That morning, I was doing some grocery shopping in Safeway when my phone rang. It wasn't a phone number I recognized right off the bat. I answered to discover it was the husband of my friend, Lisa. When I heard his voice, I instantly knew.
My friend had passed away that morning from pancreatic cancer. She was only 47 years old.
I was devastated she was gone, but also thankful she was no longer in pain. After we hung up, I stared at my cart of half the groceries I had intended to buy wondering what to do next. I called my husband. He asked if he should come and drive me home. I said, "No, I'll just go check out now with what I have. I think I'll be okay."
I remember so clearly wondering what to say when the clerk asked, "How are you today?" Do I tell him, I thought? No. Of course you don't tell him. You say fine like everyone does 99% of the time, even if they aren't fine, because it's silly small talk, and that's what you're supposed to do.
"Fine," I said.
I held my breath, telling myself to hold back the tears. That I could do that. It was just three minutes. Hang on for three minutes. You can lose it in the car. But not here. Not here, not here, not here.
I made it to the car. And I cried. My husband pulled up just before I was about to pull out of the parking lot. He'd driven the five minutes from work to make sure I was okay. He followed me home. We put the groceries away. I cried some more. I called my friend, Suzanne. She came over and it was good to have a friend to be sad with.
And then, another phone call. This time, from my agent. My book, then titled IMPOSSIBLY SMALL, had officially sold. I had a publisher and an editor I was excited to work with. Except, how could I rejoice when I was so incredibly sad at the loss of my friend? I explained to my agent what had happened, and she was kind and understanding, as I knew she would be. It's hard to be happy when your heart has just been shattered into a million pieces.
Previously, Lisa would have been one of the first ones to hear my good news. But she was gone. I couldn't tell her.
It's been five years. Five years without Lisa. And five years since I got the call that my first foray into fantasy would be published. The title has changed. There was a lot of revision. And there were beautiful illustrations added to make the story even more special. I think Lisa would love this book. She'd especially love the hummingbirds at the heart of the story, named Peace and Pax. One of the last emails she sent me simply said this:
Isn't it so pretty today?
I'm sitting here watching the birds and squirrels.
It's so strange how five years can feel like just yesterday, and like a million years ago, all at the same time.
My dear friend and this book are forever linked. So today I just want to tell her -- look, Lisa, it's a real, live, beautiful book.