By Kylie Stamm. Soulmatch
I wake this morning like I do every Christmas… by jumping out of bed with enthusiasm. Eagerly making my way to the hallway, then casually slowing my pace on my way to the living room - trying to play it cool - like I’m not entirely pressed about what’s to come.
I love all holidays. Festive decorations, themed music playing softly in the background, familiar smells piercing the air from the kitchen... I live for it all!
But I love birthdays the most, because they’re the only day of the year that I can shower my humans with attention and tell the world all about them and show them just how much I love them. A day of intention. A day I can just let my love flow out. No holding back.
Abi is the same way. I’m blessed with great friends who love deeply and freely. But when it comes celebrating birthdays, Abi is in a class of her own. Has been for years.
Today is not my birthday.
Today is ‘Kylie Day’: a day that Abi had been talking, not talking to me about for weeks. Not saying much of anything, which only added to the anticipation. All she had told me was to reserve a full day for an adventure.
That day was now.
As I orient myself for what’s to come, Marcia comes out and gives me the scoop on Abi: they found her nodding off at something like 4am by the computer, still prepping for ‘Kylie Day.’
So while Abi continues resting in preparation of our big day, Marcia presents me with a stunning vase of white stock and yellow gerbera daisies, a mystery gift bag, and a card. Simply, Marcia wishes me, “Happy Kylie Day!”
I smile. Feel a wetness in my eyes. A familiar tightness in my chest and an empty in my stomach. Feel the depth of my love for my friend of eleven-plus years, and get a glimpse of the pain of the approaching loss. “I don’t know if I want to have ‘Kylie Day’,” I say before I can stop myself.
I know what today is.
I am thankful for Marcia daily. In this moment I cherish her deeply. Abi is her precious daughter. Marcia understands. Yet here she is, comforting me, encouraging bravery to tackle the beautiful day Abi has been working on for weeks, maybe months? I take in one last hug from her for courage and grab the envelope.
I read the handwritten note on hummingbird stationery. You may have read the digital copy. When I turn the note over, I find a reference from my favorite moment in Gilmore Girls history. A scene in which Max Medina delivers 1,000 yellow daisies and a no-strings-attached proposal to Lorelai. Believing in his soul that their lives will be better together, but expecting nothing from Lorelai in return. Lorelai stands in a sea of beauty, immersed in fearless love. I consider these moments, TV or not, gestures of a lifetime. Of course Abi chooses this moment to remind me of how much she loves me.
“I love when people act fearlessly in the face of uncertainty,” Abi commented in her note.
I have no idea that I would be receiving my own gesture of a lifetime today.
Even though I know how deeply and fully Abi loves, how creative she can be, and how determined she is, I know this day was planned long before she went into the hospital last week. John prepped me before I arrived that Abi is tired. So tired. And she was. Our radius got smaller. So even though I know what Abi is capable of, I genuinely thought it would be another “manageable adventure” as she described it.
A “manageable adventure” would have been more than enough.
I open the gift bag on the end table. A white maxi dress, the soft cotton against my hands providing me warmth as I feel a tinge of nervousness. Unsure, I try to think of the significance of the gift.
Slowly we get ready for the day, but Marcia casually (but explicitly) makes sure I leave my hair and makeup off of the to do list. I try on the dress, which fit wonderfully, and Marcia helps me pick out accessories as Abi gets in a few more moments of rest.
Go time is 10:45am, but I don’t know the destination. Marcia’s zipping in and out of the house all morning, obviously the ultimate co-schemer on this project, but I can’t wrap my head around where she would be going to and from for a few hour adventure. To top it all off, when I see Abi finally, she tells me she lost her voice completely again. What began as yet another frustrating side effect of who knows what from this nasty disease, ended up being another co-conspirator tool, as she’s no longer able to answer any of my questions about this mystery day. So whenever I ask her a question, she just smirks at me with this look like, “you know I literally can’t say anything...”
“We’re headed to destination one of three,” Marcia shares in the car.
It’s tough to drive in silence, because it forces me into my own head. Forces me to keep thinking about today. Without realizing it, Marcia places a hand on my knee and gives me a squeeze to say, “it’s going to be okay.”
We turn down a smaller road and pull up to a building I don’t recognize. Anxious. Excited. Confused. I just knew that I was supposed to “get ready for a day of pampering/loving/and creating memories together.” With my soulmatch.
After attempting to go in the wrong building on the first try, only adding to my confusion, I notice a familiar name on the outside of the correct building as Abi went step by step to get to the second floor. She stops halfway to rest, and I smile realizing we are going to get our makeup done by our favorite makeup artist, Dhalia, who has been much more than a makeup artist since the start of all of this. She is a dear friend.
Inside, we are greeted by Dhalia and baby Azaria, and someone new named Stephanie. Abi explains silently that she lost her voice and will be using a marker board as needed to communicate. She gives full hugs all around before returning to her wheelchair. Stephanie looks frozen, and I’d only just met her so I have no idea why. Slowly Marcia sets a little table with the vase of flowers from this morning, and Stephanie asks what I know.
“Today is a surprise, but we’re having a best friend celebration kind of day!” I attempted to synthesize.
Stephanie turns to Dhalia, “just let me know when you’re ready for me, I don’t want to say anything too soon.” I scan the room again for processing purposes. At this point I assumed we were getting professional photos done since we don’t often take nice photos together. This excites me. We always joke that we’re “too busy having fun to remember to take pictures”. It’s something that weighs differently now, and I am constantly eager for the opportunity to have another physical memory to keep with me.
Stephanie must be doing hair, I confirm internally.
Abi is pulling out the big guns for today. She’s good.
Dhalia asks me what kind of makeup I want today, and I emphasize that I didn’t have much time to think about it, nor did I know the ‘theme’ of the day.
Just make me beautiful, friend!
She pauses with a small smile, looks at Abi and back to me, and says, “See if there’s anything you’d like, like bridal styles or something nice.” Stephanie encourages me to skim Pinterest for nice hairstyles. Again, I stress, I don’t really know. She jokes about checking my wedding board for something... bridal.
I scan the room again: I see flowers in the form of both a bouquet and floral headpieces I did not notice before; I see a makeup artist and a hairstylist. I look down at myself again: I am wearing a white dress. I look at the flowers one last time. Reprocessing. Giant yellow gerbera daisies and white stock. My tear ducts often come to conclusions before my brain processes what’s happening, and tears begin pouring down my face.
I look across the room. Abi knows exactly where I am. She joins me, holding up a sign on her dry erase board that reads:
“Your favorite and mine.”
Then she quickly scribbles a second line:
“Milestones on our own timeline.”
I’m crying while Stephanie curls another strand of my hair, and Abi writes one more line to hold up and show me from across the room:
“I love you.”
Why this choice of activity?
Immediately, I think of my own words from one of my first public posts about Abi and our time together. “I’ve had my own moments where I get lost down a rabbit hole. It’s selfish and dark down there. I rarely share these thoughts, but they sit on my chest in a ball of anxiety that can completely immobilize me. I can feel myself in my body. I know I’m on earth. I’m conscious, I’m alive; but I feel like I’m watching myself and I can’t move. I play scenes from a hypothetical wedding in my mind that I don’t even know if I want. Will she be standing by my side, or will there be a pair of shoes placed beside me in the spot where she would stand?”
Abi has stage four cancer. She’s dying.
My wedding is one of those milestones I referred to as I told her I felt my life was moving too slowly for her. The milestones in which she replied hers was moving too fast for mine. I am not getting married, not today. But Abi is making sure she’ll be there when I do.
She won’t be there the day I marry. She. Just. Won’t.
But she’s not conceding this milestone to the disease.
She has decided. She will be standing by my side.
I knew what today meant, now.
As Dhalia was contouring my face, she sweetly inquired if I have a boyfriend.
I look over at Abi, her short, newly curling, post-chemo locks of hair being styled by Stephanie to look like Audrey Hepburn, or “Aubrey” as she likes to call her. I smile gently. I realize we are having a day around the idea of a wedding, but it has nothing to do with having a significant other. It’s not about the event itself, it’s about the all of the special moments shared between best friends.
How beautiful is that?
In comes Marcia with platters of food from a restaurant I hadn’t been to before, another nod at activities we weren’t able to do much these days, and another intentional gesture to me. Abi brought a new restaurant to us. New Leaping Lizard. It was incredible. Next comes Brandi, Abi and John’s sweet wedding coordinator, and her two sweet boys. I am so excited to see her, and I have no idea why she’s here. Later I will learn that she orchestrated the whole day. Without hesitiation. I’m still speechless by her generosity. Closely after comes Justin, a sweet videographer originally from California who made his way to Virginia. So many kind humans. Who else was coming through this door, I’m wondering? *peeks out and around the doorway for Oprah*
It would take hours to describe every small moment, and in my extended personal journal, you could find those details. Just take my word for it: there was a lot of hysterical sobbing. Intricately thought out details.
Most importantly, there were endless memories being made.
Justin, the videographer, asked me what I love most about Abi.
I was emotionally unstable at the time so I genuinely don’t know what words came out then, but now the easiest way to put it is this: she is the kind of person who would do something like this.
We ventured to destination two of three.
Again, as the GPS tells us to make turns, Marcia is uncertain, asking if the directions are right. I try not to state the obvious: I have no idea where we’re going. Once we park and get Abi settled into her wheelchair, I look up and scan the shopping center: Brother’s Pizza (yum!), Ava Clara, and some dentist thing. I genuinely thought pizza for a moment. Seriously, don’t make fun of me for being dense, I had just already had the best day possible.
Then, my stomach dropped out of my body.
I pushed Abi toward the door and we walked into Ava Clara Couture Bridal for an afternoon of dress shopping. Wedding dress shopping. For me.
The owner, Alex, welcomes us warmly and Marcia appears with a picnic basket full of fruit, cheese, champagne, cookies - the works. We are joined by one more guest, a ball of sunshine and photographer, Bri. She jumps right in with our special team for the day, confiscates the tacky hair tie on my wrist, and captures the moments I thought I would never have.
I had to clarify multiple times to make sure everyone knew I wasn’t actually getting married. I watch Abi’s reactions as I step out of the dressing room and onto that snazzy little pedestal fixed in front of gigantic mirrors. We laugh as she requests dresses with deeper V’s in the front and lower scoops in the back. We smirk at each other as Alex wiggles her knees, mirroring Abi’s signature dance move without realizing it.
I was standing in a wedding dress reading Abi’s whiteboard notes and synthesis of our rankings. Should I wear ball gown, shift, mermaid, or whatever all these styles are called? I was speechless.
I accepted a long time ago that I would never have this moment with my best friend.
Gesture of a lifetime.
After we finish at the bridal shop, I put on my original white maxi dress, and we get in the car to head to the final destination of ‘Kylie Day’. As we pull in, I feel the crisp, fall air. I see a blend of orange, brown, and green leaves blurring together. I notice the sun peeking through the trees.
We spend the rest of the afternoon with Bri and her radiant spirit, taking photos of us. Walking in the woods in our matching aesthetic, which Abi knows I adore. Dodging passersby who emphasize how stunning we look, thank you Dhalia and Stephanie! Going barefoot and dipping our toes in the cold water.
Breathing in the deepest of breaths.
Capturing a photo of Abi, John, and me, together. The man who loves my best friend deeper than I could have ever imagined, and cares for her as though it’s all he knows.
Memories to keep. Forever.
It’s hard to describe something like this because it’s hard to process something like this. Our time together is winding down. Most people do not get to have days like these, and few thoughts cross my mind more. It is a privilege I will never forget.
Abi and I sit on a fence, waiting for John to pull the car around at the end of our adventure. She leans over to me and whispers with tears in her eyes, “I feel spoiled.” When I ask for clarification, she explains, “all of this”. Brandi, Justin, Bri, Dhalia, Stephanie, Alex, John, her mom and dad, the beach, the forest, her siblings and family, our friendship. Kindness.
I made sure immediately to emphasize to her that I did not believe any of this to be by chance.
While today is called ‘Kylie Day’, it is absolutely more than that. It is about a group of people who dropped everything for one day, giving two friends the chance to have memories and milestones cancer would otherwise take from them. They did not let it. They gave us time.
The choice to do “all of this” - that is a reflection of who she is. It is a reflection of kindness and selfless generosity in others. There is no luck, there is no spoiling. This is all of us loving fearlessly. Loving Abi.
So, dear reader, if you have the chance to love fearlessly, regardless of circumstance, I hope you do. I know I will.
And knowing all of this, today was unlike any holiday I’d ever experienced. Better than any birthday I could remember. So, to my soulmatch, thank you.
There is no gift comparable to milestones on our own timeline.
Abi and I would like to extend the biggest shout out to all of the individuals who gave us their time and talents, generously. These humans gave us a memory to last a lifetime.
Coordinator: Brandi Hunley, As You Wish VA
Makeup: Dhalia Edwards, Dhalia Edwards Makeup
Hair: Stephanie, Stephanie Michelle Hair
Videography: Justin Gibby, Gibby Visuals
Photography: Briana Klink Macon, Macon Photography
Wedding Dresses: Alex, Ava Clara Couture Bridal