Come close, get away. Come close, leave me alone. The cat and mouse game we play with those who love us. We got hurt that time in 10th grade and we vowed on March 18, 1981 that we would never leave ourselves open to be hurt again. We hardened a little bit, became the white glove of rind protecting the tender orange encased inside and made a piece of ourselves unloveable. Case closed. But then, something happened. We tumbled off our guard, allowed a sliver of sunlight to pinstripe the darkness and began to love again. This is my story. Come close so I can tell you. I lost three friends I deeply adored: one suddenly, two slowly and torturously. Their deaths have left a permanent bloodstain on my heart. There’s something especially horrible about losing a friend. I guess it’s because these are folks you welcome into your life, you choose them on purpose and expect them to go gray and die with you. Age spots and all. But that’s not life is it? Life is horrible and unexpected and beautiful. So sometimes your chosen ones die before you and leave you standing in the middle of the highway holding nothing but a spare tire. This is hard. This sucks. And in my case, I formed a bit of a shell around me. I even told another close girlfriend “don’t love me. Just like me a lot so that when you leave me (too) I won’t be bereft and dizzy with grief.” But that doesn’t work. Love is a breeze seeping under your jacket no matter how zipped you are. I still love my girlfriends like this is our last Saturday together (because it might be). I still unpeel when I’m with them and I still secretly wonder: when will she leave me? But here’s what I do differently post-loss: I tell my friends about my losses and I tell them I’m scared I’m going to lose them too and I relax a bit when I hear them say: “it’s okay Gayle. I’m not going anywhere. Anyway, you’re older so chances are you’ll die first and leave me. Ha, ha!” And we go back to gossiping, we go see bad movies, we call before and after work, we look for the best steak in town, we choke each other up with mutual honesty. We love. Til death. Because that’s all we have Sonya Renee, Meleia, Tami, Pat, Yolanda. If I push away because I’m frightened then I miss the love you have for me. And that’s what I live for. So, go My Love and love on. Til the inevitable end. Til the curtain closes and all you can say is “that was my friend.” Love’s journey is worth the ride.