“Be open,” that’s what my friend Tsafi used to say. “Just let life happen.”
But I was not one to do such a silly thing. Let life happen? As in, don’t try to control all of it, all the time?
Tsafi would laugh now if she heard me.
My friend always gave me great advice: She told me which book to read to become better at dating; she helped me shove the couch and bookshelves around to give my living room better flow; she cut my hair and told me how to best style it; she taught me how to make quinoa salad as well as turkey meatballs.
But it’s because of her mantra — just let life happen — that I ended up married to the love of my life.
You see, I was (and am) the type of person who flips to the last pages of a book to decide if it’s worth the investment. That’s how I was about relationships. Why bother with any of it if I knew how it would end? I had reached my heartbreak quota.
And with that in mind, just after my now-husband and I met, I flipped to the back of our book: He lived in Tennessee while I lived in North Carolina. Too much distance, I thought, and what if he wants things out of life that I don’t?
Tsafi, older and wiser than I by a decade, said, “Are you going to end this relationship before it’s even begun?”
Why yes, I thought, why not?
“C’mon, Shuly,” she said. “Just be. Let life happen.”
After I married and moved to Johnson City from Chapel Hill five years ago, I left so many things behind. But I did not leave Tsafi. Sure, she still lived in North Carolina, but our words sped weekly through the taut telephone wires strung between us.
We talked about the men she dated, about her work as a hair stylist, then her career change to a computer networker. But it was my turn to give advice when she asked how to prepare for job interviews, how to negotiate salary and how to decide if a job was right for her. And later, when she got cancer for a second time and decided against treatment, it was still my turn when she asked me, “How do I tell my daughter?”
I saw her last in October, when I went to see her. She lay flat on her couch most of the afternoon and evening, and I lay on the floor next to the couch and we chatted the hours away. We talked about her home country of Israel and about TV shows, plants and poetry; and later, about her death. Back then, we both knew it was a matter of weeks, but not how many.
The day of my visit, we said our goodbye the only way she and I knew how to — without saying it. We bought into the idea long ago that love and friendship do not end. She held out the camera in front of us and snapped our faces close together. When I left, it was dark outside her apartment, and I sat in my car with the motor still off. I could have seen stars had I looked up through the windshield, but instead I closed my eyes.
I still think of Tsafi when I walk alone. I still play her old voicemails, which always start out, “Hey, Shul. It’s me.” I still imagine her chiding me when I let my hair get unkempt, and I badly need a cut.
Just let life happen, she always said. So I try not to hold on to the idea that she should still be here. And in this way, and only this way, I let her go.
Shuly Cawood is a writer and editor living in Johnson City.