Christine was my oldest friend. She, like I, was a ‘black sheep’; a pariah. Misunderstood and too often unwelcome in others’ lives. One of those breeds of individuals that make others uncomfortable by our very presence. We do not ‘fit in’. We do not do things that others expect of us. This inability to bow to others’ expectations is not born of a desire for rebellion. Nor is it the child of wilful selfishness or, as too many assume, ‘evil’. It is a simple inability to be anything other than who we are and to stand by what we believe to be important, often at the expense of everyone else’s wishes for us. We exist even on the fringes of our own small and patch-worked social circles; never quite fully-fledged members but never completely divorced from those who would seek out our attention now and then. It always left us baffled. Christine, in particular, was always shocked when others actively sought her company. Perhaps we were simply born with an over-abundance of the kind of personal integrity that will not allow us to march to the beat of anything other than our very own drums? We have our own orders and we follow them instead. Whatever that ingredient is we have an awful lot of it! Nevertheless, though it cost us blood family and many, many friends, we were always loved by one another and a few rare individuals that chose to accept us somehow. The path of ‘the black sheep’ is not an easy road to walk.
Christine was my best friend. Not that anyone would know this in her final weeks. I visited her at the hospital once the news reached me that she was dying and I chose to keep that visit singular. I have known her for over two decades and knew her wishes well. I saw her when she was still lucid enough to recognise me and kiss the fingers of my hand as she went to sleep. I saw her when she still knew who I was and could comprehend my love and express it in turn. My last memory of her is preserved now; a frozen snapshot of a loving gesture devoid of the ugliness of the last days of life when death starts to carve its presence on the mundane form, warping and twisting those features into something grotesque and only faintly recognisable as ‘human’. I will always remember the kiss now and the precious time spent with her that day. And so our last time was, quite simply, a beautiful time. And that is how I know she would wish it. For I know her heart well.
Of course, if only it were that simple. But it can never be simple when two black sheep exist together. Though neither of us are sheep I would lose my title as a black one if my reasons for a singular hospital visit were as beautiful as the ones I have just written of here. No. I was pushed away by others in her small circle of family and friends in those final weeks. Isolated, shunned, or downright ignored, I lived like a stereotype having to rely on the words of a mutual friend for snippets of news on my best friend’s condition. I do not go where I am not welcome, which means I hardly go anywhere at all, and it was particularly evident that I was not welcome by others in her life as it reached its conclusion. If Christine were here she and I would speak of this; of how one or the other of us was shunned by others, yet again. It happened all the time! And if she was here she, like I, would offer the other support and reassure one another that we ‘still had each other’, and laugh, and move on…but she is not here now and wont be again…
Christine was the first person to teach me that family did not need to be comprised of those related by ‘blood’. She taught me that a loving family, of one’s choice, was often more meaningful than a lifetime spent surrounded by blood kin who despised your existence and disapproved of your own life’s choices. I was not the only one she taught this to. She embraced my only child as one of her own, accepting him naturally, and watching over him as he grew from a child to an adult. She attended school concerts, gifted him at Christmas, was there for his birthdays, and all the sundry milestones he reached. More than anything, though, she was simply there for him; a vital and consistent presence in his often inconsistent world.
Christine taught me dedication; to work solidly towards one’s goals and not look back. She taught me how to hold my head high no matter the obstacle, and to vanquish its presence with grace, surety, and finality. She embodied the strength it takes to stand firm in the maelstrom of criticism hurled by a misunderstanding world full of judgement and fear for anything ‘different’ or ‘far from the norm’. She taught me that it is okay to be disliked as long as one’s principles and ethics are true and how to stand equally firmly, when my own life’s choices sent that maelstrom heading my way.
Christine also taught me about personal responsibility. Taking responsibility for one’s actions is a rarer quality in contemporary society than some of you may know. Which is how I can write this and say “I am despised” with nothing but a firm knowledge of why in my mind. If I wanted to be loved, it would be simple enough. I could do what is expected, give in to everyone’s preferences, and kill off any individual idiosyncrasies that litter my character like so many grains of sand on a shoreline. I could become what I am not. Problem solved. But I am afraid that I am too expensive for that. My price is too high, or too low depending on who is doing the assessing, to be anything other than who I am.
Christine was born in the wrong body. She lost her material wealth, her family, and most of her friends, when she finally decided that, if she was going to be able to exist in this world and give others the best of herself, she would need to have surgery to correct the accident genetics had made. Happiness, love, and true dedication to what she knew was right took precedence over a jet-setter’s lifestyle full of excessive wealth, and ease of living in a materially beautiful world. In her final years she lived alone with her cats. She was far from materially wealthy and was renting her home. Her social circle was tiny, but she had time and love enough for all of us. We all got the best of Christine and she was happier for it.
I was her chosen companion ‘in the event of a zombie apocalypse’. She and I prepped with the other in mind. And I know she has gone on ahead now, to scout out the future and ensure that my own travels are as smooth as she can make them. That is what best friends do.
Christine may have left the mundane plane of existence this morning; dying quietly in her daughter’s arms as she listened to Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” (a favourite of hers) but she is still here. She is in everything I see, in the way I carry myself, in the memories we made, and in this old pariah’s heart.
I am blessed to be a Black Sheep. Because if I had not been such I would never have met my beautiful friend.
Thank you Christine. Thank you for the many years of your existence, the laughs, the smiles, the tears and, most importantly, the lessons and the love you gave to me from that beautiful soul’s heart of yours.
I love you. Forever. Rest easy now, Love. Rest easy. XO.