Saturday, 8 October 2016

Happy Birthday to my Angel

Today is the 8th of October and a very special day for me, my friend Trudie's birthday.

Trudie and I became friends at Tech, where we were both studying Fashion Design, and our friendship continued long after. We discovered, much to our delight, that we were ALMOST twins! Trudie was the elder by a mere 7 days: her birthday was October 8th. More astonishing to us: her Mother was in Lourenço Marques the very day before she was born, where my Mother resided. We imagined these two bellies sailing past each other, unaware that their passenger’s paths would cross again and again.

We shared all the usual experiences: fell in love, out of love, had our hopes dashed or uplifted. We were like synchronized swimmers: I moved to Portugal, she to Germany. We clung to each other in our homesickness, our stubborn decision not to go back, even though we longed to; even though our hearts were breaking. For several years we exchanged letters, phone calls, she spent holidays in Portugal, I in Germany. Trudie got married, I went to Germany for the wedding (she wore a pretty blouse I had as “something borrowed” for the registry) and after that, somehow, we lost touch. Time and again I tried to reach her. My life got complicated, as I presume hers did too.

Then a couple of years ago I signed on to Face Book. I did so in the expectation of finding all those dear faces from my past I’d lost touch with; and the first face I looked for, and the one I did not find, was hers.

Trudie Ristau had passed away at thirty-six.

What can I say about my friend? The first word that occurs to me in relation to Trudie is “generous”. Trudie had a generous heart. She was the kindest person I ever knew. She was generous with her friendship and her love; and she was generous in her judgments, sometimes to a fault.

She was devoid of both of deceit and self-deception and she faced adversity with courage and a zany sense of humor. She had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen, not a polite little curving of the lips: never! Trudie’s smile was a huge (generous) GRIN; actually a grin and a wink.

Did I say we were almost twins? We were the oddest pair, for I am a chubby 5 foot 2 brunette and she was a very tall (well over 6 foot) statuesque blond and looked rather like a Norse Goddess in repose. My Mother called her “The Valkyrie”.

Of course, no-one ever saw Trudie in repose: she barreled through life with her long legged stride and bouncing enthusiasm; an endless appetite for fun. She moved in the center of a standing wave of chaos: weird and wonderful things happened to her, minor events burgeoned into cataclysms; all with hilarious results. She made everything seem somehow larger than life, bigger, better, brighter. Everything she did, she did with an amazing devotion and energy. But somewhere along the way my dearest girl got sick.

She had a husband and two toddlers by then, two girls. I can only imagine what she went though, the anguish and the pain. Trudie and her sister had been raised by her Father, and one of the things she missed was that mother/daughter connection. I imagined the idea of her daughters’ going through the very same experience must have been the bitterest pill to swallow.

But do you know? Her husband and her sister have told me that her determination was unabated, her grin undimmed. The Doctors and Nurses from the Oncology Department would “swing” by her room at shifts’ end to “bathe” in that smile, that joy. Even on her last days, when she could no longer speak, her light still shone. Her grin, her love.

You cannot imagine the impact her passing had on me. I found myself asking: what have I done with my life? How she must have longed for one more year, and what had I done?

She's made me reevaluate everything.
I started living again, reaching for my dreams, for happiness.

In the last few years, I’ve done all the things we two talked about on those sultry evenings, sitting on the back steps of Steel Street in Durban all those years ago.

I wrote  books,wrote a play; designed book covers, graphic novels and illustrated two Series of children’s books, I am writing this Blog, putting myself out there, getting published, taking chances.

On a personal level, I've taken a lot of steps and done many things inspired by her. I’ve learned to demand the love and respect I deserve in my personal life. I can do no less.

Trudie's changed my life so much. Her courage has given me such strength. I've started living, doing all the things I've been afraid of; valuing my life, myself so much more. Giving myself. This is what she taught me. Waste no time, love as much as you can, keep smiling.

Thank you, my dear, for your light, your joy, that gorgeous grin.
I miss you.

Happy birthday and sleep tight my warrior Angel.

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