I guess I met Stef when I was thirteen or so, which would have made her twelve, but really, I felt like I'd known her forever. She was one of those people that the moment we met, it's like we bonded instantly on some molecular level; like we were made of the very same stuff at the core. It's rare that it happens, two people who simply know each other like that, two magnets pulling toward each other, instantly attached, but when it does, you can't forget it.

And I didn't.

Everyone loved Stef. She had this shine about her, something rare in a teenager, that made you want to be near her; like if you stood close enough, some of that sparkle, that inherent goodness that radiated from her would rub off on you, and for awhile you would be better for knowing her.

I am better for knowing her.

Stef was one of the first people I knew that loved me for who I was, warts and all, and even now, seventeen years later, I think she may be one of the only people who genuinely will ever love me. Maybe it's because she understood me in a way that most people don't. Maybe it's because she was my first real friend. Maybe it's because that was her gift; her shine. I don't know.

She walked tall, confident in her shoes, and while the rest of us awkward teenagers struggled to figure out who we were, Stef always knew who she was. I learned that from her.

When my boyfriend slept with my friend, she was the only one who chewed him a new asshole. In a world where I had never had a soul on my side before, Stef was always firmly there, Team Becky all the way. She would have cut a bitch for me, no questions asked, because she was my friend and she loved me. Maybe other people had families that would do that for them, but I never had that. It had always been me against the world. I learned how to be a friend from Stef, too.

She was there when I'd gotten pregnant with my first son, holding my hand when his father, too, cheated on me. Again, she was the only one who stood up for me. I never told her how much that meant to me.

Shortly after my son was born, she got pregnant, too. Excited, we planned for this baby, a boy. When her son was born, the sparkle she'd had went out and was replaced by a sadness I couldn't touch. Always a party girl, she took it to new levels, trying to drink away her pain.

No one knew what to do.

We tried to reach her, but nothing seemed to get through. She tried rehab, three times. She was hospitalized. Tried medication. In the end, she kept returning to the bottle, drowning her sorrows in a bottle of vodka. The only friends she had left were the late-night sort, the ones who didn't care about the Stef I loved so dearly, the ones who didn't know my friend as she had been.

She left me a message at the end of December from a pay phone, having no phone of her own, just out rehab again. Stef sounded good, optimistic, even, offering to get together for some coffee and a playdate with her two boys and mine, sometime in the near future.

That message came too late.

I got that message two days after I buried my first real friend. One of the only people who may ever really love me.

February 10, 2008, I got a call from Stef's mom, telling me that Stef had died the night before, in her sleep. Liver failure.

Stef was 26 years old and left behind two young sons.

I've never been able to write about her, although I've tried hundreds of times. I've deleted thousands of words because they were simply not enough. There are no words eloquent enough, true enough, real enough to express the kind of person she was. And getting her wrong is not an option.

I loved her. I love her.

I miss her so much that my heart hurts some days. I'll probably always feel like there's a part of myself missing now that she's gone. That magnet, the part of me that was connected to her, that's still looking for that other half and it's gone forever. I'm lucky to have found someone like that in the first place.

Sometimes, in pictures captured when I am truly happy, I can see a certain expression on my own face that is pure Stef, and it makes me smile and laugh a little, because it reminds me of the e.e. cummings poem: i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

This site is dedicated to you, Steffie. When we meet again, and I know we will, I can't wait to tell you all the things I never told you when I should have. For knowing you, I am better.

May your shine always be warm, like Stef; like the evening sun.

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