Tuesday evening a girl I used to take tap dancing lessons with died. She was born with cystic fibrosis and died of that and multiple organ failure and, somehow, cancer. In a big plastic box high in my closet labeled “old crap” with a strip of masking tape there are pictures of the preteen us in neon leotards and black cotton gloves tap tap tapping away to the music of MC Hammer and Buster Poindexter.

When we were in kindergarten, neither one of us could pronounce the names our respective parents had saddled us with. She called herself Me-me. I called myself Mewah.

We were never close. I liked her well enough, though, and she probably didn’t mind me. But she and her high school friends had stiffly fluffed hair and bumper stickers that claimed they were driven nuts by Wrangler butts. I wore my hair in messy buns and wrote debate cases in the library while dreaming I was anywhere else but a midwestern high school. We probably hadn’t spoken in ten years since we graduated, or if we did, I don’t remember the occasion. So the tears in my eyes when I read the email detailing her death surprised me and made me wonder for several seconds if I was turning into one of those queens of other people’s drama. Weeping and gnashing and waiting for someone to look in my direction.

She need lung transplants, as people with cf often do. She was lucky in a sense: her family was full of would-be organ donors, and they were matches. Her dad and her uncle each gave her part of their lungs. When she needed another transplant, the lung tissue came from her grandmother and her teenage cousin. A third transplant came from some distant relative her grandfather tracked down with patience and his dial-up modem.

Everything I’ve learned about loss so far says that this is what it is: that hollow in your chest where some part of yourself used to stay. Every morning you wake up and you put on your pants and you brush your teeth and you sense that space.

And maybe that’s why I’m sad. I know the space, even if I didn’t really know the girl anymore.

Mimi’s little sister is my little sister’s age, and they have the same grey-blue too small eyes.

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