- May 14th 2002, would have been Alex’s tenth birthday. On her ninth I had teased her about this, soon she would be “old”,double digits like Mitchi and I. Since there had been no funeral in Victoria,and so many of my friends had been asking if there was going to be “anything”,Mitchi and I decided to take matters into our own hands. Every day since my eleventh birthday, I had gone over to Alex’s house to talk with her Mom, usually we would listen at the other cried, but that day I had brought Mitchi with me for another reason. “We were thinking of asking the school if they could do anything for Alex,” I asked, and her Mom was over the moon and got on the phone right away. If Alexis couldn’t be here for her birthday we were going to go overboard for her. It took about six weeks of planning, but everything was all set by the time May 14th rolled around. I proudly walked over to my elementary school with my Mom, Alex’s parents, Mitchi, and his whole family with my head held high. I hadn’t been back to school since the middle of November, but immediately when I walked through those doors a crowd of my classmates came over to give me a hug. “Are you coming back next year?” they all asked and I told them I was. All the nervousness I had thought I would feel about going back began to melt away, even though I was still “the girl whose best friend died”, people did care about me, and did want me to come back. The Principal then ushered us into the auditorium, and what I saw took my breath away. The auditorium was COVERED in Alex’s art work, right by where the fifth graders sat was a picture she had drawn of her and I with the caption “Chels-You are my best friend and will always be. I love you!” That immediately got me crying, because I hadn’t seen that picture since she had died, the stage was decorated even more beautifully. There was a huge picture of her, one that Mitchi and I had chosen ourselves, of her sitting on a tree branch in purple overalls, the sun was shining in her face and she looked almost like she was glowing, it was the perfect picture for this occasion especially. Beside the picture was a shelf that would be donated later to the school library, which was custom made for this occasion. It was made of wood, and had a large A on top. Inside was a couple of her books, including all four of her beloved Harry Potter books, and three of her favourite Beanie Babies, which I had donated.There were red streamers (her favourite colour), hanging down from the ceiling. I looked over at Mitchi and we smiled proudly, we had asked for all of these things and it was more perfect than we could have ever imagined. A couple of my close friends from school came in, together like Amanda, Paige, Courtney, and Adam. I had asked all of them to speak and they had accepted. Eitan also came in holding Courtney’s hand. “Are you ready to go?” I asked him and he nodded smiling. “Here’s my book,” he whispered to me and I handed it back to him. “I don’t want to see it now, surprise me later!” I said then turned around and added. “Happy birthday Eitan, I hope you have fun later because your sister would have wanted you too,” I said to him and he gave me a big hug. “I’m going to miss you when I move away,” he said in his cute little raspy voice. “No you won’t! You’ll see me every summer, and make so many new friends that you’ll behaving way too much fun to miss me!” I said, but the truth was I was going to miss him as well. Even though Eitan was Sean’s best friend I had known him his whole life, and I know Alexis would have wanted me to step in as his big sister now that she was gone, it’s what I would have wanted her to do for my little brother had I been the one to pass away. More and more guests started to pile into the auditorium; there was Elisa, her Mom, all of the kids from our Synagogue, as well as my Rabbi, all of their parents, and just general members of the community who knew Alexis. Jenny’s Mother, (the disabled girl who moved in right next door to Alex before she died), showed up with her husband, even the lady who owned the second hand clothing store near where we lived who had spent a lot of her career yelling at Alex, Mitchi, and I to stop using her store as a hiding spot during cops and robbers showed up! Once they had taken their seats the whole school came in, not one student said a word, they all just silently went to their seats. I found out later that none of the teachers had asked them do that, they just did it as a sign of respect on their own. The principal then came onstage and said a few words about why all of us were there, how she found it amazing that an eleven and twelve year old were able to pull off planning such an amazing event, and how she was honoured to have had a student like Alexis attend her school. Then everything really got started, Amanda, Paige, and Courtney all went up on stage and read poems they had written about their friend. What moved me most though was Adam’s speech, even though he wasn’t friends with Alex he spoke about how he strongly believed in life after death, and how her short life had touched so many, even if they never knew her. Then, it was Mitchi’s turn. He looked nervously at the crowd,and then at the microphone, “please don’t throw up,” I whispered under my breath and Alex’s Mom who was sitting right beside me giggled. “Um…I’m really not so good at talking, but one thing I am good at is dancing,” he said, and I could see all of the older girls staring at him and murmuring to one another about how “hot” he was. Then the music started and he began to dance to He Lives in You from the Lion King, I had never seen him dance so beautifully, and when he was done got a standing ovation. Then Michael, Alex’s Dad went onstage,and read the article he had written about her in the Globe and Mail, as he was ending his speech my stomach began doing flip flops, I never was good at making speeches, I’m still not, and I began to turn green. “You got this,” said Adam from behind me, and when the applause for Michael had finished, up I went. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I talked about how Alex and I would make forts every Saturday morning, how she loved swimming, and riding on her scooter. How there was now an empty hole in my heart that would remain there, I paused nervously and looked directly at my godmother who nodded reassuringly,and on I went. “I know that I’m only eleven, but now I know what it’s like to see a sunrise and really appreciate it because you have another day, I know why it’s important to hug your friends and tell them you love them, I know what it’s like to see something beautiful and treasure it in your mind, because who knows if you will see something that beautiful ever again. I know what it’s like to be thankful for everything that you have right now, because nothing is more precious than time. This is what grief feels like, but it is also how wonderful being alive is. This is the gift Alex left me, appreciation, and memories of a best friend who will never be replaced, no matter where I go,what I do, or how long I live.” I finished, and at first my whole class stood up for me, and then the whole school. I sat back down and Adam put his hand on my shoulder, “that was beautiful,” he said. Then Eitan went up, and stole the show. For the past few months he had been writing a book about his sister in therapy, and had spent so much time working on it. It was the most beautiful act of love, a child; barely eight could give to his dead sister. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the auditorium when he had finished, it was also the first time he had ever spoken about his sister’s death in public. We then gathered outside to the schoolyard, the moment I had been waiting for, and there they were. Mitchi and I had gone into a furniture store right after my birthday, and asked if they could donate these, and they had come through. Inscribed not only with Alex’s name and how long she had lived, but the caption “daughter, friend, and student. Now we are lit by her only from within”. Mitchi and I hugged each other happily,and Essy grabbed each of our hands and pulled us to the largest bench, “the three of us should be the first to sit on this,” said Essy and Mitchi and I grinned as we sat down. A bench is hardly a substitute for a best friend, but it was a physical act of love that so many other children would see for years and years to come. It would also be a special spot for Mitchi and me for the rest of our lives. We then got up, and took the microphone from the principal and addressed the whole school. “One thing Alex always loved on her birthday was double stuffed Oreos,” Mitchi began. “So we weren’t too sure if they had any in heaven, so Chelsea and I decided to take matters into our own hands,” he said and held up a Ziploc bag filled with Oreos, and handed me the microphone.“So I would like to get Eitan, Courtney, Paige, Amanda, and Adam up here to help tie them to these red balloons and then we will all release them together,” I said bravely, as they came over. “So when we do release them, we should all shout out happy birthday to Alex, just so she knows we’re still celebrating even though she’s not here,” I added as everyone began tying the back of cookies to the red balloons. “OKAY ON THREE!” Mitchi shouted without the mic, holding his share of the balloon pile. “ONE-TWO-THREE- RELEASE!” and we all let go. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEXIS!” the whole school thundered, and I wiped the tears out of my eyes, as Adam put his arm around me. “This was absolutely the most beautiful day of my entire life,” he whispered and pulled me into a hug. “Thanks Adam, for being my friend,” I said to him.
As the summer dragged on Alex’s family wasn’t the only goodbye I had to make. Adam came over one afternoon in late June and told me his family was moving to Vancouver so he could be closer to the hospital. “When do you leave?” I asked. “Tomorrow,” he said “I didn’t want to tell you because I didn’t want you thinking I was going to leave you, I wish I wasn’t sick so I didn’t have to go,” he said. “It’s good! You’re going to be able to get better faster, you WILL beat this dumb cancer,” I said to him and he gave me a half smile. “I know I will, I’m sure I will,” he said determined. “I just wanted to tell you that you’ve uh…been my angel,” he said shyly. He then came over and quickly kissed me cheek. “I’m going to miss you Chelsea,” he said. “I will too,” I said back after he had turned around and ran away.
A couple of months later I was sitting on the beach with Mitchi, we had started going again now in August, and tomorrow I would be going back to school. Elisa had switched to my school, and had gone back a year so she would be with me, so I wouldn’t have to endure it by myself. “I can’t believe it’s been almost a year,” said Mitchi, and I nodded in agreement. “I know but look at us, I think we’re going to be okay, it might take more time,but we will be…eventually,” I said and Mitchi put his arm around me. “Have you heard from Adam? You must miss him,” he asked. “I do, but I don’t think I’ll ever hear from him again, it’s just one of those things.” I said, and in the end I was right. A couple of years ago however, I was watching the Fifa World Cup in South Africa on TV, it was Germany playing some other country, and I saw an unmistakably familiar face. I then googled my old friend and found out he was indeed playing for Germany, and was one of their best players. Well…he certainly kicked cancers ass.