On New Year’s day morning, my husband was unable to leave the bed. I found him under the covers, shivering and red-faced with a high fever. He had caught the flu from probably going around town, as it seemed half the Bardonecchia community was down with it. Lia was not feeling well either as she threw up her usual breakfast of warm milk and cookies just moments after she had finished. I spent the day and the night taking care of my two sick “babies” who were both sick.
The morning of January 2nd, I woke up to the sound of sobs coming from the next room. I said, “Hey… what are you doing there sniffing sniffing?” My husband came into the bedroom of the apartment we had rented for our supposed snow vacation, his shoulders hunched, his face all wet from streaming tears from eyes all red. “Loja is in a coma. He has cerebral malaria. He is on life support. They are waiting for his parents to make the decision if they are to take him off the life support in the afternoon.” I held him in my arms, and we cried together.
My husband already lost his brother years ago to a car accident and now he was about to lose another one. They are both the same age, and though coming from different families, they grew up together in the neighborhood of Crocetta in Torino. They considered each other brothers. He was one of the first people to know. Loja’s ex-wife sent him the message, and he was tasked of telling everybody else. It was not an easy thing to do. The first one he called was their other best friend, who was at that moment, at work. Then his own parents, because of course, we had to cut our holiday short because he is going to Barcelona. I did not object. I would have done the same. All day I listened to him call and tell everyone the news, and at each retelling, he cried and cursed. It was painful to watch. I am sure it was even more painful for himself to have to share this bad news over and over again. He was only half with us, as his thoughts drifted in and out of his memories with his best friend. The ironic thing is, we have only seen, talked, and laughed with him days before. Three days before our wedding, he had come by our flat in Torino. On the day that we were to leave for Bardonecchia where our wedding was to take place, he had come to help put our bags in the car.
I only met Loja twice. In the four years I have known my husband and the three years I have been in and around Europe, I have never met my husband’s best friend. He was always flying around the world because of his job. It was a tiring job we surmised, but he loved it and it was his passion. You could see it in his eyes when he talked about it. We were always all so busy with our lives that we couldn’t catch each other but it was so important for my husband to bring his most loved people in the world together and make them meet each other. So the day after Christmas, Loja came to our flat. He greeted me as we opened the door, with a big hug, a big smile, and a “Finally!!!” We spent most of our time in the living room, talking, laughing, drinking beer and wine, and watching YouTube videos on the TV. Our living room is 80% green, with light green walls, green-leafed plants, and furniture draped in green. He said, “I love your living room. It’s chill. And it’s green! And you know, I LOVE green!” And we all laughed.
He was brimming with excitement about the documentary they shot in the Republic of Congo. He said it was coming out in February. Having been clueless about all this, I asked him, “Will we see you in the show?” And he said, “Of course! I’m the star!” He was so proud of himself. This was a man who loved himself, and his job, and his life. You could see it in his eyes, in his smile, in his face, and the way he talked about it. We watched previous episodes of their show, “Strain Hunters” on YouTube to show me what the show was all about.
Although I don’t smoke cannabis, I have nothing against it. Other than for practical purposes, because it can be very expensive, and the way that it can get you very amusing, or exasperating at the very worst sometimes, I see no other negative effects of it. I have not heard of anybody who died from overdose, or anybody killing other people because they were high on it. There are positive effects of the use of medical marijuana though but I have no personal experience of it to form an opinion. I know of and have a lot of friends who smoke weed. They are people I love, and admire. People who are creative, artistic, musically-inclined, relaxed, amusing, open-minded and open-hearted. They are people I find myself comfortable being around with. They are lovely, beautiful people. Though marijuana remains to be illegal and kind-of illegal in many countries around the world, I prefer to be non-judgmental and I like it that way.
On that day of December 26th, my husband, Loja, and their other best friend, Andrea, came by to our flat, for a long overdue reunion. They smoked, drank beers, laughed, exchanged stories, and took pictures. From the kitchen, I could hear laughter echoing down the hall. I left the boys to themselves.
It was a good three hours. As he was putting on his jacket, he said, “Now I have to leave. Unfortunately.” We gave each other kisses, another big hug, and I said, “It was nice to meet you. Thank you for coming by.” And we closed the door.
My husband came to me after and asked me if I liked his friend. I said, “Of course. I always like your friends.” I wasn’t lying. When I first met my husband, and he started showing signs of wanting to go out with me, the first thing I did was find him on Facebook and stalk all his social media accounts and find everything I could about him on the internet. I did this because first and foremost, I wanted to know about his friends, and how much they like him, according to how many, and what kind of, interactions there are on his Facebook page. I have learned this personally and the hard way, when in previous years, I have had experiences wherein I had met someone for the first time and, upon learning who my husband is, they would exclaim with an, “Oh, that is your husband?” with a tone that always made me both suspicious and amused. I would reply then with a, “Don’t worry. I know.” My previous husband was a very successful manager at an international IT company who had climbed the corporate ladder so fast that it was not unlikely that he made more than one person dislike him. He had started out fresh after university graduation as a humble engineer who worked night time shifts, with demanding targets, all of which he exceeded, and in all but thirteen years, made it to a position in the company wherein it was not possible to promote him anymore because the only available position above was intended for employees aged ten years and above his own age. Having learned from this, I always wanted to know how my partner interacts with his friends. And how much he is loved by them.
I met Loja for the second time only the day after. He didn’t have so much time. He got up every now and then to talk to my daughter in her bedroom. He stood outside her bedroom, leaning against the door, asking what she is doing, and making a comment on how organized her room is. Loja, a father himself to two boys, was great with kids. My daughter said she liked him because he was funny and he spoke English. That was always a plus to her.
He said they were coming to the Philippines to shoot for Strain Hunters. I laughed. I said they should find plenty of farms in the north and in the south. He said they were not particularly interested in the north because they were looking for pure strains and those found in the north are not. Southern Philippines, they believe, has the pure strains they are looking for. And also, the Philippines has a crazy president so that’s an added bonus. They wanted to go a country where the president is killing drug users and addicts, and find pure strains of cannabis. I said, “Just don’t let anybody kidnap you in there. We don’t have money for ransom,” and we all laughed. Because of course, we are all crazy like that.
I was busy packing and in our hallway were piles of bags to be loaded on to the car. We were getting married in two days and spending a total of ten days in the snowy mountains. He was leaving Torino to bring his kids back to Barcelona after spending the Christmas with their grandparents. He would not be able to make it to our wedding. We all came down the stairs together, and he helped us load our things into the car. And for the last time, he hugged me, and kissed me, and said, “It was so nice to finally meet you. And congratulations.” I said thank you in Italian and got into the car. I watched him walk away, and down the street. In a black coat and a black bonnet, his silhouette barely visible in the dusk.
In the afternoon of January 2nd, the news came in. Loja, known as Franco to many others around the world, had passed away. My husband got the news in the afternoon as he was in the bathroom. When he came out, I was standing there waiting. My husband is a very sensitive man. I have made him cry many times. His face, still ashen from the flu, an image of defeat. Defeat from a fight that never was. I held him in my arms, as he cried in my shoulders. I could feel all his pain because I love him. And I cried and cried along with him.
My husband afterwards said Loja did not really look well when they saw each other. His skin had a shade of color that did not look healthy. He had said he was feeling unwell the past days but had not seen a doctor.
We wish he did. My husband can’t help but be angry at how a person in a wealthy advanced country, himself with money, can die of malaria. My husband had contracted malaria before in the Honduras and had survived. Why didn’t Loja?
On December 17th, my very first spots of the Varicella came out. I could not go out and it was for this reason that we spent the Christmas in Torino, instead of Bardonecchia. Loja spent the Christmas in Torino as well, and that is how they were able to see each other. If it was not for my Varicella, they would not have seen each other. I went to my wedding all spotted, but that was all worth it. I still have the spots. I will have the spots for a while still, but every time I look at them, I do not feel unhappy or ugly. I am grateful.
If we were back in the Philippines, my husband would have surely flown back to Italy, and I would not have stopped him. I would do the same. I have friends I have grown up with. I know what friendship is and what it takes to have them and keep them through the years. Friendship is a unique gift. To have found a brother in a friend is a gift. I have lost a friend too years ago. There was also three of us. We have just graduated from university when she passed away from an infection due to a failed abortion and the two of us remaining traveled from opposite directions to see her off to her last resting place. I know the pain all too well and I still keep our picture together.
Perhaps that was the destiny. Perhaps that is fate. And this is life and its many ironies. We made a decision to live in Italy and stay in Italy. We could have been in the Philippines as we always were during winter in the past years. My husband could have been deprived of the experience of having to see his best friend, brother from another mother as they say, alive, for the last time.
We all have treasured friends. Some friends more than others. And we all try to keep track of each other and in this age of social media, it is easier. But even though it is easier, with WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, Viber, Twitter, and so on and so forth, to keep track of each other’s lives, the burdens and challenges of friendship remains the same. How do we show our appreciation for our friends? How do we show them our love? How do we make sure that each meeting is not the last?
They had barely seen each other through the years. They could not have seen each other at all. The three of them could not have taken this picture together. The very last one. A last picture of three men who have grown up together as little boys, who in their own ways have lived their lives as best as they could and showed their love for it in the most way possible.
Loja is at peace. He did not suffer. He collapsed on New Year’s Eve and was brought to the hospital where he was declared brain dead. He had passed away with his family by his side. He was an only child and his parents flew to Barcelona to be with him. He is not in pain. Only who are left behind are and we will have to deal with it. Because hell is this Earth we are in right now, and only Heaven awaits after death. It is our task while we are on this Earth to find whatever piece of heaven we can find. Find it. Live it. Love it.
I cried when I was writing this. I cried still after. I did not know him well enough. I only knew him from pictures, videos, and stories from people who knew him well and met him in his countless travels around the world. Perhaps I am not even worthy of writing this but I wrote this as a tribute to life, passion, and friendship. To the many friends we have old and new. To the friends who have passed. To the friends we have yet to make.