If a little girl is lucky they have a playmate: someone to kneel down and enter their world of pretending. Someone to acknowledge their fantasy worlds of princesses and dolls and unadulterated happiness. I was in the elite class; the luckiest of the lucky.
My grandmother was my best friend. She would kneel down and pick-up a doll and the two of us would sit on her yellow carpet and laugh and talk and simply be for what felt like the best hours of my life.
When I was younger it was dolls, when I got older it was coloring and even older Harry Potter. Being the high-quality wizard that I am, naturally, I dubbed myself Hermionie. Never one to stop the fun, my grandma adopted the role of Harry Potter and allowed me to draw a lightning scar on the aged skin of her forehead. We glued sequins onto popsicle sticks and cast Patronus charms from sundown to sunrise.
Another one of our favorite activities was taking walks. No matter if the visit was at my house or hers, we had a route.
If we were in her neighborhood we would walk to the duck pond and throw pieces of torn up bread into the water to provide the little bird's sustenance. If we were at my house we would walk down the block to the cul de sac and then circle back.
Each walk was, of course, accompanied by my grandmother's signature chocolate chip cookies. We would walk and eat and laugh and smile and talk. And even as young as 10, I remember how thankful I was to have someone who would chat so openly with me.
Someone who would be there for me when I turned the elderly ages of 13, 15, even 18, and give me advice when I was in more desperate need.
My grandma, full of smiles and laughs and oh so willing to enter into my world of make-believe, cloaked herself in all black. This was something that always brought me a bit of confusion: why did my grandma, the happiest person I knew, choose to represent herself with the color most commonly associated with sadness.
Later, I learned, it was because despite the facade that she put on for me, my grandmother's life was anything but happy.
Sick. It was a word that haunted her for as long as I had known her. She pretended to be carefree, but she wasn't. She laughed with me, but could never fully enjoy. And she loved entering my fantasy worlds, likely because she needed to escape from reality even more than I did.
She was sick, and despite the fact that she fought off the disease three times before, the fourth time cancer stole her life right from under her.
I was 10 and lost my best friend.
First, it was confusion, then anger, then sadness. But finally, it came to acceptance. Acceptance that she wouldn't be there for the most critical years when I would need her the most.
She would never see me graduate middle school, nor high school, nor go to prom, nor be accepted to college. She was not there waiting at the door with her sneakers tied and her signature cookie the first time my heart got broke, like my 10 year old self had expected.
And now, this past Wednesday she would have been 75. And I am 19. The last time I saw her she was 66, myself 10. And so much is the same, yet so much has changed.
And while she isn't here to celebrate, I hope that she is proud to watch us as we grow. And I hope that the next time that I see her, wherever and however that may be, she will be waiting with a cookie, her sneakers tied, and a walking route all planned out for us.