This story is by Angelika Orlowski and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As I held my morning cup of coffee with my jaw wide open, I wasn’t sure if I should cry or yell. This wasn’t about me, I knew that, but I was burning up inside, unsure of what emotion I was allowed to feel. My best friend refused to take care of herself. This was not new. Even as she told me the news, she had already chosen to die. Everything that had happened to her, the pain she had been forced to accept. It wasn’t fair. She seemed at peace telling me the news and it drove me crazy! I wanted to pull every strand of hair from my head and pound grief into her’s because at least she would feel something. But this wasn’t about me and I had to accept that. My best friend had cervical cancer and she was dying.
I grew up with her Lindsey. I loved her. Our different backgrounds never got in the way of our friendship which I thank God for. No matter how often Lindsey teased me for my Catholic upbringing, she thought it was cool that out of all her atheist and nonbelieving friends, I was the one that made her feel the most hopeful about life, as if everything was going to be okay. At least that is what I liked to tell myself.
When this all started, I was willing to believe that God would allow me to do anything to save my friend. These are the words I told the Priest at church when I brought up marrying my best friend; if Lindsey became my spouse she would be covered under my insurance. Although, she declined that idea, I believed with all my heart, that God would ignore his biblical laws just this once if it meant saving my friend.
Days went by and they turned into weeks. She began to fade away and slowly she played with her daughter less and less. I begged her to go to my brother for help. When she said no to that, I called my stepmother in India asking her for any and all alternative and medicinal herbs she could find but still my friend refused. The word no never left her vocabulary.
“I want you to choose how I die.” She told me. She’d waited to the point where radiation wouldn’t even be able to help her, and no amount of treatment could delay the process. “This is so unfair.” The words spilled from my lips before I could stop them. “But it’s not about you.” The words made their mark on me. I hated how easily she said them.
I forced myself to breathe and asked her to clarify what she meant. Lindsey told me that she didn’t want to continue deteriorating in her bed while she watched her life like a movie. “I am no longer involved in my own life. I am scared to kill myself, but I will do it if I must. Help me, please.” The stabbing pain that caused me to gag didn’t compare to the pleading in her voice. I thought I would vomit my stomach up through my throat but watching her tears fall from her sunken eyes imprinted itself into my brain.
I told her that I needed to think about it and I went home to pray to God that this was all just a dream. It wasn’t about me, I thought. So why was she doing this to me? “Kill me or I kill myself”, is what she wanted. I imagined spending the rest of my life in prison wearing the disgusting orange jumpsuit. No amount of praying would make God speak to me and I was finally starting to understand why my best friend didn’t believe in Christianity or anything that came from it.
I had never cried in church before but after mass that Sunday, it seemed as if I was releasing thirty years of emotion into the pews. Moments later, as I sat in confession, I asked the priest if he had a tissue and he only answered that God provides what I need not what I want. Blinking at the confusing answer, I heard the faint tap-tapping that told me, my priest was texting through my confession.
My brother called me after his class that day and asked me what I was planning on doing. Not that I had any idea. He offered counseling for me “to help me through this difficult time”, but that wasn’t going to do anything. It wasn’t going to fix anything, it was nothing more than a waste of money. He seemed hesitant to go on with the conversation not knowing what else to say. I don’t really think there was much else to say other than, Lindsey was expecting me to be there for her during all of this and I couldn’t disappoint her.
Monday came, and I sat at my desk staring at my computer. I had an article pulled up about the final stage of cervical cancer. My desk mate seemed put off by this. He asked me who in my family had it and revealed that he had been watching me the past few months. I wasn’t acting the same and it was unsettling. He, my desk mate, wanted to be there for me and I should know that I could tell him anything. Nodding, “I just didn’t want to burden you with my personal problems.” Shaking his head, he seemed open to be my shoulder to cry on.
I shrugged because that seemed to be all there was left to do in this whole situation. “My best friend is in the final stage of cancer. She is hurting, and nothing is normal. She is going to die but the doctor doesn’t have a date. She could be gone next year, she could be gone tomorrow.” I watched as he soaked in my words. For the first time in five months it was as if I was being heard. “She told me that she refuses to wait around anymore. She is giving me the choice.”
“Assisted suicide is illegal in the state of Texas.” Nodding, I already knew that. “She said that she would do it herself with a bag and helium. That is for me to decide.”
“What is there to decide?” I made eye contact, “Am I going to be the one to do it, or is she?”
My desk mate offered to finish up my work, so I could leave early that day. I don’t think he realized that I had made my appointment with Lindsey. She wanted me at her house straight after work. Today did not seem like the day to go home early.
I accepted his offer anyway.
As I made my way into her bedroom, she was lying in bed listening to some soothing background music. Opening her eyes and registering that I was there, she asked me what my choice was. “I can’t kill you, but I don’t want you to do it either. There are consequences to hurting yourself.” I told her this, but she only laughed. A small gesture I hadn’t seen in months. “Are you honestly terrified that I am going to burn in Hell? Are you trying to save my soul?” It was good to see her laugh again, but I wouldn’t lie and say it hadn’t crossed my mind. But I would never admit it.
Last night I made the choice to watch my friend die. I wasn’t strong enough to end her suffering myself, but I promised her I would be there. Blinking away this memory, I stood there and sighed. Lindsey only smiled at me as I pulled on my shirt, straightening it out. Biting my lip, “Well then.”
She watched me while I went in search of her favorite dress before I finally had the courage to ask its whereabouts. “I sent it to the funeral home. They have it on standby for when you call them to arrange my burial. Everything is written out for you.” I had been facing her closet door as she told me all this and I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from crying. She assured me that it was ok for me to cry, it was normal. “When you are ready, I need you to hand me the supplies.”
Breathing in, I gave her a single nod before turning around.