I have been waiting to meet Kelly for my whole life. It seemed at times that I would never find her. I wanted someone to be friends with me the way I was friends with people, and I was so lonely waiting for her.
My very first memory of her is from my first-year Law Revue audition, when she was producing the show as a third-year student. I left the auditorium to get some water and came across Kelly and another producer who had been feeling sick. Kelly took her away from the crowd to make sure she was okay – doing good even in the in between moments. I later learned that she fought for me to join the cast, soothing worries from the other producers that I was too buttoned up to feel comfortable in a group of people that is happiest when it is causing some sort of ruckus. She saw herself in me, and wanted to give me the same law school home that she had found.
Our law school paths tracked each other, even though I was two years behind her. We are both third-year producers of Law Revue, and lawyering TAs, and we are on the same law school journal. We were both rejected from the law school a cappella group and the international law clinics. I went to Ireland for my 1L summer to do human rights work and she tried to go to London to do the same, but ended up having to stay in New York (which resulted in the Notorious R.B.G. video, so it was ultimately a good thing). Since her death, I have gotten several comments that something I’ve done is “such a Kelly thing to do.” Whenever someone says that to me I am always deeply honored, and completely incredulous. I wasn’t trying to be like her, I was trying to be like myself – she was always so much kinder and friendlier than I could ever hope to be. I am so grateful that I can feel her with me in those moments, when I do something that she would also have done. But in my ungracious and unkind moments, it helps to have her as an example, pulling me forward to the kinder course of action. What would Kelly do?
Kelly would ask herself, what would Mona (her aunt) do? This (“WWMD”) was the title of her blog post when she told us that her cancer had returned. She used this to help herself keep Mona present, and make a little parallel to the fact that Mona would always ask, what would Jimmie (Kelly’s mom) do? When I told Jimmie that, after Kelly’s death, she laughed and said, “It’s always been, ‘what would Kelly do?’! I’ve been saying that since the beginning!”
A few more memories stand out amidst the others during the year I had with Kelly. Walking back to campus next to her after a Law Revue girl’s night in the early spring, talking easily, and feeling like we were actually friends, instead of just cast mates. Seeing her for the first time after her re-diagnosis and a summer apart, and not realizing until I saw her how scared I’d been. Sitting on her couch after eating dinner for her twenty fifth birthday, talking across the room to her as she did her makeup before going to the bar where all our friends were waiting and would cheer when she walked in, and thinking, “Oh my God, I found you. I have been looking for you for so long.”
She texted me that they thought her melanoma had returned as I was waiting in the airport to take off for my summer working in Ireland. I nearly left the airport to go to her. Instead, I spent the summer writing her letters, as many as I could, to keep her company and take her mind elsewhere; my attempt to give her a piece of Ireland. I traded stories of walks in the countryside and my family history for stories of her hospital stays and bar exam studying. It was so hard to be apart.
She texted me again, six months later, that her cancer was terminal and that she only had days or weeks left. I was about to walk into a meeting and when my boss saw me as I reacted to that news, she sent me home. My entire brain was changing to understand that this was now possible, when I had never considered it possible for a moment before. I spent the next two weeks until her death texting her every day, making sure she knew everything I wanted her to, without making her decide to open what would have been my last letter to her. Texting was lighter than a last letter. On November 14th, the day before we lost her, I texted her this: “I want you to know, whatever good I do in my life, it will be in your name. You inspire me to be strong and kind to everyone and I will carry that forever.”
I can hardly bear the thought of living my entire life without Kelly. Missing her is so big. She is still as present to me as she was the day she was last alive, I just carry on the conversation in my head. I like to think that she can see through my eyes, and most of what I say to her is just, “Kelly, look!” I say hi to her any time there is pink in the sky, and I ask her to protect me when I feel afraid. Still feeling her simply do good in the in between moments.
Over Christmas break, I knit myself an enormous blanket, as a way to pass the time. I was so proud of my work, and I wanted to show it to her more than anything. I struggled, and still struggle, with self-doubt and self-sabotage, and have a near impossible time speaking kindly to myself. In that moment, as I held the blanket and reminded myself over and over that she was not there to pick up my phone call, I realized that if she could not be kind to me, I would have to be kind to myself in her stead. I can’t imagine anything she’d want more. Being a force for good in the world starts here, with me, for myself. And then it can grow, and encompass all those that Kelly wanted to help with her life and could not. She has left the work of her life for us to do, and I believe there is no greater way to honor her memory than to do this work for her.
I began to think of the lines of an old poem I have quoted to myself since high school, usually imagining it in a lighthearted romantic sense. “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart),” by e. e. cummings. This is how I am enduring an unendurable loss. I carry her with me. If she is not around to do the work with me, I will do it for both of us. Her spirit lives on in me, and in all those who choose to carry her with them and do the work in her name. This is something I will do for the rest of my life, because I promised her that I would. The need for good work is never ending, and that means her presence in my heart is never ending. The work continues.