I woke up this morning, after another restless night, in the Drake Hotel, overlooking 900 Michigan Ave. I came to Chicago to pick up Ana upon completion of her of her first quarter of college. For the first time in a long time, I had no agenda. I didn’t need to be in Chicago at a specific time. I didn’t have to worry about finding a dog-friendly restaurant. It was my day to do what I needed to do to start processing Max’s death.
Max was one of my closest friends. For context, this was us in a nutshell. I first new Maxine in junior high school. She was beautiful and funny. She had piercing eyes that even talking about her in the past-tense tremors my hands. She was a bad ass from Sussex. Shaker Heights was brilliantly created with neighborhoods representing the grade school and street upon which it lies. Mostly small lots with brick tudor center hall colonials built in the early 1930’s. Kids rarely ventured from their neighborhoods unless they are doing some extracurricular. Friday night skates or pool days in Shaker usually brought everyone out. It was in 7th grade when I first noticed Maxine.
Shaker’s inclusivity was evident in that time. We all hung out without the class systems you see in a John Hughes film. I had a crush on Maxine. We all did. She was beautiful and cool. Really fucking cool. Two weeks ago I spent about 7 hours laughing and crying with Maxine. She revealed that she had a crush on me then too. “Well, son of a bitch,” I laughed. She told me we couldn’t have dated because I was always gone playing hockey. True.
Max moved to Solon in High School. Their family changed their last name to Stevens. She later explained why but I just figured it was some poorly thought witness protection thing. It wasn’t. Maxine kept a few friends from high school. I didn’t make the cut. Thanks hockey! One of my closest friends, Todd, stayed friends with Max. He talked about her incessantly. From what I could gather, she was even cooler as she got older. We didn’t have Insta or Snap. We had land lines with long cords if you were lucky enough. I would say to Todd that we should hang with Max. Let’s bring her into Shaker for a party. He wasn’t stupid. He knew better than to let his degenerate friends around her. He was right. She was perfectly herself.
Max and I went to Ohio State together and I saw her from time to time. Nothing sticks out. Then came adulthood and Facebook. We reconnected! One Friday, I saw her post about her chemotherapy. I sent her a message wishing her well. She replied and our REfriendship began. Third times a charm. I liked her posts and made comments. In 2019, my life went to shit. Jacob was diagnosed with cancer. I messaged Max and she called me instantly. She didn’t sugarcoat anything. “It’s a fight and fucking sucks. Be ready for anything.”
Maxi spoke to Jacob and they forged a tight bond. As we cried last week, she thanked me for allowing her along on his journey. She felt honored. We were the lucky ones. Her and Jacob spoke so much that he stopped asking me and just called her. They spoke a few nights before he died. I left the room. He told her that he wasn’t afraid to die. He was sad because of us, but not afraid to die. She told me this two weeks ago. She then followed it up with this. “I now know exactly what Jacob meant. I know I am dying now and the fight is over. I don’t want you worrying. I’m good.” I’m good? That was Max.
In reflection, we often think about things like weddings and grandkids. Missing walking so and so down the aisle. I will tell you what I will miss. Nights are the hardest for me. Jacob went to bed. Naomi and Ana would follow. I was alone with my running thoughts. I will miss my Max Facetimes. We spoke nearly every night for two years. She knew what was coming for her and for her friends with the same disease. It was about today. It was about this moment. I will miss talking to her and having her lights shut off at exactly 1030PM. “Alexa, turn on the tv room lights,” she’d say every night as the lights were on a timer.
Max was my rock. I was one of the luckiest people when she confided in me too. She cried for days after she lost her friend, Adam, Jacob and others. “Every fucking person I know with cancer is dying.” When her health took a hit she knew. She knew the chemo was no longer working. She told me they were out of options. She didn’t say it with fear. She was stoic in her assessment. As her breathing worsened, I knew too. I didn’t want to know it, but I did.
I called her on a Monday. She told me, with quivering voice, that my call was the one she didn’t want to make. “Just fucking say it Max” I said. She told me her doctor was stopping treatment and that she had to quit working. She’d been told to think about quitting but she balked every time. Through cancer, work was her identity. She loved teaching. The cancer was so advanced at this point, she didn’t argue. Swollen and in pain, she stayed home.
I went to see Max recently. We talked about everything and nothing all at once. I remember hugging her and she told me not to let go. We sat all day with her lovely, caring mother-in-law. Max wasn’t comfortable. She could only sit on a ledge with padding. I told her to boot me out anytime. “Stay. Stay as long as you can.” I was honored. I will cherish our talk that day. We talked about the Tolland crew. We spoke about how cute I was in middle school. I was. We talked about Camp Wise and Naomi. We talked about her funeral. She didn’t practice Judaism, but she insisted on having a formal, Jewish service. She found love and comfort in knowing that Scott would be ok.
Max didn’t want everyone crying about her. She made peace with her life and death. Maxi, this is a promise I cannot immediately keep. I miss you and I’m fucking sad. #Todayisnottheday #noedit
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