Big Brown Eyes

October 20, 2017

When I was in fourth grade, I met a girl. She had long brown hair that was almost as curly as mine and she had big brown eyes, deeper and darker than I’d ever seen. She didn’t say much in class and she wore the same hat every day. She was weird, just like me. We soon became friends and played our own quirky games at recess, the other kids leaving us wrapped up in our own fantasies. She was one of the few kids who lived in my neighborhood so our imaginations ruled the playground and our homes. We weren’t best friends, but she was my number two and I was hers.
We were friends for two more years until I moved away. She was still stuck in Idaho while I was living in Washington. We swapped gossip through email because neither of us had phones but our friendship petered out over the course of a year. I still thought of her every once in a while but we never really talked after that.
Flash forward three years. I’m in my freshman year of high school when my mom tells me that my friend has cancer. She’ll be staying over at our house while she receives treatment at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. I didn’t know what to do, how to act, what to say. So I cried.
She came to my house for the first time in November of 2014. My mom yelled up the stairs that she was here and I quickly ran down to greet her. I’m not going to lie, I was really taken aback when I saw her. Her long brown hair was replaced with a smooth head under a pink beanie, her freckled cheeks were replaced by pale bones, and a tube ran down her nose to her stomach. The only telltale sign that it was her were her big brown eyes.
At first it was really awkward. We didn’t what to say to each other so we stiffly watched TV. We were called to dinner and I watched as her mom helped her pump food down that tube because she was unable to eat most solid foods. It wasn’t until we walked past my bedroom and she peered in to see that I was into the same stuff she was. Anime.
We spent the rest of the night and the next morning swapping favorite anime shows and movies and I showed her my collection while she bragged about her goodies at home. We became more comfortable with each other and by the end of day two we were friends again. We were stuck in our own animated fantasies while the rest of the world let us giggle and goof off in peace.
Time went on. She went back and forth from her house in Idaho, to Children’s, to my house. Each time she was greeted by my family with open arms, not because she was sick but because we all genuinely enjoyed her. I watched as she fought her disease, all the while keeping up her strength and attitude, strong willed and brave. Of course it wasn’t always like this.
The thing about cancer is that it’s always painted as a beautiful battle and it is always said that the people who suffer from this disease fight till the very end. That’s not always true.
She had grown to become one of my best friends and I watched as she got even thinner, which I thought impossible when I first saw her. I watched as the chemo and radiation continued to fail. She got better but with her diagnosis, all patients went into remission, quickly relapsed, and, well, you know…
I wanted so bad for her to live. I wanted so bad for her to continue with her life and have all the experiences that a 15-year-old should have. We went to Comic Con together. I jokingly threatened to push her wheelchair down the stairs with her in it the whole time. We went shopping. I forced her to get new beanies so she could mix and match her wardrobe. We went on walks so she could get fresh air and I gave her piggyback rides all the way home so she could still be awake when we got back. Even though we both knew we wouldn’t be able to do this forever, we continued to get more and more attached to each other.
She soon went into remission but just as quickly relapsed. I remember when I learned that she wouldn’t be continuing treatment.
“I’m going home,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I was in denial.
“I mean I’m going home.”
That was the first and the last time either of us cried in front of the other. We were strong for each other but we weren’t made of stone.
After that I saw her less often. Her white blood cell count went down and I couldn’t see her because I might make her even sicker than she was. She got thinner and bonier, paler and weaker, and one morning I read it on Facebook.
A letter from her father, listing her many wonders and explaining how beautiful she was, resonating on her long brown hair and her big brown eyes. Signed “Rest in peace… I love you!”
I had been preparing for this moment for seven months. I knew that she was going to die from the second we reconnected but I didn’t let that stop me from loving her. On May 29, 2015, Terra Louis broke my heart.
After that there were a lot of tears. I cried, my mom cried, even my brothers cried, though they’ll never admit it. The next Friday, my mom and I took a plane to Boise, Idaho at 7a.m. We met up with old friends who took care of us until the memorial. I cried in the taxi, I cried in the restaurant, I cried in the car, I cried walking to the gardens where everyone had gathered to remember her.
I cried as I looked around and saw her friends and her family, many of whom I knew, most of whom I did not. I cried as I took in the beautiful gardens that she had loved in life and I cried as her parents spoke of her beauty and her quirkiness. They weren’t crying.
I cried in the taxi back to the airport. I cried through security. I cried on the plane. I cried on the taxi back home. That night I woke up crying in my sleep.
People think that cancer is beautiful. The people who have never witnessed it, never experienced it picture a beautiful bald woman peacefully falling asleep in a bed and never waking up again. But it’s not like that.
Cancer is a disease. It infects the body, the mind, the family, the friends, and the loved ones of the ill. Cancer slowly eats away at the body and the minds will to live, deteriorating before the eyes of the family and the friends and the loved ones of the ill. People think that they will be ready when someone is taken by cancer. They’ve known it was going to end like this for months, maybe even years, so it can’t be that much of a shock, right?
No. Wrong.
Cancer stole someone that I loved. I was prepared for it and it still broke my heart. I couldn’t believe she was gone. It’s been two years and I still can’t believe it. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her. It gets easier but there are still those occasional moments where it hits you all over again and you end up crying in the school bathroom during math class.
Terra Louis was one of the most beautiful, kind, and innocent people I have ever known in my seventeen years of life, and I have no doubt that that fact will be true for many years to come. I learned to fall in love with those big brown eyes, and when cancer broke her body, it broke my heart.
Isabelle Starr