For 5 years in a row, I did different memorial posts on 8th December, the day my friend Masako Delalieu, to whom my first book was dedicated, passed away in 2010. Today, in 2016, I decided to modify this a little: I decided it’s time to stop commemorating the day she died and to start commemorating 7th December, the last day that she lived. After all, everyone dies; what set her apart was how powerfully she lived, especially in that last crazy year of fighting cancer, being declared cancer free, and then fighting it all over again.
I realise too that at this point, 6 years later, I am finally at a point where there are no more stories to tell about this woman I knew intimately for less than that length of time. That between my poems and my posts, I have by now put down on paper every last memory I have of her. And that the need to tell stories about her, to protect our time together by writing it all down, is fading. That she has finally settled into a crevice of memory, periodically awakened by a joke or a story or an activism or an accent, but otherwise content to lie there, content to be an important past without being an indispensable present.
4 years ago, when I first started thinking of her in past tense, I felt guilty about doing so. In the poem “Letter Written at an Abandoned Amphitheatre,” which I wrote at Sangam House on 8th December 2012, I lamented that she was becoming “a story told so often it is fading.” I was afraid that forgetting any little detail made me a lesser friend somehow, a less conscientious keeper of dreams and imaginings that she had shared but never been able to realise. Today, I am no longer sure what I was holding on to so tightly, what I thought I was going to lose, why I was so afraid.
As it turns out, I still remember the dreamed-of futures of the past: the cafe she would one day have started in Paris, the Guatemalan child she would have one day adopted, the cartoon piglets she would probably have painted in both, the cafe and the child’s bedroom. I still remember the petitions on Amnesty she would have been sharing, the doctoral work on the Guatemalan femicide that she would probably be pursuing, the man who took such good care of her in her final months whom she would probably still be loving. But i remember these things in a gentle sort of way, not with the clutch of panic associated with the early years of stockpiling memories after her death, more with a soft kind of wonder: Who knows if she would have been any of that? For that matter, who knows if we would still even have been as close as we once were? After all, there are enough other friends from that period of my life who were equally close, who are still alive, and whom I haven’t spoken to in years — who is to say she and I would necessarily have been different?
And I guess that’s the magic of holding on to her in memory, the way in which she is now frozen in time for me, frozen young and playful and determined and dreamy. And while that doesn’t compare with the magic we lost — the possibility of growing old as friends, or getting annoyed with each other, or making each other laugh, or traveling the world together — it does have its own special magic too. And this year, on the sixth anniversary of the last day of her life, I’m going to bask in that– to allow myself the basking instead of the mourning, to acknowledge that the softening of grief is a gift, not a betrayal. I think she would have liked that.