what I am about to say, although I think they are currently just in New York City. If you have expansion plans, Meatball Shop, I apologize to your future locations, as well. We are both starving but I'm all of a sudden feeling very ill. From one moment to the next I had no control over my bodily function (in the upchuck region). We go in and sit down and I just order mashed potatoes, seeing how innocuous and bland mashed potatoes are anyway. Oh buddy, let me tell you, they were criminal in this case. I don't think I even got through a bite. Maybe they hadn't even come yet. I can't remember.
Anyway, point is, as soon as we order, I have to run to the TINY toilet and vomit. I don't know if any of you have ever been in a cutesy-trendy-of the moment chain restaurant in New York City but they do NOT make space for toilets. They'd much rather get more pundits in. I had my exorcism episode, much to the chagrin of the poor, unsuspecting following customer waiting for the toilet and then promptly asked for the mashed potatoes to take away. I apologized profusely to Al, who was sort of dumbfounded and shell-shocked. She didn't get it. Neither did I. And I felt honestly terrible that I left her like that with her summer night just hanging in the air. I wanted to hang out with her so much that I let it cloud my vision of what I was supposed to be doing. OH WAIT I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE DOING I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME. I sprinted into a cab, or rather, Al rolled me into one, much to the poor cab driver's chagrin (unclear whether he was annoyed because I was about to vomit the whole ride or because I made him take me to Brooklyn).
I had to exit the cab with self-motivated moveable force, I couldn't hold it in any longer, I sprinted OUT of the cab too, and vomited right on my street. It was gross, and I was paranoid because it was Friday night in Greenpoint and I was convinced the neighbours would think I was some drunken ne'er-do-well puking up tequila shots on their cute terrace houses. The skater dude a few doors down was smoking a cigarette with his friend and they gave me a stare. I sheepishly ran up the stairs and into my apartment. I spent the rest of the night so confused and scared and running to and from the toilet. The next morning is when Barrie dragged me to urgent care to get checked out.
I think Alex and I were sort of meant to be, the circumstances of our friendship are a little unlikely and the way we were thrown together to ultimately spend a crazy amount of time together nothing short of kismet. I've always been obsessed with kismet. She saw me through every ugly stage of my liver failure, at first in person day after day, both of us wondering what it was and then shocked when I finally did have to go to the ER two weeks later. Then she would come see me in hospital. Then a lot on the phone. She was in Canada at the very end when I was really bad in ICU and I could feel healing vibes and love coming my way from her and her family because I was so open to it. I kept dreaming about the green of Canada.
These were some of the events of the surreal days (which also involved an extreme level of Facetiming Canada) and the little things I remember in between touchdown in NYC and The First Visit To A Real Doctor by the liver patient who didn't know she was a liver patient. They were weird, wonderful, painful and filled with love.