Dear San Diego,
The weight. Broken elevators. Long stairs.
Holding a sleeping hand. Nodding off, coming to, nurses in and out.
Sometimes lucid, sometimes not. Theorems, structures, all muddled. Looking out the window, looking at me, looking blankly into space. Spaces of function, transformations of function, muttering the language of it under her breath.
The day after she was diagnosed she aged twenty years. Maybe it was that someone finally said it, that the words were spoken. She got lucid real quick for a bit. No chemo, no nothing. For her it meant a way out of years of being imprisoned by the virus in her mind. It would be an acceptable death. She would not fight the one thing only to let the other continue to win. She would go to war, the cancer in her an ally, to destroy the greater enemy.
We left the hospital a week after she was diagnosed. Drove home, carried her up the stairs. It was hot out, so I took the mattress off her bed and set it up on the roof. She spent days going through things kept in the boxes under her bed or in her closet. Old trinket jewelry, photos, an old doll, Where The Wild Things Are.
I thought it would be harder, maybe she just hid it well, but besides the pain displayed when I'd help her to the bathroom, she showed nothing. She spoke to me in a clear voice most of the time, her usual outbursts few.
Late one night she started to laugh. And she said to me...
"You know, when you're a kid, sometimes you think about it. And it scares you, ya? Like what it'd be like to drown or what it'd be like to get shot.
I dunno, I did.
Maybe too young.
But it's nothing like what you think. Like nothing ever is.
But you know, I knew somehow you'd be here. Even before I knew you. Even when I was a little girl. I saw it like when you write something in a diary about believing in unicorns because unicorns have to exist.
That might sound dumb. Maybe it is."
Parker died in her sleep that night. When I woke up I looked at her and I knew. I sat there for a while and thought about it all. The sky seemed bigger, the sun a greater disc. Every bit of evidence she'd left of herself on that roof a treasure.
The oldest and greatest friend of my life had left. In the end, in total contrast to the turmoil of her life, she was in control. And through the tears I could not stop that morning, I kept trying to remind myself of that.
I didn't know who to call or what to do. I don't think I even thought about until at least noon. Eventually I called Maggie and told her. All she said was, "Okay hun," in a broken voice.
Maggie took care of everything. An ambulance was sent and paramedics took Parker's body back to the hospital.
The next day I phoned Parker's parents and told them. While they'd continued to pay for her expenses, she had long been an embarrassment to them. When they suggested her body be flown home to be buried I politely disagreed. They didn't put up an argument.
In the end, Parker was cremated. It took me two weeks to decide what to do with her ashes. I went through a multitude of possibilities - the field, her garden, trying to somehow get her to the ocean. In the end I decided on something I thought befitting her, this place, our life together.
In the middle of the night, in the quiet that settles over valley, I walked out into the middle of the intersection out front of the apartment. In two directions the highway. In the other the road into town.
And there I carefully spread her ashes. To be picked up on the wheels of trucks orcars and carried as to places unknown from just outside the door to the place in which she had hid, in which she had died.
I stood on the side of the road gripping the urn praying I'd made the right decision.
Eventually a rig came by, slipping the night heading east. He blew through the intersection and, as I watched his tail lights disappear into the distance, I put a hand up and said goodbye.
Maryam Mirzakhani, the first woman in history to win the Fields Medal, died five days before Parker from breast cancer. She was 40, a professor at Stanford, and specialized in moduli spaces, Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry.