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I had a message from one of my old friends in my inbox Tuesday night when I woke up at 3am needing a snack and to let the cat out. It delivered the news that one of our high school friends had died of breast cancer, just letting me know. I was able to poke around the web enough to determine that it wasn't the first round with the disease, that a memorial service was planned, that her mother (who I adored) was still alive after her own rounds with illness and aging.

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This friend, P., turned 44 in February. She was 8 months younger than me. We met in 7th grade when her mom and stepdad moved to the Texas panhandle from Iowa. She was the first person I had ever met who properly pronounced 'oil', rather than the south plains version of 'aaawwwlll'. She was the most daring person I'd ever met, and looking back now, I suspect that the daring and the bravado then was her attempt to not let anyone see how afraid she actually was- of being the new kid and painfully shy, of not being cheerleader beautiful, of new people and a place she pronounced backward.

We became fast friends, and ran all over the neighborhood with a collection of other teenage girls. We walked on top of the concrete block fences, rode bikes in the dark with no hands, ate peaches off the trees in alleys, ran barefoot across the greens of the golf course through the sprinklers after dark. When I got a driver's license and a decrepit VW bug, she threw in for gas, and I picked her up for school every morning. She swore she woke up when she heard the bug start up every morning, 2 blocks away, and threw her clothes on- makeup occurred in the car.

We and another friend went to San Francisco the spring break we were 17 to stay with her sister, who let us roam the city at will every day while the sister was at work. In the days before really good electronic tag security, or swimsuit tops and bottoms being sold separately, we'd help her switch swimsuit parts to accommodate her generous bust and tiny little behind. She taught my 3 year old baby brother to curse- which he did, at dinner that night. I was the one who got to 'splain that...

I don't know if her parents were all that cool, or whether they were just too tired to say no. It was at their house we all watched MTV's debut, Madonna hosting SNL (she always said that she would give anything to throw young Ms. Madonna down for a good shampoo); her stepdad taught us to parallel park- in an early '80s Oldsmobile. When we got to the DMV for the test, we passed without breaking a sweat.

We were close, and then we weren't. By the time we started senior year, I can only remember saying hi in the hall now and then- we'd each become part of two separate groups in completely separate orbits. Then off to college, and never laid eyes on each other again. I'd try to locate her on the web now and again, or when I ran into someone she had stayed in touch with, 'say hi to P. for me'.

I was telling my daughter about her and a couple of teenage adventures just last week. Another friend who didn't hear about her death 'til this afternoon called and told me that she'd been thinking about P. this morning. Neither of us knew about the three year struggle with cancer.

That friend was the first to have a baby, I was the first to get married, and now P. has become the first to die. I don't think that I like that milestone at all, and I'm surprised how much I'm feeling the loss of someone I lost so long ago.

I suppose that this is the obituary that I would write for her, or at least a first draft. I am no longer religious, but I hope she knows that I remember how brave and cool and daring she was.

Welcome, fellow travelers on the grief journey, and a special welcome to anyone who is new to The Grieving Room.  We meet every Monday evening. Whether your loss is recent or many years ago, whether you have lost a person or a pet, or even if the person you are "mourning" is still alive ("pre-grief" can be a very lonely and confusing time) you can come to this diary and process your grief in whatever way works for you. You don't have to respond directly to anything written in the diary: share whatever you need to share. We can't solve each other's problems, but we can be a sounding board and a place of connection.

11:11 PM PT: Thank you all for your kind comments- it has really meant a lot to me. Somehow, in the writing of this, my bare feet can feel the warm, gritty concrete of those fences, the silky damp of the grass, and I swear I can taste the peaches of those trees that nobody tended- sweeter and more satisfying than any other peach I've ever had. It might be that she remembers, too.

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