On Friends, and Memories

christine jean chambers

There are specific periods of your life where friendships imprint on you the most. Usually, it’s at the beginning of something big and/or scary. Kindergarten friends we end up keeping for life come to mind, as do summer camp pals, the odd activity-related friend, too. And because few things are as big and scary as college, that also tends to be a period where we find friends for life.

The first thing that struck me about Christine was her beauty, as I’m sure was the case with many who first met her. White blonde hair, golden light skin with a shock of pink undertone so iridescently rosy it looked like her cheeks had been painted from the inside. 

I don’t recall the first moment we talked freshman year at Carnegie Mellon, but I have so many memories of us walking campus together and laughing. Dredging through freshman-level writing workshops together. Laughing, hard, about high school boyfriends.

On days she wasn’t feeling well, which I began to notice was happening more frequently than my other college friends, she’d call me on my ancient block of a cell phone, asking me to pick up a couple cans of tomato soup for her. I always make it, she would say, when I’m not feeling well. It just reminds me of home.

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Did you ever notice that the world looks different when someone close to you dies? I don’t mean this in a figurative way. I mean it literally.

The outline of the clouds on the sky looks sharper. Tall tape grass sways more fiercely, bending to the breeze and the winds. The smells. The smells! Dirt and stale winter air. Leftover Christmas food in your garbage can. The skin at your child’s temple.

Has all of this beauty and all of this mundanity always been right there, starting us straight in the face?

We know better than to answer that literally. Yes, of course it has. It’s just that the cruel lesson at the end of a beautiful life is that those left to mourn start to really, finally, see.

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It’s strange to drop a post on death in the middle of a bunch of talk about face creams and breastfeeding difficulties and 5 Minute Makeup Tips. Talk about “One of these Things is Not Like the Other.”

But just as life isn’t all hard, it’s not all simple and frivolous either.

We make friends. We make babies, or we don’t. We move, we quit jobs, we find new friends.

We make really, really beautiful and complicated lives that we then spend hours analyzing and critiquing and self-doubting and celebrating. The modern woman is nothing if not thoroughly complicated. And here, I’d like to think we can talk about it all.

And I couldn’t just start into the new year here without giving proper due to one woman whose art and work always served a higher purpose, and who inspired me and so many others.

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On my wedding day, we were ten minutes away from leaving by bus for the church, and Christine, one of my bridesmaids, still hadn’t made it. Her connecting flight from New York was delayed, and the last update she sent didn’t specify an exact arrival time.

I was hopeful, nowhere near angry, and mostly amused. This was my Christine. Solid as a rock for life advice, laughs and wisdom… but not always the most punctual.

As we wrapped up some pre-ceremony pictures in the suite, there she was, finally! No worse or less chic for the wear, she would, however, end up walking down the aisle that day with a glob of foundation down the front of her dress, the result of a hastily-applied face so that she’d be camera ready… but not to be a subject, to be the photographer.

Her photos of that day far surpass the quality of the photographer we actually hired. She didn’t know it, but she left me with the best wedding gift of all that day–beautifully preserved memories.

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Christine, for all the joy you brought to me, to others and to the world, thank you. For your big, throaty laugh. For your random bouts of bursting into songs. For your photographs. For the stories you told about yourself that helped to illuminate so much for others. And for the one final gift you gave to me and others in your passing, the lesson: That just being there is the gift.

christine jean chambers
christine jean chambers
Sonni-LOGO-SMALL

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