It always surprises me how quickly important memories burrow into the back of my mind only to come back to me in the strangest places. I’ll be walking through a crowded department store and get a whiff of perfume and it’s almost like I can see her head bobbing up and down in the crowd in front of me. I nearly start running towards her and then reality sets in; it’s not her. As sobering as these moments are, I look forward to them because it feels like for half a second things are back to normal, and I still have my best friend.

To begin explaining how important my best friend Kaila is to me, I’d have to start with the movie Kill Bill. In retrospect, at 12 we were probably too young to have ever watched it—but without that movie we would have never connected (thanks, Quentin Tarantino). It happened like this: my former best friend had transferred to a new school and somehow we got introduced through a group conversation online. While we were chatting, I mentioned I was obsessed with Kill Bill and she happened to be the only other person our age who had seen it. From that point on, we were friends bonding over our love for obscenely gory films, The Simpsons and each other.

After months of chatting online, we finally got to meet in person. I remember being so nervous—she was much cooler than me, what if she figured out I was really a dweeb? I knew I had nothing to worry about when my sister pulled into her neighborhood and we saw her jogging beside our van. It might not seem like much, but the simple act of her running was a true gesture of love. Kaila was chronically ill due to a rare form of cancer she had as a baby, even a quick walk would leave her fatigued. Although the cancer was gone, the treatments left her with a limp, a heart that needed to be replaced and stunted growth.

Our friendship continued over time and into our very awkward teen years. We didn’t see each other as much as we wanted, but when we did it was always special. Not going to the same school made it easy for us to just be ourselves during a time in our lives when all we wanted was to fit in someplace. Even as we got a little bit older and lost some common interests, we still had the unbreakable bond of two people who would remain close regardless of anything.

Once high school ended, Kaila decided to leave town for school and I went to our local university. She would be coming back home during a school break in February for a procedure on her foot that would hopefully allow her to walk without a limp. We were both so excited because she would finally be able to wear high heels and we made plans to marathon The Simpsons while she was recovering. We hadn’t talked for a couple of weeks which was normal, but this time I felt weird about it. She wasn’t picking up her phone or emailing me, so I decided to activate my Facebook account to see what was up. On her wall were messages of “get well soon” and “feel better.” In a state of panic, I contacted her friend who had told me that due to complications from surgery, Kaila’s organs were failing and she didn’t have much time left. My best friend was dying and I had no idea. I was told to say my goodbyes the next morning.

On the morning of February 28th 2010, after the longest night of my life, I went to the hospital. I wasn’t able to say goodbye or tell her I loved her; she had already been dead for five minutes. I walked into her room not knowing what to expect. She looked the same as she always had, she could have very well been sleeping. I touched her hand, kissed her head and told her I was sorry.

It’s been four years since her death and although I haven’t moved on from the guilt stage, once I stopped mourning, I started learning. The first time someone you love dies, you think all the lessons you learn will seep in quickly, like they would in a very special episode of your favorite ’90s sitcom. “Life is precious, don’t take it for granted! Live every day like it’s your last!” I soon realized the carpe diem declarations hardly lasted. What did stay with me were the lessons she taught me about what it means to be a true friend and what it really means to stay positive, even when things get difficult. I still think about her all the time and although I do get sad, I’m mostly grateful to have known such a remarkable person.

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