She was the kind of girl with no patience. She ate the gingerbread house while it was under construction. She wondered if there were guns in heaven. And, if so, could you die there all over again? She wanted to trade all the cars in for horses, but what she really wanted was a pet monkey. She was my absolute best friend in the world. Her name was Miranda, and when we were both eight years old she died.
I knew something was wrong with her and that she was sick, but I didn’t know she had been actively dying since before the moment we first set eyes on each other. I wonder sometimes if she kept her leukemia from me on purpose, as if saving me from some burden. Without my realizing it, her sickness was part of our life together. I walked when I wanted to run, I sat when I wanted to stand. Her legs were too tired to do much of anything. But I didn’t much notice. I just wanted to be with her.
For two weeks every summer, I had to go away with my father. That summer we went to Montauk and stood on the beach watching a hurricane roll toward us like bad breath. I drew our pictures in the sand and he etched in the captions above them. At the local store I discovered chair hammocks, licorice pipes, wax lips and WOW magazine. My father discovered the lady behind the counter.
When I returned, my mother took me for ice cream. We sat in the backyard of the creamery counting the airplanes that flew overhead. In the course of our conversation I counted five planes and she told me, gently, that while I was playing on the beach and discovering wax candy my best friend had died. While she talked, I curled my neck over the back of my chair so my face was flush against the sky, away from her and the world. I watched the airplanes and I wondered if Miranda found any guns in heaven. I had missed her funeral. I stared straight up; the sky was all I could see. If I strained, I could see out of my peripheral, my mother’s face and things freezing behind glass.
As my mother tucked me in that night, she explained something that I’ve carried with me ever since. She said that in Judaism death is not a tragedy but a natural process. And that because I was Miranda’s friend, and because she had died, it was up to me to speak for her and honor her life by sharing my memories. That way, Miranda would live on, not only in my memory, but in the memories of others. This honoring, she said, was called, k’vod ha-chai. My despair had an outlet. And my sense of Jewish identity solidified right there, at eight years old, lying in my canopy bed.
When I wrote You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, it was with Miranda in mind. It became another way for me to pass along the memory of her through story. And so now I pass it along to you to help remember the spirit of a girl who ate the gingerbread house while it was being built.
Fiona Rosenbloom grew up in Rye, New York. She is the author of You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah (Hyperion, 2005). She lives in Brooklyn.