Sweet Dee

The first time I met my best friend Dee I remember thinking to myself, “She will be mine. Oh yes. She will be mine.” I usually like to, as the men of my generation say, “just see what happens and let things evolve organically” in terms of my female friendships, but there was something about Dee that made me think to myself, “Let’s do this, Markowitz. This needs to happen.”

We met in a college theatre class where we were two of only four students, and bonded right away over being both the professor’s two least favorite and also, in our opinion, the most awesome. On paper we’re exact opposites: Dee grew up on a farm in Illinois, was a cheerleader in high school, snuck cigarettes outside class, knew every Led Zeppelin lyric by heart, and designated George Harrison as her favorite Beatle. I grew up in the suburbs faking cramps for 99 percent of my adolescence to get out of doing anything athletic; my idea of a party was putting in the Jock Jams CD as someone’s mom brought out a party sub at a cast party for Noises Off. I lied and would say John was my favorite Beatle but really, it was Paul. It didn’t matter, though. Like all best friendships ours was just easy right away and not only fun, but the most fun, since our first hangouts also coincided with Tenacious D’s first album release.

This story is going to age me a bit, but, remember the time in the early 2000s when no one had digital cameras yet? We’d all pose for pictures at parties and whoever had the camera would say the obligatory “I’ll make doubles I promise!” which never actually happened and was like being told by Chandler Bing he’d call you after a date. But then a couple days after the first party Dee and I ever went to together, she came up to me at rehearsal and handed me doubles of the photos from our night out. It was so small, but isn’t it always those small moments where people reveal themselves? Dee was someone who always follows through on what she says.

Dee is the most laid-back person I have ever met, in a “Hang out some more! Borrow some sweats! Do you wanna borrow some undies too? I only have thongs, but I’m totally comfortable lending you some!” kind of way. “I can’t believe you didn’t ask me to give you a ride to the airport at 6 a.m.” is an actual sentence she’s said to me. In all our years of friendship the biggest fight we ever got into was when I bought a Clash t-shirt at a flea market cause she thought I was being a poser (I was, of course; my passion for their music began and ended with, “God, how great was London Calling!”).

A few years ago we both went through breakups at the same time. By that point we lived across the country from each other, but we were going about it in the same way: crying in the shower, in line at the supermarket, feeling hit out of nowhere. At one point during it she asked me what I was doing to make myself feel better. “I don’t know. I’ve been hitting the Funfetti pretty hard and watching a lot of the second season of Sex and the City,” I told her. “You know that’s the opposite of what you’re supposed to do right now,” she said. “Except the Sex and the City part. Go to the gym. I know you hate it. But it really makes you feel better.” I told her I was crying all the time and then she said, “Oh yeah, I can’t stop crying too. I just keep wiping away the tears as I work out.” My best friend, her Zumba heartbreak!

Over Labor Day she came to visit me in New York. We went to the beach and took pictures in front of the Cosby house and ate everything and I had the most fun that I’ve ever had in six years of living here. Dee had this weird dry skin thing on her nose that had been there all summer and kept coming back. She said she was was going to the dermatologist for it when she got back to LA. She texted me when she had the biopsy results a couple weeks later; it was skin cancer.

Since I moved away from Dee there have been so many times when I wished we were in the same city, that I could swing by and we could just go for a walk or get ice cream or watch TV, but at that moment I wished this more than ever. She seemed so matter-of-fact when she was telling me; later, she admitted she’d been crying at her desk. They would do the procedure as soon as possible, later that week. I started googling what it was, exactly, and the best doctors in LA for it. Just in case, I looked up which plastic surgeon did Jennifer Aniston’s nose (I thought it was subtle and was a fan) and who did Michael Jackson’s nose (so we knew who to avoid). She liked her doctor, she told me, and she said she wouldn’t need reconstruction surgery anyway.

On the day of her doctor’s appointment, Dee was scheduled to perform in a show that night. Everyone she told offered to go with her, but she went alone, just wanting to get it over with. “I’m bringing a book with me.” That day we texted the entire time. “The doctor’s cute! Google him!” Hours later she sent a photo with a text, “It looks much worse than I thought. I can’t stop crying, but of course I had to smile.” I opened the photo and tears started streaming down my face and I called her. We talked and talked and I was trying to think of anything that might make me feel better in that situation. “Do you want to stop for ice cream?” I suggested. “No,” she told me, “I’m doing this diet, don’t want to mess it up. Plus I have that show tonight. I’d better go warn them what my face looks like. If they’re not freaked out, I’m still doing it.” She’d just had cancer removed from her face, but it never occurred to her to flake; Dee would never not do as she’d said. I always thought of the word integrity as a buzzword on a poster in a guidance counselor’s office, but I remember standing on the street and listening to her, and thinking, “Oh, that’s how it’s done. That’s how you should be in life.”

Dee felt better within a couple days, and her nose is mostly healed now.

Every few years the two of us go on these big trips, and for my 30th birthday we went to Australia. We spent the day before my birthday hiking in the Blue Mountains (her idea, I thought we’d be taking a tram) and at a didgeridoo show (my idea) and out to dinner with weird drifters we met out (mostly her idea). As it got close to midnight she said we should go somewhere to ring in my birthday. We sat at the edge of Sydney Harbor with our feet dangling over the water as we counted down the minutes till midnight. I kept thinking about where I was now and where I thought I would have been at this point and then Dee said a line I think is from a movie in the ’80s that she always says to me when I feel that way: “It all works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end yet.” Thanks to my best friend, the strongest girl I know, for showing me, this year and always, how it’s done.

Previously: Probable Upcoming Female-Centric Trend Pieces

Michelle Markowitz is a comedy writer and storyteller in New York. She can be found @michmarkowitz.