I started my day today learning that someone I respect very much has died. A few hours later, someone else I respect very much told me she was having a difficult time figuring out how to honor her life. I didn’t have an answer. I am still looking for one. In looking, I returned to my journal, where I wrote this on April 6th:
“I am feeling like a mild disaster, as is often the case, when I look across the room, or table, or internet, at someone who looks like they have their shit together. I think silently to myself stupid things like ‘I wish I was as free-spirited and light-hearted as that person over there,’ or ‘I wish my curls were as bouncy as that girl’s curls.’
I did that in Denver about this girl in a red dress. I thought, 'that girl in the red dress is smoking hot. I wonder what it’s like to be a smoking hot girl in a red dress. She seems awesome.' I had no idea about the things I would soon learn. Her absolutely insane battle with a particularly shitty form of cancer that just didn’t want to go away. The Etsy page where people sell art to help her with her treatment. The life she was mourning never getting to have. I don’t cry in public. I just stare at things really hard and repeat phrases to myself in my head and wait for it to go away.”
Even though she was living inside a body that was failing her, and even though I heard her speak beautifully about her illness in ways that shook me to my core, illness is still not the first thing I associate with Katie. The first time I ever saw her, I thought, “I wish I was as cool as that girl.”
It’d be disingenuous to say the takeaway here is some cliché like “we never know how hard someone else has it.” People with chronic illness don’t exist to remind people with better health how lucky they are. My initial impressions about Katie were all true: she’s gorgeous, talented, intelligent, and surrounded by wonderful people. She had cancer, it killed her, and I think we were all still totally jealous of her life. Because she was just that freakin’ cool. And she looked damn good in red.