How do you even begin to say goodbye to someone who has been such an integral part of your life? For the past fifteen years, Kaya Christensen has been such a person. I have more fond memories of her than I do a number of people in my life — and most of those years we’ve spent apart. She lives in Utah, I live in Texas. Always has our relationship been a reminder that real love and genuine friendship know no boundaries, no distance.
We met through the online MMORPG World of Warcraft way back in 2002, shortly after I started playing the game. Almost instantly, we became fast friends and talked about Life, the Universe, and Everything on a near-daily basis. It could be innocuous, geeky stuff from our many fandoms or it was sometimes super-serious stuff from our daily lives. It never really mattered, we just talked.
I’m sure there are those that scoff there’s no way to forge a meaningful friendship over the internet, but they’d be wrong. For me, and likely for many others, Kaya was a warm light of hope and encouragement. She never failed to believe in my writing or my art, even when I failed time and again to finish anything, she never wavered. She firmly believed that my happiness and my heart lay in my writing. There will always be a part of me that loves to write, even if I can’t do it as much or as well as I used to, and there is a bit of Kaya that will always be part of that.
In 2009, when I struggled to finish my novel for National Novel Writing Month, I was down to my last 10,000 words and maybe an hour and a half left to the deadline. Kaya caught me on messenger and said, “Okay, time to put things in overdrive. For every 1,000 words you finish writing, we both take a shot.” Yes, alcohol and writing, best combination, right? We did just that.
In retrospect, that was probably some of the most hilarious and not-my-comfort-zone writing I’ve ever done, since I don’t really have a comedic bone in my body, but it was a hilariously fun time and I finished my novel for that year. It has been, to-date, the only year I have ever finished Nano. Something I also owe to Kaya.
When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, it was easily the most difficult time of my life. I was angry, I was frustrated, I took it out on those closest to me even though I didn’t really want to. I lost many of my friends during that time and there are still more with whom I do not have the same relationship I once did. Kaya, though, never faltered.
No matter what time of night it was, how “inconvenient” I may have thought myself, Kaya always welcomed me with open arms and a sympathetic ear. There was at least one moment in those conversations that Kaya may very well have been the lifeline that saved my life. My disease, my pain, my frustration, my isolation — all culminated to thoughts of suicide, I’m not afraid to admit that. It was Kaya who talked me back from the precipice and it was Kaya who gave me the courage to push forward without the endless guilt-tripping diatribes and empty platitudes best left to motivational posters.
“My life wouldn’t be the same without you,” she said to me then. My heart echoes that sentiment now, because my life won’t ever be the same without her. I find myself wishing that I’d talked with her more, visited her more, done more to show her just what a beloved and valued friend she was to me. I know, though, that she would never lay one scrap of blame at my feet, she’d simply say we both did the best we could and that was enough.
There will always be a void in my heart that can never be filled, a part of me that will always be held in reserve for Kaya. While talking about her may not alleviate my grief, I’ll do my best to remember her with joy and not sorrow. I think she’d want it that way.