Rachel Zoe and Jesika? (September 4, 2009)

It has been nearly four and a half months since Jesika passed away. I need not tell you that the first month or so was just awful, but sometimes, even when you don’t see how it could, life goes on. You learn to compartmentalize, to put your grief somewhere safe so you can go about the business of living. Your loved one is never forgotten, but if the acute feelings of longing went on unchecked, we’d never be able to deal with the day to day. However, that grief is always lurking somewhere, ready to be unleashed, often in the most unexpected of ways.

Yesterday I got a text message from Jen, as I was singing along to my iTunes catalog while cleaning house. It read as follows:

“You’re going to think I’m crazy but I think I just saw Jesika in the background of an episode of the Rachel Zoe Project.”

This particular episode was filmed in the Fall of 2008, during New York Fashion Week. Jesika was a former resident of the Big Apple and a dedicated fashionista. Both Jen and I remembered that Jesika had attended Fashion Week at some point, but couldn’t be sure of the year. I picked up the phone to call Kevin, the only source I figured might be able to clear up the mystery.

I rambled quickly though the voicemail I left him, urgently and quickly relating the information I needed. Was Jesika at Fashion Week last year at this time or not? It was like all of the sudden I was a woman who had gone without water for weeks. I needed that drink of Jesika. If she had gone to Fashion Week, and had been in the background of that stupid reality show, then maybe, maybe I could see her again. Jesika would live forever on Hulu or something.

Once I realized I’d have to wait for an answer from Kevin and after trading a few more texts with Jen on the subject, I sat down….and cried like a little baby. Because I realized that I wouldn’t be satisfied once I knew the truth. If it wasn’t Jesika that Jen saw, than my glimmer of hope of getting another peek at her was extinguished. But even if it was, the first thing I want to do is call Jesika and taunt her for being on such a tired program (I giggle when Perez Hilton calls Zoe “Raisinface,” I admit it). I can’t do that.

The reality suddenly hit me in the chest, as it does from time to time. Jesika is gone. I can’t call her to good naturedly poke fun at her, as we both did over the years. I can’t call her for anything. Will that ever stop hurting?

I don’t have the answer. I have to move to another compartment now.

Reunion (May 15, 2009)

This afternoon was very painful, but a necessary step in the recovery process. After Jesika passed on April 25th, her live-in love Kevin and I had discussed paying a visit to the cemetary in Lemont, IL where she now lays resting peacefully. I had purposely skipped the part of her official funeral where she was lowered into the ground, for reasons I am not yet ready to share. But I always knew I had to go back one day, if only for the closure, the finality. Today was that day.

It is another windy, rainy Spring in Chicago, a setting to match the mood of Kevin and I as we undertook our journey. We met at the apartment he once shared with Jesika, a place I had not returned to since I last spoke to Jesika in person on April 10th. There was nothing much left in the space that Kevin must vacate by June 5th, to remind you that a vibrant, hilarious and energetic woman once lived there. Not for the first time, I found it hard to connect with my friend and her memory inside four walls, whereas she has been very much alive in my mind.

During the long drive to Lemont, Kevin and I told funny stories and shared memories. In particular, I treasure the tale of how he and Jesika finally came to be a couple after years of “will they or won’t they?” friendship. Apparently, they were the Ross and Rachel of Ohio, where they both attended law school. When we arrived at the cemetary however, the weight of our mission began to set in.

I had just come from a series of job interviews, so was not exactly sensibly dressed to wade through a slew of mud puddles, soft and thick after several days worth of spring showers. I wore brand new silver pants, no coat and black spiked heels. Kevin and I, in our unfamiliarity with the place, spent some time looking for the right spot, inspecting a number of headstones before we realized we had passed Jesika’s marker several times already. We both looked at each other and took a moment to recognize that Jesika was somewhere laughing her ass off at the sight of the two of us, in a frenetic downpour, slogging through the mud, me sinking a good five inches with every step, black splatters all over my prized new pants. For a moment, I seriously considered dumping both the shoes as well as the pants. By this time, they were sloshed with rain, just weighing me down. However, I wisely concluded that this was neither the time nor the place to be served with a ticket for public indecency, no matter how hilarious Jesika would have found that as well.

We stood at Jesika’s side as the rain fell along with our tears. Both Kevin and I said what we came to say, supporting each other as we got the words out. I will not share what those words were, as that is private moment that will forever bond Kevin and I. It was awful, painful, emotional and for a few seconds, I wasn’t sure I had the strength to finish what we came to do, but we did. And I am glad. I definitely felt Jesika’s presence, and though the scabs on my heart feel ripped open all over again, the knowledge that there’s a place I can go to spend time with Jesika, to feel her laughter still with me, is of infinite comfort.