Her name was Emma. She was the new girl in school. I remember feeling very sorry for her because every student was staring, pointing and whispering about her. She was extremely small, very thin and, worst of all, she was a twelve-year-old girl who had no hair.
Emma ended up in my homeroom. She was introduced to everyone that first day and was then told to find an empty seat. Emma took a seat two rows away from me, one chair up. She lay her head down on her new desk, crossed her legs and put her hands over her face. She tried to conceal her embarrassment but everyone could sense it.
At lunch, Emma sat at a table alone. I think she was too frightened to approach anyone, while at the same time everyone was too frightened to approach her. About ten minutes into lunch, I decided to leave my table and walk over to her.
I pulled out a chair and sat down. I said, “Hi, my name is Veneta. Do you mind if I sit with you?” Emma didn’t answer, but nodded, never picking her head up or raising her eyes to see me. Trying to make her feel more comfortable, I began talking just like I had known her forever. I told her stories about our teachers, the principal, and some of my friends. By the end of the twenty minutes that we sat together, she was actually looking at me right in the eyes, but there was still no expression on her face. She simply looked at me with a blank stare.
When the bell rang and it was time to go to our next class, I stood up, told her it was nice to get to talk to her and went on my way. I felt terrible walking away, as I had been unable to get her to talk or even smile. My heart was aching for this girl because her pain was so obvious to me.
It wasn’t until about three days later, when I was at my locker getting things ready for class that Emma finally said hi to me. “I just wanted to say thank you for talking to me the other day,” she said. “I appreciate you trying to be nice to me.” When she began to walk away, I gathered my things and chased her. From that day on, we were inseparable.
This girl just captured my heart. She was loving and caring, compassionate and honest, but most of all, she was lonely. We became best friends, and in doing so, I set my twelve-year-old self up for the most devastating thing I would ever experience.
I found out that Emma had cancer and was not given a very good chance of beating her disease.
For five months, Emma and I were the best of friends. We were together at school every day and then together almost every night to study or just hang out—and, of course, every weekend. We talked, we laughed, we joked about boys and we fantasized about our futures. I wanted to be her friend forever but I knew that it was not to be the case. After five months of being best friends, Emma became very, very sick.
I spent all my free time with her. I would go to the hospital when she was there and sleep over at her house whenever she was home. I knew in my heart I had to make sure she understood that she had become my best friend in the whole world—the sister I never had.
I was at home one Sunday, sitting with my dad watching football. The phone rang and my mom answered it. I could hear her mumbling and then she hung up. She walked into the room, her eyes red and tears streaming down her face. I knew instantly what had happened.
“Is Emma all right?” I asked. Mom’s inability to reply answered it all.
Emma had been rushed to the hospital. She had gotten a very high fever. The news was not good. Her cancer was not responding to any treatments—it was spreading. Emma was losing her battle to stay alive.
Three days later, Emma passed away at home, in bed. She was just twelve years old. I remember feeling numb, knowing that she had passed on, but not quite understanding the finality of it all. Over the next couple of weeks, I quickly learned the hardest lesson I have ever had to learn in life.
Not only did I have to learn to deal with death, mentally and emotionally, I had to learn to grieve. I hadn’t yet been able to do that. Then one day, her mom came over and handed me a box. She said she had found it in Emma’s things. There was a note on it, saying to give the box to me when she was no longer here. I took it up to my room, stared at it for an hour or more, and then finally got up the courage to open it.
Inside, I once again found my best friend.
Emma had put several pictures of her and me in the box, some of her favorite jewelry and, most important, a note to me. I began to sob but I managed to read it.
“I never thought I would ever know true friendship,” she began. “I was always treated like an outsider, a circus freak. If anyone talked to me, it was usually to ask what was wrong with me or, even worse, to ask me if I was going to die.
“You are my very best friend in the whole world and I will never forget you. If you are reading this, I am gone. Please don’t cry. I’m happy now, and I’m no longer sick or bald.
“I’ll still be with you every day of your life. I will be there for you during your first heartbreak and I’ll watch with joy on your wedding day. You deserve the best, Veneta. Never change and never forget our friendship. I’m so grateful I got to know you.
Reading that letter changed my life. Although she was the one who was sick and losing her life, she had taken the time to make sure I would be okay. She wanted to make sure I could cope with losing her.
Her death was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to experience. But I believe that our lives and our hearts came together for a reason. We needed each other. Emma needed a friend, and I needed her strength and courage. Even to this day I am thankful for Emma. I also still talk to Emma every day. I still miss her. I know she hears me and I know she looks out for me. Our friendship will never fade or die away. People may come and go, lives may change in an instant, but love and friendship will last forever.
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