December 9, 2016 (Day 66)
My dear Pilar,
I hope you don't mind if I'm writing this letter ahead of schedule. When you want to tell someone you love her and express how much she has meant to you, it's so very difficult to wait another day -- and especially more so when she now measures her future in increments of it. Exodus 20:11 says that in six days, God made the heavens and the earth, the seas and all that is in them. In a similar way, waiting six more days to send you this feels like an eternity, where everything can happen in so short a time.
I can't stop staring at a photograph of us from way back when we were in high school; it was during class night, I think, and we're at the beach, waist-deep in water. Rosanna's balancing atop Marissa's shoulders, and Gina's looking like she's trying not to drop Rica, who's keeping herself steadily aloft with one arm. I've got you squarely on my back; we're both laughing, all cheeks and teeth and pointed chins. Those days, you were the class president who always seemed to whip out a guitar out of nowhere and play just about any song we wanted to sing, when we wanted to sing it. You'd smile radiantly at all of us like God's favorite cherub, but when you'd hit the school basketball court you had that fierce, determined look that told everyone to better get out of your way -- or else!
I don't know if I've ever told you this, but you changed my life. It was our senior year: we were all asked to write down what we thought someone else in class would grow up to be. The details are fuzzy now (aren't they always these days?), but I remember someone was supposed to keep all these little slips of paper so we could read them again 10 years later, like a time capsule of sorts. I always felt unremarkable back in those days, a little good at this and that and not particularly bad at anything except for sports, but my point is that I didn't really know what I was going to be. Then you stood up, looked at me, and said I was going to be a journalist. I was stunned; I didn't even dare dream I could make a living through my words. But you thought I could.
I went through several colleges and majors before I decided to go to journalism school. And then it happened: I interned as a reporter at a newspaper and eventually became its Los Angeles bureau editor. Do you know that I thought of you a lot during those days? Through the years I've wondered if I would have traversed that path if it hadn't been for you thinking of me that one day in class.
But that's what I want you to know: you've always had some kind of magical power to make those around you believe in something before they could even imagine it. Ten years ago, when we heard you were sick, we were all thick in the middle of our own lives, many of us had lost touch with everyone else. And then you let out your battle cry: LABAN! And we, one by one, found our way back to each other and stood with you and by you like soldiers. We were determined to fight along with you, and to keep fighting especially during times when you were battle-weary.
Rosanna told me a few days ago that you're feeling especially tired these days, and that even now when you don't have the strength to climb up stairs, you wish to remain standing. I want to tell you today, my dearest Pilar, that not only are we standing with you and standing by you, but we are here standing FOR you; we will continue to do so when your fragile body can no longer, when it can't keep up with your remarkable will of steel.
We used to yell a collective LABAN before every chemotherapy session and before you received your latest crop of test results -- but especially after, when they weren't what you wanted to hear. I want to tell you today that as you try to get some rest, a bit of respite after this decade-long war, that our spirit of LABAN doesn't only apply against this insidious, invisible enemy you've been fighting for way too long now, but for everyone and everything you love and all that holds meaning in your life. As you try to breathe a bit easier, I hope it calms your mind to know that we stand for what you've stood for all these years we've known you, and especially for your loved ones who surround you now.
I am writing this letter to you today, my dear friend, out of infinite love and gratitude. Right now I am thousands of miles away from you, but I have faith I will see you again.
With all my love,