If you don’t know who I am, my name is Erika Tanaka and I’ve known Chesney Anne Monroe only a few short months less than I’ve known my own sister, and even in those few months, my sister was too young to play with or keep secrets. Chesney and I came into each others’ lives at a time of boundless imagination, infinite dreams and limitless energy. We did everything together. We are each others’ person.
So when Chesney FaceTimed me and told her about her diagnosis, I was frozen. I didn’t know what to do or how to respond. I just sat there, in my work office, unable what to say back. All I knew was if Chesney was going to go through something big, I was going to be there by her side through it all.
So after her surgery, I spoke with her mom and we decided the last weekend of January would be the best time for a visit.
On our first night, I’m in Chesney’s bedroom with her parents, and they are taking her through what has become her nighttime regimen- hooking her up to strange machines, counting out pills and measuring milliliters. And through all of these motions, I am watching the faces of the people I love surrounding me. I see an assortment of emotions in their eyes as their muscle memory carries them from one step to the next: pain, hurt, fear, exhaustion, prostration, strength. But it’s when I take my eyes off Chesney and look into the eyes of her tired and worn mom and dad that I am able to see the immeasurable love of a parent.
At that moment, I had to take a step back and watch God’s mercy and love in front of me. In her parents’ eyes, I can see the fear and exhaustion that has clouded them for so long and how they are just longing for their daughter’s relief. Their eyes tell a tale of so much pain and suffering, but also sing of the strength and hope they have knowing that Chesney’s body is healing. Steve and Melana Monroe are a true testament to an ineffable strength that does not come from them.
The second night was the night it really hit me.
If you’ve ever watched a car accident happen on the opposite side of the highway, you might have a semblance at how I felt this weekend. Watching a terrible thing happen that leaves behind so much wreckage and pain, knowing that something has to be done, but also being powerless to help. But what if the person in the car accident was somebody you loved, and you were unable to help? For as long as I can remember, I have been the one to fix Chesney. When she fell down, I picked her back up and brushed off the dirt; when a boy broke her heart, I came over at midnight to put back the pieces; even when we were hundreds of miles apart, I picked her up, piece by piece over the phone. Now, there I was, sitting right next to her, and there was nothing I could do to take away the pain and hurt.
There was a point in our visit that Chesney went through excruciating pain, and I just stood there, powerless. It was an experience that I had never encountered. Here I am, watching the person I love as much as family in an incomprehensible pain, tears rolling down her face, and all I can do is watch and hold her hand.
But that’s what friendship is. It’s taking care of each other, crying together, laughing together, it’s holding her hand and wiping the tears away. I’ve come to learn that friendship isn’t just about the inside jokes and secret handshakes- it’s about carrying the other when they don’t have the strength to pick up their feet. So she and I laid there, crying in silence, waiting for the storm to pass. I held her hand until she fell asleep, and I thanked God for an amazing, beautiful friendship that, due to years of scraped knees, heartache, teary-eyed goodbyes and storms, has taken deep roots and will not be shaken.