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Cinnamon Rum

A girl I used to know had a baby last week.

A beautiful baby girl, with a head full of black hair.

I know because my mom showed me pictures, because they are friends on social media.

This girl, she used to be one of those friends you assume you’ll grow old with. The kind of friend that unravels you, renders you incapable of anything but authenticity.

I remember the time we sat by the river during an election year in Haiti. Word had spread that the city was on fire, that people were burning tires, cars, buildings, anything in protest. The roads were impassable, the mission halted. We were stuck there, in our little village. It didn’t surprise us or alarm us, we were used to living enclosed in the mountains, that landscape our sanctuary.

We grabbed cinnamon rum, water, and went down to the river. We sat on rocks by the water, drinking, listening to gun shots in the distance, voices yelling.

And we laughed.

We both had ringworm then, disgusting circles on our legs, itchy and slathered in Lotrimin. Of course we both had it, we shared a bed in our mission house. We didn’t know how we got it, didn’t care that it was there. We argued about who’s itched more, but since I have zero self control my leg looked mutilated half the time and covered in blood, so I typically won. She simply had more patience, more at ease with whatever happened to her.

I can still feel that moment at the river. It was us against the world.

Or when we hiked our first mountain without any Haitian man to lead or protect us. We were trusted, we were known there. We climbed to the very top, spread our arms wide, and sang praise.

As far as the east is from the west, that’s how far, you have removed our transgressions from us. Praise the Lord, oh my soul, praise the Lord

I have never sang in front of anyone else, to this day.

Or when I watched her knees buckle when she saw the man she loved. Coming down the steps, caught off guard, she nearly collapsed. Sometimes I think of that moment and my stomach flips, seeing love in such a tangible way, how it happens to us, unexpected, sometimes.

How after my motorcycle accident, when my leg was torn open and absolutely disgusting, it didn’t heal until she returned to Haiti from her vacation home, called me a fool, and bandaged it correctly. She was only slightly mad when a trail of red ants climbed into bed every night to feast on my leg. Yes, you read that correctly. I was a catch.

And. The earthquake. She held me as I sobbed, as the earth shook. We laid together that night, huddled in a shack with 30 other people, palms spread against the walls as they threatened to crumble, willing them to stay upright. We laid there and we laughed about maybe not surviving this. We laughed because we had each other.

She knew I was pregnant before I did. She laughed, a snorted quick thing, rolled her eyes and told me of course I was pregnant, who eats that much egg salad and tea? You’ll be fine, she had said. I bet you’ll be a boy mom. I can’t imagine you a girl mom.

There were years that unfolded before us, together. We conquered love and death, pain and beauty. We were inseparable. When one of us would be in the states, we’d write long emails, updating on the corners of our hearts. When she wasn’t beside me in Haiti, I always felt lost, unsteady on my own feet.

She taught me how to care for the youngest babies in the orphanage. She put my anxiety at bay, moved so naturally that I was forced to follow.

And now she has her own baby. And I feel such an immense peace and joy for her. She has suffered so much, with such humility. Her soul must feel alive.

We are not friends anymore, this girl and me. When I left Haiti, something was severed, a thread that no matter how you tied it back together it came undone again. We tried with words, but over time those failed. She was there and I was here, and that gap couldn’t be bridged.

When I’d visit there, at first, there were glimpses of us, of how it used to be. But eventually, it became awkward, stunted conversations, one of us moving forward and the other standing still.

We weren’t great to each other, at times, as the friendship became harder to maintain. We said things we regret. I know I did.

Sometimes when I think of her it feels hard to breathe. A lump in my throat, a rock in my stomach. But mostly, it is peace, knowing she is well and so am I. That life carried us down the same river for a while, then drifted us apart.

And that is ok.

Learning to let the past sit undisturbed, to rest in a certain peace, bathed in light, has been a journey. For so long I wanted to take the pieces and try to shove them back together, make it make sense. But sometimes we have to let people go, and let the memories go with them.

We were suspended in time, that friendship that withstood the mountains splitting.

Having a friendship come undone is unsettling at first, all the what ifs and the reminders, the assumptions and the cramming of emotions into fragmented moments. But as I get older I think some friendships are only meant to last for certain periods of time, precisely when they’re needed. Once that bubble bursts, which can be so fragile, anything other than the original friendship just seems blurry, tainted.

So cheers to friendships come and gone, beauty along the paths of our lives. May we always love the ones that changed us, and raise a glass to their goodness.

Congratulations, my old friend.


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