I read somewhere once that if you remain friends with someone for seven years, you’ll be friends forever.
Honestly, I think that’s probably just some bullshit Facebook meme. It certainly sounds like it. Nevertheless, I find myself reminded of it every time I think about my best friends, Tammy, Nikki, and Anastasia.
Tammy and I have always been best friends – we grew up next to each other and our mothers often arranged playdates for us. As soon as we hit elementary school, we met Anastasia, who joined our little group. Nikki moved to town in sixth grade, and she completed the little clique we’d made for ourselves.
Well, “clique” probably isn’t the right word. We weren’t mean to anyone else and we certainly never excluded anyone. We just enjoyed spending our time together. We were all very close, and we spent practically all our social time together.
We were about fourteen when we created the Goodbye Committee.
It started because Tammy was going away to summer camp. It was only for two weeks, but the time she would be away felt interminable to all of us. I was, naturally, the most affected, because we’d been friends the longest. The thought of spending even a fraction of my summer without Tammy was unbearable.
I think it was Nikki who came up with the idea. She approached Anastasia and I about arranging a surprise sendoff for Tammy. I suggested the name, and our plans were set. It was difficult keeping it a secret from Tammy, but it was so worth it when we showed up the morning she was going to get on the bus.
I can remember every detail of those ten minutes before she left. We’d all made shirts that said, “We’ll miss you, Tammy!” and had “The Goodbye Committee” written in gold glitter glue on the back. We’d put together a care package for her, something that would help stave off homesickness. Each of us put something special inside. I put in a Barbie doll of mine that I knew had been her favorite. Anastasia added Kit Kat bars – Tammy’s favorite candy, even to this day. Nikki bought her a sketchbook and some fancy colored pencils, as Tammy was always the more artsy of us four.
She laughed until she cried, and she hugged us, saying we were the best friends ever.
After that, the Goodbye Committee became somewhat of a tradition, even as we grew up. Every time one of us would leave, the other three would organize a lavish sendoff. We eventually made even more intricate uniforms – we spent hours decorating t-shirts and shorts until we looked like some sort of demented Lisa Frank abomination.
The last meeting of the Goodbye Committee I participated in was after our senior year of high school. I was the first of us to head off to college – our orientation started earlier than most other places – and the sendoff was even more tearful and emotional than usual.
In my care package, Tammy gave me a set of OPI nail polish – all my favorite colors. Anastasia had written me an entire notebook full of stories, as she was always the writer among us. Nikki, bless her heart, thought to give me a giant bag of Sour Patch kids, which got me through the most stressful of my midterms and finals.
After giving them all presents in turn – after all, I wasn’t going to be able to attend their sendoffs – I climbed into my car and drove off to bigger, better things. Even though we’d always be friends, us four, things were undoubtedly going to be different – that much we all knew. Even if we didn’t want to admit it.
Life is really unfair.
Hm. No, maybe that’s not quite right. Maybe life is too fair. After all, I got to grow up with three best friends – not one, no, but three – and maybe life had decided that we had it good for too long. Life gives out darkness as well as light.
I was a junior when Tammy called and told me what had happened. I could tell from her tears that something was wrong – Tammy never cried, she was always the bravest one of the group. Something had to be seriously fucked up if she was crying, I thought.
I wasn’t disappointed.
God, I can remember every second of that phone call. The way I’d been working on homework just before, a little irritated that Tammy had decided to call me at midnight right before a big project was due.
The sound of her shaky breathing on the phone as I prompted her over and over to tell me what was wrong, why was she calling.
“Anastasia…” she said. It was in the smallest voice I’d ever heard her use. Like something inside her had shattered into pieces and been put back together wrong.
I frowned as my hand gripped the phone tighter. “What’s wrong with Anastasia?” I asked.
Another beat of silence. And then.
The air rushed out of my lungs, almost as though it was sucked out of me by some unutterable force.“What are you talking about?”
“She… she dumped her boyfriend, you know, what’s-his-face…” She couldn’t say his name. I understood in that moment what had happened, but she continued on anyway, “He came to her dorm room… with a knife… and she lost so much blood… oh, God, Lily…”
I was in my car on the way home within twenty minutes of ending that call.
Anastasia did not deserve the death she died, I’ll tell you that much. She deserved to go out in peace, loved and cared for by her family and friends.
Instead, she’d been beaten and stabbed. It’s almost unfortunate that he missed every major organ as he plunged the knife into her a total of fifteen times. Yes, that’s right. Fifteen. And then he just… left. Walked out and left her to bleed to death on the floor of her dorm room.
I’m not usually a proponent of the death penalty, but when I heard what he’d done, I prayed to any gods that could hear me that they would kill that son of a bitch.
Her funeral was the saddest, most miserable affair I’d ever been to. It had to be closed casket – the damage was too severe to hide. At one point, her mother broke down and tried to wrench the coffin open. She had to be dragged out of the funeral home while her daughter, Anastasia’s younger sister, Anita, watched with dead, glassy eyes. My friends and I vowed then and there that we’d always take care of Anita. For Anastasia.
Because we all knew that there was nothing else we could do for Anastasia… not anymore.
Turns out we were wrong about that.
Nightmares are common after somebody dies, especially when the circumstances are as… traumatic as Anastasia’s.
Unfortunately, what I dreamed just four days after Anastasia’s funeral was no nightmare. No matter how hard anyone tries to convince me otherwise.
It started when I opened my eyes. I sat up in my bed and realized I was back in my dorm room. I knew that wasn’t right, knew that I should be looking at my room at home because I hadn’t made it back to school yet, not after…
The memory of the funeral hit me like a train and I wheezed, a deep pain radiating through my chest. As if on cue, something stepped out from the shadows.
“Lily,” came the voice.
I recognized it implicitly. The lilt at the end, the way she drew out the “I” sound just a little too long… this was Anastasia.
She stepped closer towards me as I turned on the bedside lamp. Oh, but she didn’t look like Anastasia.
Her clothing was ripped apart, exposing flashes of alabaster skin. Her skin – always one of her most attractive features, with its flawless, even complexion – was mottled with deep red wounds. They decorated her abdomen, her arms, the tops of her legs. There were even a few stab wounds on her face, just under her cheeks and one in her left eye. Her eye oozed out of her face like a puss-filled wound, and my stomach roiled with the intimate knowledge of what exactly her death had been like.
I tried to say her name, tried to let her know I was listening, that I could see her, but nothing came out. Not as I watched her blood and gore drip onto the cold tiled floor.
“Lily,” she said again, her voice sounding more severe. She almost seemed angry, but I couldn’t imagine why. “Lily, it’s not fair.”
Thinking I’d happened upon what was bothering her, I was quick to reassure her, “No, it wasn’t fair, Ana, you deserved so much better…”
She shook her head, white ooze flying from her eye socket as she pressed on.“No, Lily. You didn’t do it. You didn’t say goodbye to me, Lily.”
Now I was confused.“I… I was at your funeral, Ana, you know I was there.”
She fixed her one good eye on me with a burning gaze.
“You know what you have to do,” she said.
Half a moment later I screamed myself awake in my bed at home.
God, how I wanted to forget that dream. I felt like I was being driven crazy every time I thought back on it. You know what you have to do – those words echoed in my head and burned at my sanity like an invisible flame.
My torment didn’t last long. I got a call from Tammy the next day.
“You saw her, too, didn’t you?” She said as soon as I answered. No wasting time with that one.
My throat tightened and relief swept through me – now I knew I wasn’t crazy. “Yes,” I said. “Tammy, what does she want?”
“I wasn’t sure at first. But then Nikki called me this morning to tell me she’d seen her, too, and we talked about it, and…”
She paused.“And what?” I prompted.
“We didn’t… say goodbye.”
“We did!” I practically screamed into my cellphone. “We were at the funeral, we went to the cemetery, we saw the burial…”
“But we didn’t say goodbye. Lily, we didn’t… we didn’t send her off.”
Comprehension dawned on me. With it came a wave of regret that was almost irrational. After all, dead is dead, or so I’d once thought. This shouldn’t have been so important, but it was. To all of us.
“I know what we have to do,” I said, the words dripping from my mouth with all the speed of molasses.
“We should do it at night. We don’t want anyone to see and word getting back to her mom. It might… upset her,” said Tammy.
I agreed.“I’ll meet you guys at the cemetery gates at midnight.”
I hadn’t even hung up the phone before I knew exactly what I was going to bring with me.
Living in a small town occasionally has its perks. The cemetery, although gated, is almost never locked – local law enforcement just doesn’t seem overly concerned about teens sneaking in at night to vandalize the place.
It worked well for us when we met at the gate just a few minutes before midnight. We were all wearing our Goodbye Committee uniforms – the last ones we’d made. We’d made them when we were sixteen, so it was a little hard to squeeze into, but we all managed.
Each of us had brought something along, as was custom.
“Alright, let’s get going,” said Nikki. Her voice was high and strained. She sounded nervous, but I couldn’t blame her. I was pretty fucking freaked out myself.
It was surprisingly hard to find her grave. Her headstone wasn’t finished yet, so we were essentially looking for a patch of disturbed dirt in the dark. But the cemetery was only so big, and eventually we found it.
We stood there, the most somber meeting of the Goodbye Committee that had ever existed.
“Um,” started Tammy, but I interrupted her.
“Tammy, you go first. Nikki can go second. I’ll go last.” I wasn’t used to being in charge – Anastasia had always been the natural leader among us – but it made me a little less nervous to take control just this once.
Tammy nodded and stepped forward. She held a little wooden box in her hand, painted with intricate flowered patterns. She cleared her throat before she said, “Ana, when we were ten we painted these boxes together. You always told me you really liked mine. I know how much you liked flowers…” her voice broke off for a moment before returning, a little more forced than before.“I hope you’ll keep it to remember me by.” She placed the box on the grave before turning to Nikki.
“Your turn,” she said.
Nikki gulped, but stepped forward gamely.
“When… when I was in the hospital with my broken arm, you bought this for me,” she said, holding a small stuffed rabbit aloft.“It’s my favorite stuffed animal. But I think you need it now more than I do. Thank you… for always knowing how to make me feel better. For always… always being there for me.”
She placed the rabbit down gently. She turned away from Tammy and me, her breathing choked with tears. I took that as my cue to step forward.
“Ana, you helped me pick this out for senior prom.” I held up a delicate necklace, featuring a diamond suspended on a thin chain. It had taken me half a year to save up enough for it.“I always thought that it would look good on you. I’m… I’m so sorry we didn’t do this sooner. But I hope seeing us here makes you happy, and that you’ll be able to rest now.”
I knelt down in the dirt and opened Tammy’s wooden box, placing the necklace inside. Next, I placed the box in the plush rabbit’s arms.
We all stood for a moment, looking at the little offering. The air seemed to shiver and tremble beside us as we turned to leave.
On a whim, I looked back – just once, to see Ana’s grave again in the moonlight.
In the five seconds we had our backs turned, the box, the necklace, and the rabbit had all disappeared.
Ana hasn’t been back since that night, but her message has stayed with us all permanently.
Life has mostly gone back to normal. I’m a senior, now, just about to graduate with a degree in International Relations. Next week is Anita’s birthday, and Tammy, Nikki, and I are all heading home to help her celebrate. She’s become like a little sister to all of us, even more so than before.
This September, Nikki is going off to grad school. We’re so proud of her.
Tammy and I have already started planning what we’re going to give her. I bought a plain white t-shirt and some glitter pens today to make my uniform.
Somehow, I’m glad that the Goodbye Committee is meeting again, even if our numbers have shrunk just a little.
But something is nagging me, and I have to wonder…
Who will perform the sendoff when the last of us dies?