on september 11, 2002, i was gettin bummed out by all of the 9-11 anniversary stories. i decided to take a break and go out for a walk. as i was about to leave, a noticed a message from my friend angelica.
"call me asap. very important."
i somehow knew this would be bad news. i thought of all the bad news it could be but when i finally got through to angelica what she said was the last thing i would have guessed.
"are you sitting down?" she asked. no one has ever asked me that on the phone, and i knew that was because i had never had any majorly horrible or shocking news before.
for a minute i had nothing to say because i didn't think i had heard her right. those two words together didn't make sense, didn't seem like an actual english phrase, those two words that would change everything. i think i had her repeat it a few times before i stammered out the "what? when? how" and she explained that ann had apparently died of a heart attack. some underlying heart problem that had gone undetected, the doctors figured. no signs of any foul play or suffering, she just went to bed and never woke up. it just didn't make any sense. i left work and spent the rest of the day at the beach trying to figure out how things like this could happen. it was all very strange because the night before, i had been at the same beach coming to terms with 9-11 and finding peace with the idea of death. it seemed so ironic that as i had walked along that beach thinking about mortality, i'd had no idea a friend of mine was already gone.
everything after that was a blur, the 8-hour drive to dc and then another 4 hours to ann's home town. if i ever thought i would find myself in lynchburg, va, i'd never dream it would be for a funeral. a wedding, maybe. it was interesting to see where this girl had come from, this girl unlike anyone i had ever met.
i first met ann when i was a freshman at syracuse in 1994. i was in a class with shannon, who lived on ann's floor in brewster hall. i wound up spending more time on their floor that year than on my own. we would all go out to chuck's, and come back and people-watch in the lobbies or try to make late-night snacks. i didn't spend a lot of time with ann that year, but i will never forget the first time we all went out. ann came walking into my room with her blond hair and her southern drawl, headed for my cd collection, and put on SWV. i was like, what the?? she was definitely different, unexpected, she always was.
the next year she lived with angelica (ann, angelica, and angelique all in one apartment!) and so i spent more time with her, but still didn't know her too well. we did share excitement over the success of the basketball team, who made it to the final four that year. (i know she'd be pissed that she didn't get to see them finally win a year after she passed away.)
the next year ann and angelica lived together again, this time off campus at "311" euclid, the coolest apartment. all the drunk people heading back from the bars passed right in front of their place so it was very entertaining. they started having more parties, the bar became filled with quotes scribbled on it. one nite i was upset because i couldn't find a nice dress to wear to a semi-formal. ann, a manager at the gap, offered to help and proceeded to pull stuff out of her closet, settling on a simple black dress which wound up looking great in the pictures! i think that was our first bonding experience. after that ann became a dependable wardrobe consultant and we also started talking more. i would smile whenever i saw her "CUATSU" license plate, and would always say "gezundheit" since i couldn't help thinking "koo-at-soo!"
that christmas, i was at 311 gettin ready to go out with them when ann came in with a little gift bag. i was surprised, we had been hanging out more but i wouldn't have expected her to give me a gift. it was a "dream" set from the gap - a candle, lotion, and perfume. to this day i still have the candle. i thought it was very sweet of her to think of me.
ann's birthday is in february, and when she first turned 21 she had trouble finding overage people to go out with. when i turned 21 the next month she was so excited, and we started going out a lot. angelica was able to use my license since we look similar, so sometimes we'd do the "pass-back." one time ann came back out with my license after angelica was in, but when i got to the door the bouncer didn't believe it was my license! we laughed at the fact that angelica apparently looked more like me than i did. we had some good times that year. ladies' night at 44's was the place to be, and ann and i both had crushes on mark pilon (she won). sometimes we would go to lucy's instead if we were in the mood to be able to breathe (and not have athletes grabbin' our butts). after we went out they'd always convince me we should go to denny's so we had all kinds of randomness there.
after graduation, ann came to visit angelica in boston a few times and we all met up. during her last visit, we all went to clark's, a bar in boston. ann encouraged me when i started talking to a hottie, and it was partly her inspiration that got me to slip him my number! we both were harassed by one of his friends and laughed about it, especially later when she sent me a picture she took of him hugging me. when she left, we exchanged email addresses and started chatting online. we were having similar issues with guys and she gave me a lot of great advice. a lot of "go for yours!" ann didn't take any crap from guys! if a sketchy guy tried to dance with me, i'd be too nice to get rid of him but ann would always pull me away, giving him the "talk to the hand" an an "uh-UUH." she was never afraid to speak her mind!
when i was in dc in may of 2002 for a wedding and a work assignment, ann volunteered her apartment as lodging. the morning after the wedding, my fellow partiers and i went for some fast food, which is not good the morning after cocktails and no sleep. ann called while i was there and i said "i'm in laurel," and she said "i'm sorry" and i had to laugh. she gave me directions and i showed up not feeling too great and having slept about 4 hours. ann wanted to go shopping and started telling me about all of the stores she wanted to go to. "sounds good," i said, trying to act enthusiastic. but ann saw through the act. "how about this, i am going to set you up in my bed, and you can get some rest while i go get my shopping done, and then i'll wake you up when i get back and we can go out to dinner." that sounded like a great plan. she tucked me into her extremely comfy bed after moving her giant tweety bird (i think that's what it was) out of the way and folding over the blanket so that i wouldn't get attacked by cat hair. ann had three cats, very sweet cats that i instantly loved (luckily my new prescription for allegra seemed to keep my allergies from taking over). that was probably one of the best naps i have ever had. that night we went out for dinner with her friend june. we had a great night, we chatted and about shopping and guys and the usual stuff. that night she set me up on her fold-out couch after we chatted a while longer and played with the cats. she would be leaving for work before i woke up so we hugged goodbye. i never would have guessed i would never see her again.
the next morning was pretty crazy, i had to get to fort meade to meet with a client and spent a half hour calling for directions and studying the map, trying to navigate dc rush hour. i took a shower and noticed that ann also used a random shampoo i'd gotten as a gift and had never heard of before. i thought that was a weird coincidence. i left in a hurry, worried i might have forgotten something with all of the wedding apparel i had schlepped around, but had no time to double check. later, completely lost in dc and frustrated, i suddenly realized i had forgotten the wedding bouquet, which i had caught for the first time, and felt was good luck. i was very superstitious about leaving the bouquet behind, but there was no time to go back. i thought about stopping by after work and joining ann for dinner again, but it would have added 1-2 hours of driving to the trip home, i even considered staying over ann's an extra night and taking another day off from work but wasn't sure i should use another of my precious few vacation days. oh well, i finally thought, i'll see her again, i'm sure she can bring the bouquet another time.
in the months after that ann and i became a lot closer, emailing a few times a week, bonding over issues with guys. every other week she'd note that she still had the bouquet and would send it when she got a chance. then she was planning to come back to boston, probably labor day or columbus day weekend, and we talked about how we could go back to clark's and find more sketchy guys to make fun of or the girls that worked there with whom ann had struck up a conversation. one day i had a crisis at work and emailed her freaking out. she wrote back with a suggestion that helped me figure out a solution. "thank you sooooooooooo much! i love you!!!" i wrote back.
when i found out ann was gone, i went back to my email account to see the last messages we'd sent each other. ironically, ever since 9-11 i had hesitated to erase messages from friends when they traveled, just in case something happened and they never came back. ann had gone on vacation a few weeks before, and when she returned i thought, this is so dumb, and erased a bunch of stupid old emails. now i was so upset that they were gone. i tried to remember everything we'd said, the last email i had sent her. when i realized that my last words to her were "i love you" i felt so relieved. i mean i said it kidding around but i think she knew i meant it.
my first night in dc for the funeral, i stayed with a friend. i was numb, tired from the long drive and still in denial about the reason i was there, feeling like it was all a nightmare. i stumbled into the bathroom to brush my teeth. looking at my reflection in the mirror, i stopped brushing, staring at myself, thinking, is this really happening? was ann looking in the mirror, brushing her teeth like this, before she went to bed, in that same bed i had slept in, not knowing she'd never wake up? is she out there somewhere, watching us all come together to honor her life? is she excited that we are all finally going to see the infamous lynchburg?
and then i looked down and there it was. i had never seen it in anyone else's bathroom, never seen anyone else use it, or smelled it anywhere other than in ann's room or my own. a sample-sized silver bottle of dream perfume from the gap. it was so freaky, thinking about her and looking down, and there it was, something i had associated with ann since that first christmas present she gave me, with the candle i still have and occasionally smell to remind me of our fun times at SU. i don't know if i believe in "signs," but if that's not a sign i don't know what is. i had to pick it up, i took off the cap, and breathed it in, and suddenly i was in ann's room at 311, getting ready for a nite at 4's, and she was rifling through her closet asking if i wanted a belt to go with the top i had tried on. "i'm not tall like you," i told her, "i can't tuck in." she found me another top that fit better. and we all had a drink outside, laughing at the random "crooked asian porch" and the drunken stumbling freshman, and tales of "doctor booty call," before we headed out and walked past the CUATSU-mobile to go "get ahrrr drink awn."
ann pillow was not like anyone i ever knew. her accent, her attitude, her name, her license plate, her taste in music there can't be anyone else in the world with that combination. she was such a unique person, and also a great friend, not to mention highly entertaining. we will all miss her, and that dance she did with the hand wave, and i know she is still around. i recently found some holiday cards she sent me. i had thrown out most of my old cards but for some reason hers were still in my drawer. one of them because it was such a cute card i couldn't throw it out, it had a 3-d snowman on the outside. i keep the cards with the dream candle to remind me of her, that she is still with us. i think of her when i really want the orangemen to make a shot, and it seems to work. and if i know ann, she was up there having some words with someone about the outcome of the ncaa championships. we all knew she was celebrating with us when they finally came through.
did you know ann? feel free to send your thoughts, memories, pictures, etc. to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.