We knew each other since elementary school, and grew close in high school. We called each other “honchos,” which was our way of saying we were like sister-friends. When we went on a school study tour through Europe, we wore each other’s backpacks so as to be able to get into our own stuff more easily. We laughed at our German professor behind his back, made up silly songs on the train, and slept with the window open in our hotel room in the Alps while it snowed in.
She was a middle child in a large Catholic family, but with a more adventuresome spirit and assertiveness than a typical middle child. She had three sisters who were all made by their mother to take ballet, but she put her foot down and said she wouldn’t go, and she didn’t. Sweet and easygoing, she was also good at knowing how to get her way. She had a laugh that sounded like birdsong.
She went away to college in California, but only stayed a year and then came home, to her parents’ dismay, and married her high school sweetheart. He turned out to be something of a cad, but she kept on the path she chose, earning her degree in architecture, then moving with him to New Zealand and finding all sorts of success while he just kind of treaded water. She dumped him and moved on.
Unlucky in love, she went through two other guys after that (that sounds bad; the second husband was also a cad, but the third one ended up being a pretty good guy), but never lost her sense of optimism or ambition. She worked her way up in the mayor’s office in Auckland, to the point where she was the mayor’s right hand and the city executive who oversaw both Auckland’s hosting of the America’s Cup in 2000 and its Y2K celebration. It was an impressive accomplishment for a young American woman down under.
Within a few weeks she was gone. Years before she had had a small melanoma removed from her ankle. She went to the emergency room one night with what she thought might be a bad case of indigestion, or at worst appendicitis. The doctors examined her, then sent her to surgery. The surgeon opened her up, took a look around at all the cancer, closed her up and sent her straight to hospice.
Once there, she had about two weeks to get her affairs in order. Her father and one of her brothers flew down to be with her. She brought in a priest and married her third husband there in her hospice room, a few days before she died, with their two dogs and the nursing staff as witnesses. She was 43 years old.
She spent most of her adult life far away in New Zealand, so I only saw her occasionally when she came home for visits but time and distance apart didn’t diminish our fun with each other. I wish I’d had a chance to laugh with her one more time.