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a quiet grace

She wobbled into my life on toothpick legs and open-toed shoes. She was wearing a short skirt and a simple shirt, and I was tired of interviewing candidates for the admin position I was trying to fill. My head was already in Key West as this was the second to last person I had to see before hopping on short plane ride to a rum and sun soaked week-long vacation. I-not for the first time-regretted my decision to fire my previous admin days before I left the office. I downed my 5th cup of coffee, four aspirins, lit one cigarette as I thought, “Christ, this girl is just too young.”

She was young, to be sure. Her choice of clothing and tiny frame did nothing to help the image that I immediately had of her. I wanted to get through this as quickly as I could and get the hell out of there.

We sat down to talk, and I was immediately struck by the confidence that radiated in her voice. She spoke clearly, articulately, and with a coolness that I would grow to love.

I still didn't want to hire her. But my co-worker loved her, although I am not sure that it was not his penchant for cute young girls that was winning out over good sense. We finished our meeting, and told her we’d be in touch. I told him what I thought, he disagreed, and I ended up telling him to “Do whatever you want.” I packed  my briefcase and left, skipping the last interview of the week. He called during my vacation and told me that we had hired her, and she would be starting when I returned. I think I didn't care largely due to the rum, I am sure.

Back at the office, I settled in over the next weeks, showing her the ropes and allowing her to get her bearings. She was, to my surprise, sharp, funny, and extraordinarily competent. I still wasn't going to like her. I had had a problem with the person who was in her position before, and it was a real mess. I told myself that I would work with her, but that I wouldn't allow myself to care about her on any kind of personal level.

That being said, I can’t pinpoint exactly when I stopped thinking that. She was just funny and kind and seemed so damn wise beyond her years. We talked…about everything. We smoked and drank and laughed. We slowly started to share more and more about ourselves, our lives.

We became friends.

This woman has made me laugh so hard my sides hurt. There is one incident that brought me to my knees, literally, because we were laughing so hard. Even now when I think of it, makes me pee my pants a little. We have also had our share of difficult times. She stood by me during some of the darkest moments of my life, and did so with a loyalty, fierceness, and unflappable devotion that I didn't deserve but desperately needed. She is a part of my family, and I am part of hers. I spend time with the people that she cares about, and no man has a chance in hell with me if she doesn't approve. We lead very different lives, but we will never live them without each other. She is ten years my junior, and I have never known someone twice her age with such maturity.

Less than two years ago, I got a phone call from her telling me that we needed to Talk. I knew in her voice that it was a Talk…and not just talking that she needed.

She was pregnant.

And I was worried. Is this the right time? Is this the right man? Is she ready for this? A million questions…not many answers. Save one. She has always wanted to be a mother. She was already, at her tender age, the matriarch of her family in many ways. Underlying all of the questions was the uncomplicated answer that she wanted to be a mother…and that she would be a great one. Sometimes things really are that simple.

I watched my 90 pound friend change and grow, both emotionally and physically. I was there through morning sickness, evening sickness, afternoon sickness…We worked together again at that point, and she sat in a cubicle that was less than five feet from me. I spent more of my waking hours with this woman than anyone else in my life. We made plans. I wanted a chubby-cheeked girl. She didn't co-operate, and found out that it was, instead, a boy. I agreed that it was okay as long as I could play him show-tunes and buy him pink sweaters in the hopes that he would turn out gay. I went shopping for a crib to keep at my apartment. I may not have fathered this child (big balls aside), but I felt in so many ways that this was part of my family, too.

As the days grew closer and her tummy grew bigger, we got ready for her Shower. A dear friend of ours made the most brilliant invitations and they were sent out. The family started cooking. The hall was rented. The day was set. It was a lovely one. There was sweetness and happiness and silliness all around her. She called me that night at around 9:00, and I could hear that the merriment and chaos had continued back at her house as the family set up the nursery. We said goodbye, and I could feel the current of anticipation that the next gathering would include a brand new life and chubby cheeks to pinch.

Instead, it involved a casket.

My phone rang at 7 a.m. the next morning, and I saw her number. I put down my coffee and answered with something touching like, “What the fuck do you want so early in the goddamn morning?” Instead, it was her sister’s voice that I heard, frail and tear streaked. I immediately felt my blood run cold. “She lost the baby last night, Kelly.” Never in my life had seven words been so hated. I threw the phone across the room and ran to the bathroom to throw up. I didn't know many details, and what I did know was lost in a haze of unbelievable pain, anger, confusion, and denial.

I went into the place where we both worked, and relayed the news to our boss and a few co-workers. Then I left for the hospital. I found her room in the maternity ward, and waited outside. She had just finished delivering the baby. Her sister came out and told me that she didn't want to see anyone, and I nodded and understood. One of the only things I could understand that morning. Her aunt, a nurse, came out and filled me in the details that I either didn't know or had forgotten already with words that made little sense. Umbilical cord. Strangled. No heartbeat. Induced labor. Too late.

I slid down the white wall onto the cold tile floor and sobbed quietly in my hands for a long time. I finally got up, not bothering to wipe my face, and grabbed on to the wall to steady myself. I walked down the long hall and off of that teddy-bear and balloon-filled floor. But not before seeing a glimpse of my tiny best friend in her bed, cradling her child in her arms.

The next time I saw her was at his funeral. It was a horribly sunny day, and I hated the warmth and rays with a passion that was equally hot. It was supposed to be raining. And gray. And miserable. Not sunny. I watched my girl get out of the car, large sunglasses covering her face but somehow not the redness, and I nearly fell over again.

She was so small.

The thing that I have loved about this woman from the beginning is that to me, she has always been larger than life, despite her size. Now, she was just small. Gone was the round belly I had touched a thousand times. In its place was a tiny white casket that held what had-just days before-been promise and hope and the potential for so much joy. The sun burned from the inside out, and I wept for her loss. For my loss. For a collective loss.

When I hugged her after the service was over, she said to me, “We'll get through this, okay?” In her darkest hour, she was still the strongest woman I know. I held on to her so tight I could barely breathe.

As the clock now ticks and the leaves begin to turn, I am reminded that this happened just a year ago come Tuesday. In that year, I have grown to love her even more. She has made it through this time with a strength of spirit, a strength of conviction, and a quiet grace that made me like her in spite of myself way back when. The same one that I am still in awe of today. I struggled for a long time with this story, because I felt that it was not mine to tell. But it is, in part. Because I love her. Because I weep for her pain. Because I admire her courage. And because I know in the deepest part of my heart that some day she will be the most brilliant mother a child could ever ask for.

Chubby cheeks, or no.

I miss you, Trey. And I love you, Alison. With all of my heart.