rom the very beginning, I could tell she was suffering. While the fatal disease shortened her life, it could not defeat her spirit. At the time, I was the only one to notice her near-hidden winces of pain.
Rebecca had always been an incredible girl, her azure eyes containing pain and understanding beyond her years. Just weeks before Rebecca's fourth birthday, her father had abandoned her family, leaving Rebecca and her mother to care for three younger children. Two years later, Becca's youngest brother died, again causing deep distress for her family.
At twelve, Rebecca was diagnosed with leukemia. Her mother had no money to pay for her treatment. I can still remember the day that Rebecca revealed her secret to me. We had all been on a school trip to Quebec City. I had caught her staring at her pale complexion in a mirror at midnight. She and I had been the only two awake. I asked her if anything was the matter. Her answer left me in awe.
"You know, Rachel, there's a time for everything. There's a time to speak, and a time to remain silent. Now it's my turn to speak. I'm dying, Rachel." My heart flew to my throat. She had to be lying! I knew she was not, because she would never lie to me. Rebecca had been my best friend as long as I could remember. She had always been patient, cheerful and kind. She had lived every moment as though it were her last, and, as I searched her face, paler than ever in the dull washroom light, I knew that her world was collapsing.
"But how - why?" I stuttered.
"I was diagnosed a month ago. My mother said not to tell anyone, because she was embarrassed that she could not afford treatment, and our relatives had to help her out. But I've noticed the looks you've been giving me. You're worried, and I can tell. I feel that I owe you the truth. I'm truly sorry that I didn't tell you before." I was speechless. I was not mad that she had not told me, but mad at myself for not noticing her silent suffering.
However, that was then; and now is now. I realized that Becca night in the Quebec hotel was the saddest I had ever seen her. As her internal war with leukemia raged on, her heart remained untouched.
Finally, on the night of Rebecca's thirteenth birthday, her suffering became too much and she was moved to the hospital. The two other girls and I filed silently into the ambulance, following Rebecca's mother. Rebecca's unconscious body was lifted onto the stretcher, and then smoothly loaded into the waiting vehicle.
I remained at Becca's side long after the other girls left, fearing that she was living her last hours. She was not! Her fierce hold on life surprised everyone who knew her. After her initial stay in the hospital, she remained mainly at home, visiting the hospital occasionally.
As I lay sleepless in my bed one night, I was startled by the ringing of the phone. It was Rebecca's mother, with an air of controlled panic in her voice, which instantly struck fear to the depths of my heart.
"Rachel, Rebecca's was moved to the hospital an hour ago. Her condition is deteriorating, but she was asking for you. Please come quickly!"
"I'm on my way." Without asking any questions, I woke my mother.
"Hospital," I croaked, "Now."
She did not protest, but rose and dressed silently. She knew how much Rebecca meant to me, and would never refuse a midnight visit, with Rebecca being so sick.
She drove speedily to the regional hospital, and, after inquiring as to where Rebecca was, gently led me to the room. My brain was not functioning correctly; it was frozen in shock, fear and anxiety. With a nod to her mother, I entered the room.
I did not recognize the pale ghost of a beautiful blond girl lying on the white-sheeted bed. I walked to the bedside, wary of the monotonous machines near her head. I knelt beside the bed, and clutching the cold hand of my unconscious friend, I waited.
I must have sat there for the rest of the night, and long into the morning as well. However, the passing of any time whatsoever was unknown to me. I concentrated on somehow finding a way to transmit some energy to Becca.
I must have in some way, for her eyes fluttered open, just enough for me to catch a sliver of the brilliant azure colour within. I blinked, and then shook my head. I must have imagined it, I thought. But I could not deny the reality of what happened next.
"Promise… you will… never be… alone." Her mouth moved, forming the words of the almost silent whisper. I gripped her hand more tightly, and it responded by going stiff and limp. A last puff of air escaped from her tired lungs. Rebecca's life was gone forever.
At her funeral, I can only remember bits and pieces. I can recall sobbing continually upon the shoulders of Rebecca's older brother. I can remember glancing into her casket, and being struck by how much weight she had lost since the beginning of her war with leukemia. Her eyes were sunken, agreeing with her stark white face.
What was left of her white-blond hair had long since lost the sun streaked look it had held just two years before. Her eyes were closed, but had they been open, I knew what I would have seen. Her eyes would have been staring into nothingness, their beautiful azure colour not yet lost in the glazed look of death.
I recall having later walked up to Becca's mother, carrying a single rose, the pale colour of Rebecca's hair. She saw me approaching. She hugged me tight, her eyes glistening with tears.
"My dear girl," she began, "I know your sorrow. Rebecca and you were the very best of friends, weren't you now?" I nodded. She went on. "As a great ruler once said, 'to lose a loved one is to lose life itself.' He spoke very truthfully. We," she motioned to herself and her two sons, "know that as long as you remain, we will not suffer alone." She reached into her pocket, and pulled something out. "Rebecca was going to give this to you." She handed me a small book. "Today is your birthday, isn't it?" I nodded. "Rebecca picked this out for you, saying that you wanted it badly. Well I know that she would have given it to you herself if she could. Enjoy it." Tears pricked my eyes once again. Murmuring a quick thank-you, I walked off to find my mother, sobbing all the way. I cannot remember anything else about that horrible day, my thirteenth birthday.
It was nearly a month before I could bear to look at the book her mother had given to me. It was a book of poems, I found out, by our favourite poet, Emily Dickinson. Written on the inside cover was a verse from Rebecca's favourite poem. It read:
From the belief that somewhere -
Within the Church of Thought -
There dwells one other Creature
Of Heavenly Love - forgot -
I'll be with you always, Rach. I'll be there for you always.
-Love you, Becca.
I had never like that poem much before. I suppose I never had understood it properly before. But now, having been filled with loneliness and sadness for so long, the poem brought tears to my eyes, and soothed my mind with understanding.
Rebecca had written the verse, knowing that she would die not long after. She had written it to remind me that I would never be alone, as long as I believed in her legacy. Rebecca has touched hearts and soothed pains, all through her short life. People who met her had been amazed by the way she had handled her sorrow and misfortune. She had suffered by her triumphs had always won out, even until the end. The cancer that had claimed her life could not damage her spirit.
While she lived, she had been graceful as a ballet dancer, and as free as a wild horse. She had been a people person, listening patiently to the problems of her friends, in hopes one day making her talents her profession as well. She showed me that in order to truly believe I have to believe with my heart.
Perhaps her life was not supposed to be, perhaps her surviving even thirteen years had been a miracle. You taught me never to give up believing Rebecca. I miss you and I will never forget you as long as I live.