Interlude Chapter: Confessions on **Claudia
I was 11-years-old and in music class when I met **Claudia. We were sitting next to one another and looking through the music sheets of songs that we were to sing that semester. I noticed her out of the corner of my eyes. What first caught my attention was her nose pressed to the sheet music and the way her eyes seem to do a bit of a tango dance as she examined the music notes. She turned to me ever so slowly without me saying anything and a smile broke across her small, thin, and delicate face. Her eyes completely bewildered me. They were beautiful and milky dark and midnight blue that shone and seemed to look straight into me. I am not sure who spoke first, but she seemed destined to become one of my closest friends then and still to this very day.
Claudia was born visually and hearing impaired and was teased and tormented when she was young with the cruel nickname of “crooked eyes” crowned upon her. She explained to me that her sight resembled a foggy and steamy bathroom after a hot and scalding shower with formless shapes. Her school handouts were enlarged and her books extremely heavy and huge containing the largest of print possible. She came alive in music class with any given song or chord, although (ironically) her hearing was worse than her sight. There was always proof in her weak hearing when she shrilled: “What??” when her hearing aides were not firmly plugged in her ears. Claudia had a gift of music ingrained in her since she was a child. She could listen to a song for a brief moment and play it almost immediately to the perfect sound, note, and pitch. A perfect melody would pour from her long and thin fingers when they were placed on the piano keys and began to do their very own dance. She seemed in her own special world when she sat by the piano. It was her escape and a very special part of her life that no one could tarnish. But, more than that, Claudia had the gift of understanding and living life and reminding those around here truly how blessed we all were.
Claudia and I connected quickly because we were both like sore thumbs that stuck out in our group of classmates from our health problems: her with her visual and hearing impairments and me with my chronic kidney failure and limited mobility. However, on the surface, Claudia and I were as different as could be. She was tall and thin. I was short and round. She complained about being too thin while she would inhale another brownie or meatball hero and I would gladly have given her half my weight to balance both of our weights out. She was Italian-American and I was Chinese-American. She came from parents and a strong family who were still together and surpassed stable and predictable. I came from divorced parents. She had a mother who was involved in every aspect of her life, while my Mother had left me at a young age. In spite of all the outward differences, the one major similarity glue that held us together is that we both needed transplants. Claudia needed a corneal transplant for both her eyes in order to see again, though it was determined that she would never see perfectly and would still be in the category of visually impaired even with corneal transplants. I needed another kidney transplant to stay alive. We both knew from our childhood that we had life experiences of people in their prime, rather than their youth. And, so we had a most superglue and unbreakable friendship that would withstand anything and everything.
Yet, when we were together, we did not dwell on our health issues, differences and deficiencies. Rather, we were all about our similarities and a coming of age or transitional friendship from childhood to adolescence. Claudia was there to give me a string of adventurous, unforgettable, fun-filled, and a downright girly and giggly teenage friendship. We loved playing with our Barbie dolls and making up and acting out funny and silly stories to create our own little world. We sat on a religiously, daily basis to our favorite soap opera “Days of Our Lives” and swooned over the cute actors and stuck our tongues out at the villains and seductresses. We swapped stories about the boys (and even teachers) at our school that we found really cute and sweet, but knew they pined for “normal” girls and not girls like us who were abnormally weird. While we played board games and card games, we gorged on junk food. We talked as if there were no tomorrow about our health and feeling the deepest and warmest comfort that someone finally understood that in spite of all our health challenges, we were still normal in living up our pre-teenage and teenage years. We laughed aloud at silly and dirty jokes as we were discovering puberty and our raging hormones that were set off at any given moment. We watched Disney movies and dreamed of us as Princesses and Princes whisking us off to some happy and dreamy land. We sat in a peaceful silence, knowing that each of us were thinking about life and what it had in store for us when we had already been through more than our fair share of life experiences. Would Claudia ever receive corneas for both her eyes? Would I ever receive another kidney transplant?
Claudia was my very best and closest friend by the time I was waiting for another kidney transplant. She was my solace and a solid rock that I could depend to for anything and everything, but I never told her that the longer my wait for another kidney transplant continued, the more I fell free and fast into a whirlpool of fear and bitterness. I never told her that I felt like I was dying inside. Then again, I never had to tell her when we were together because I could forget about this wait. I could forget about death and just live life. I could live in the moment of being with Claudia and inhaling our thrilling and extraordinary friendship. By the time I was waiting for another transplant, I was assigned to help write notes for her, forcing my handwriting to transform larger in order for her to see. I loved doing this because I could think about her and get my mind off my failing first kidney.
When we did homework together, I often stared at her as she struggled with her assignments with her eyes wiggling back and forth and her nose and mouth practically kissing the paperwork or textbooks. She never complained or showed her frustration when it took her much longer than others to complete her assignments. She never used her impairments as an excuse for anything, and slowly and methodically did what she had to do for school and in life. Looking at her made me look at myself: What right did I have to complain about my life?
Once, when we were in the school library, I was lost in my own scary thoughts about my health problems and how I had no idea what I was waiting for. Was I waiting for life to begin? Or was I waiting for my death? I watched Claudia reading her large print textbook, and I wondered if she ever got so angry and furious about her health predicaments. So, I whispered to her: “Don’t you ever get angry about your situation?”
She looked up at me with only confusion. Her eyes gleamed and shined as she asked: “What situation?” There was a smudge of ink on the tip of her nose. This often happened because the ink from textbooks and handouts rubbed off on her nose when she was pressed against them to read.
I said softly: “Well, your sight and hearing, of course.”
She placed her pen on her table and then looked deeply at me. I looked down when her eyes seemed to just bore into mine until I would burn up alive. How ironic that someone who was labeled with a visual impairment could see so very clearly how upset I was. “Well, no, because at least God gave me some sight.” She did not say anymore. She picked up her pen again and returned back to the textbook. I stared at her in complete awe and as though she had slapped me across the face. That was the first of many times that she was bluntly honest with me in her humorous and inspirational ways that have driven me to tears down the face or a laugh aloud. Her words of truths and infinite wisdom always left me feeling grateful for all that I was blessed to have, because the plain fact was that we never knew when something could be taken away and most certainly never imagined when anything could be taken away from us. Claudia’s words reminded me that my first precious kidney from an unknown and generous stranger who I would never know had pumped life into me for a good eight years. I had lived out these last eight years of my life rather than six feet under dead in a children-sized coffin at age 5-years-old. I was not dead yet. I was alive in every way possible. When I was with Claudia, I saw life and the world for the first time in all its perfect and genuine beauty. I will always remember and know Claudia as giving me a friendship filled with gossip, laughs, and teenage angst and thrills. I will always remember Claudia giving me hope again when hope was slipping like quicksand through my fingers. I had hope again to hold and hug close to my heart—thanks to Claudia.
In this life, it is difficult and nearly impossible to find such a true, real, and treasure-gem of a friend as Claudia. In this world, people endlessly search to make connections and in finding real people and friends to pick you up when you are down as well as slap truthful sense in your face. Finding a true friend as Claudia is the one thing in my life that I did not have to struggle or fight for. Instead, she entered and ended up in my life when I needed her the most during my rough and yo-yo teenage times. She has stayed through all my emotions and life roller coaster ride experiences for over 15 years of my life. I value and keep every moment, every conversation, every laugh, every secret, and every word close to my heart and stamped in my memory box. Claudia once said to me with her eyes twinkling: “Mary, in life, people come in for a certain reason, season or life.” And, I say to her and know now deep in my heart: “How lucky I am to have you as my friend for life.”
**denotes created name to protect privacy