“It’s done. She’s gone”.
Losing my high school best friend
I reread my friend’s message twice before my eyes welled up and I slipped into silent sobs. My roommate was in the bunk bed above me, I tried not to wake her up and cried myself to sleep that night. I was in Medellin, Colombia, for an extended work trip – a trip that would test me all the way to the edge of my sanity, but that’s another story-, and my High School best friend had just passed away in our hometown of Lima, Peru. After a freak health accident, she’d slipped into a coma, and her family had decided to let her go. I got the news three hours prior to her passing. Before I could process it, she was gone forever.
The following week was just a wave of heavy numbness in my mind and my heart that I couldn’t quite understand. I was 23 and didn’t know how to cope with loss and grief (“Of course you don’t, it’s the first time a friend of yours dies”, my dad would reply matter-of-factly to my desperate Whatsapp messages). My company wouldn’t let me fly out to the funeral, so I had no closure. I just carried on with my trip and roamed the streets of Medellin feeling, as Pink Floyd very eloquently put it, comfortably numb. In doing so, I couldn’t feel the pain, but I couldn’t feel joy either.
Trying to overcome sorrow by travelling
Two weeks after my friend’s passing, I reluctantly followed my workmates to an already-booked day trip to Guatapé. The plan was to visit Piedra del Peñol, the town’s main tourist attraction, and I knew that, if I didn’t go, I would regret it later. I was silent on the bus ride there, my thoughts still lingering around my friend, the time we didn’t spend together, all the things I wish I could tell her, and how it was too late. I cried.
Everything changed, however, the minute I got off the bus and set foot on the town.
Was it the colorful houses, each one with a daily townscene painted next to the main door? Or was it the people, who talked loudly and screamed with an energy so bright it was almost contagious? Maybe the tangy taste of the street Mangoes drizzled with lemon and salt? Was it none of the above but something greater, unknown, that attracted to travellers in this particular town? All I knew was that, for the first time in weeks, I felt like smiling. And after climbing all 740 steps to the top of the Piedra, I could feel the weight lifting from me.
In that very moment, the lyrics to one of Uruguayan singer Jorge Drexler’s songs came to mind:
“Tal vez fue algo de la puesta de sol
O algún efecto secundario del té,
Pero lo cierto es que la pena voló
Y no importó ya ni siquiera por qué.
Se va… se va… se fue.”
Which would translate to something like:
“Maybe it was something with the sunset,
Or a secondary effect of the tea,
But what’s true is that the sorrow went away,
And the reason why didn’t matter anymore.
It’s going… going… gone.”
Finding joy again
Because it really was gone, just like that. While looking at the islands scattered around the lake, feeling proud of myself for making it all the way up the stairs, I suddenly realized I could find joy again. I’d found it here, in a town a few hours away, and I could certainly find it somewhere else. I was smiling, laughing, happy to be breathing, to be alive, to be at the exact place and time where I was.
Saying goodbye to my friend was a much longer process, but I took the first step while overlooking a small Colombian town, at 220 meters above the ground, with something greater telling me my sorrow would soon come to an end.
I like to believe maybe it was her who made me feel like the pain was finally going and about to be gone for good. It’s almost as if she was reminding me of who I was, of everything we ever said we’d do, and of all I could still accomplish if only I dared to keep on living.
I also like to believe she dared me to move on and make her proud. And I like to believe I succeeded.