Dear Aimee

How do I begin to describe what she meant to me? I’ve made a lot of friends in this life. They come and go through the doorways of time like a flickering nickelodeon in my mind. I cherish their memories, all of them. But some stand out; some leave a heavy imprint on my soul.

She was introduced to me by friends who have since vanished from my life, friends who chose to remove me from their lives, much as they did her. She was tall, statuesque, and beautiful. She displayed so much confidence and was quick to cut down anyone who was the least bit phony or insincere. She called you on your bullshit. There was no getting anything past her.

We became fast friends, casual, no chance of a romance. She was wild and just a little scary, and I was definitely not her type. No, we were friends, and that’s all we ever could have been. When I introduced her to Sara, they took a quick liking to each other. I couldn’t see it then, but now I see what kindred spirits they were.

We both liked to drink, and we drank a lot. I’d run into her around town and eventually we would get tired of our friends and end up sitting at a bar, where she would begin amiably enough, teasing and joking. Invariably, a rugged, handsome man would enter and catch her attention. If a group of Coast Guard men came in, she always became interested. And they were always interested, too. She was an eye-catcher. But soon, the effects of too much alcohol would often turn her mood ugly, and she would become angry and lash out at those around her. The men that first attracted her became a nuisance and offensive to her. Her acerbic comments, sometimes witty, sometimes cruel, could turn a pleasant evening into a dark and slightly dangerous experience.

I saw less and less of her as the time passed. Sara and I built a life together, of which she became a small part. Looking back now, I wish we had spent more time with her. She helped Sara and I put our broken pieces back together during a very dark time for us. She was there for us, always with a cutting comment tempered with love.

Her search for that rugged, handsome man led her into a relationship with a dangerous man who beat her and abused her. She fled the peninsula in order to escape him, to protect herself and her daughter. She disappeared from our lives, moving away from the peninsula. Sara and I have often talked about her, about how much we miss her, wondering how she is, speculating on where she is and what she’s doing. Her daughter was the same age as Bailey, Sara’s girl, almost grown into a lady. When will we ever see her again?

I am painting a house out in Long Beach for a good friend. It’s a beautiful sunny day at the beach, cool with a soft breeze, and I am enjoying the solitude and quiet. Sara and I once again find our lives in turmoil and are trying to find solutions to our various truths. My world is about to change again, and the work outside is soothing my anxious heart.

My cell phone tells me I have a message from Sara. I stop to check my phone as we all do a hundred times a day. The message is short and blunt.

“Aimee McFadden is dead.”

I feel the wind knocked out of me as if I’ve been sucker-punched in the stomach. I’m dazed, a little dizzy, and I have to sit down on the steps at the door. Did he find her? Was all of her hiding, her disappearance from our lives, all for nothing? Did that bastard kill her? Sara fills in the details as I sit in disbelief. She had started having seizures, and by the time the tumor was found it was too late to save her. Aimee died eighteen months ago, and I couldn’t be there for her like she was so many times for me. I couldn’t have saved her, but maybe I could have held her hand, made some bad jokes, and made her smile again. And now there is a hole deep in my soul. Because I will never see Aimee again or raise a drink with her.

Aimee McFadden was my friend, another flawed and damaged human being just trying to navigate her way through this maze of pain, love, and confusion we call life. There will never be another like her. I will miss her for the rest of my life.

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