A friend is gone

A dear friend has passed away.

I first met her, either the second or third time, that I came to Stockholm to work at AVC (I can’t remember exactly that far back). She was a project manager there. We hit it off right away. We were the same age, she just a month older. Later, after I had gone back to New York, she came with her, then boyfriend Jan, to the Big Apple and visited me. The three of us walked along a hot sunny Broadway, finally stopping at an outdoor cafe to drink a beer. She ordered a stor stark. I explained that in New York you had to order a beer by name. You can do that now in Stockholm too but back then, in the early 80s you just ordered a stor stark. The three of us drank our Heinekens as we watched the parade of people going by and talked about life. She brought me up-to-date about what was happening in Stockholm – the city I thought at the time that I had abandoned for good. Just goes to show how much I knew back then.

As we wandered down a small cross street, she asked me what it was that was sporadically dripping water on us from the square boxes in windows above our heads. “They’re air conditioners,” I said. “Air conditioner drip is a specific weather phenomena in New York City during the hot summer months.”

And then I left New York behind and moved to Stockholm. I worked with her as a freelancer, first at AVC again and then at Bodén & Co. We had our kids about the same time – her daughter in 1990, my son in 1991 – two slightly older mothers with a world of experience. We had that in common, as we found ourselves surrounded by young mothers in our kid’s dagis. We invited each other to our kid’s birthday parties, traded tips on diapers, how to get our kids to eat and I inherited some non gender-specific baby clothes. But then life got busy with work and kids and husbands and we had trouble finding the time to get together so often – we didn’t live so close anymore. But we still did occasionally – get together that is.

In the later years, after our kids were more grown up and we weren’t needed so much by them, we would make a play date and meet to see a movie and eat dinner together, just the two of us. I remember sitting at a restaurant with her across from me, discussing our lives, in Swedish. She looked at me and stopped talking, breaking out into a big smile and said how amazing it was that we were sitting there, talking together in Swedish!! She reminded me of the days when we had to only speak in English – and now we could speak Swedish together. Of course we didn’t speak completely in Swedish. If I couldn’t find a word or a phrase, I just went over to English without breaking a step. And that was Ok – we understood each other in our weird mix of languages.

Two years ago in February, we met to see the movie Jackie. I got there early and waited for her in the lobby outside the popcorn concession. She was coming from work I think and got there just few minutes before the movie was to start. We exchanged a few words and went in and found our seats. The lights went down. We had had only a few minutes to talk but I sat there in the darkened theater, wondering if she had been drinking before meeting me. Her words, the few we had managed to exchange, were slurred. I found that odd. That was so unlike her. After the film was over we went across the street to a Japanese restaurant that served food that you could grill on the hot plate in the middle of the table. I ordered a Japanese beer. She had wine. And she explained about her speech. Her mouth was having trouble forming words. She didn’t know what was causing it – the doctors were doing lots of tests trying to figure out what was happening to her. She talked about how she was starting to wind down the number of her work hours on the way towards full retirement. We discussed how once she retired we would have more time to hang out together – I being already retired. We had a great time, staying until the restaurant was closing up around us. We walked to where she could get to her bus back up to Brottby and I took the subway home to Reimers.

A few months later in July, we met again, this time to see Wonder Woman – and then we ate somewhere but I can’t remember where. Two weeks later, when the days were still long and SMHI predicted warm sunny weather, she drove out to us at Stavsnäs. She would sleep over in our Friggebo. We grilled steaks. Roasted potatoes. Håkan had his carrot and Pepsi Max with the meal. We made a big salad. Drank wine. And we talked late into the night. We were quite a trio; Håkan had trouble hearing, she had trouble speaking and I had trouble understanding all the Swedish. But we had fun and lots of laughs. In the morning she left.

Then, in the autumn, she found out what she had. It was ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. And it was affecting the muscles in her throat and mouth first.  She stopped working – officially retired. We texted to each other during the fall and winter. In January 2018, the company she had worked for threw a big party for her and to help raise money for ALS research. I was terribly sick with a horrible cold and couldn’t go. She planned trips to and with family during the rest of the year and in December at the end of 2018 she moved into an apartment in Traneberg, not that far from where I lived. I kept thinking she is now so close, we can get together easier. We texted to each other but our main contact was through Facebook, thumbs-upping each other’s posts. And now she is gone and I never got to see her again.

Selfie with Christine on a slightly chilly September day in 2016 after fika on Djurgården.

I came to Stockholm, a loud, noisy, opinionated New York girl, always talking, sharing my personal life willy-nilly with the people I was working with. But I have to admit very few of the Swedes I met at work shared much of their personal life with me. I was pretty lonely here. (Yes, I had Håkan but I missed having girlfriends to share with) Christine Ströman shared her personal life with me. She was warm and open and generous. She offered me friendship and because she was willing to be my friend, the decision to move to Stockholm was made easier. But now Christine is gone. All the things we might have done together, the movies we might have seen, the dinners we might have eaten together will never happen now. And that grieves me greatly. And the sadness that her wonderful daughter Maria has to lose her mother so early in her young life and miss out on all those future things that will never happen is just unbearable. But bare things we must. So… I will just sit here in my little corner of Stockholm, on Reimersholmen and pretend that Christine is still over there in her new apartment in Traneberg and maybe I’ll text her tomorrow. Or maybe the day after. I definitely won’t forget her. I am glad I have the memories.

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