The moment I found out was, as I remember, conventionally tragic. It fell on my dad to tell me when he picked me up from my sitter's, allowing me to tell him about my fun day before lashing me with the news.
"Abbie has cancer."
Mostly, I remember the silence. I can remember stammering a lot, but no tears, no tears because Dad could never handle tears, so he encouraged me not to, telling me it was weakness and was deemed as sulking. Usually I would rage back at him that my emotions were my own, and if I wanted to cry, I would damn well cry. But I didn't that day, and the car ride continued with my constant questions, how, when, why?
Why her? Why Abbie? He told me of the trouble she'd been having with her knee for a weak, a sudden pain alongside other symptoms. Her mother, Libby, she'd always doted on her and took her illness seriously, unlike my dad, who tended to believe I was ill if I was at least green and unable to move. They'd visited the doctor, who'd referred her to the children's hospital, and that was when they found the tumour.
Cancer. It was a word that I had heard only through whispers, only on television. It was spoken by adults like a death sentence, at each announcement of a diagnosed friend, I always noticed an expression which believed that all hope was lost. So imagine my panic when I heard that my best friend had been diagnosed with a disease that, before then, I had associated only with adults. Children couldn't contract such diseases, it was impossible, our job was to deal with bullying and scraped knees, that was as bad as it could get, not cancer.
Abbie will die. She'll die and I'll never see her again...I'll be alone.
In those moments as I led in bed that night, crying and terrified, my own selfish thoughts got in the way. I didn't want to be alone, just when I'd found a best friend, she was going to be ripped away from me, it was just another reason for me to think that this was a punishment for me. As if Abbie was just the vessel for a divine hatred that had reigned down upon me for my whole life.
In the morning, I was to find out something else, something about Abbie that I had never known, and never asked about. It had been a constant joke of Abbie's, and at times me, that her mother could never keep a stable boyfriend for more than a few months. They were numerous, her young marriage falling through, Abbie's "dad" not a part of her life.
However, I wasn't to know that Abbie's biological father was dead.
Suddenly, everything seemed to make sense. All the times that I wondered why she had suddenly become friends with me, how we could suddenly have so much in common, was perhaps because we identified with each other. He'd both lost a parent, her mother had found others, my dad was in a continuous rut and had given up on the idea of finding somebody else. I suddenly wanted to ask her about her father, but it was not the time, for when we returned to school and she wasn't there for the first day of Year 6, it brought reality back.
I was one of four others to know beforehand, Abbie's close circle of friends already identified. The others would find out after assembly, when the headmistress announced it, her face as hard and uncaring as I expected it to be. We were told the usual, show our support, but if people weren't her usual friends, not to visit her in hospital. I had that privilege, her best friend, and yet it felt like a curse. I was terrified of seeing her, I didn't know much about chemotherapy, only what Dad told me on the drive to the hospital after school.
"She'll be weak. And Libby said she's losing her hair. Try not to stare."
I didn't ask anything about the medical side of things, whether the tumour was big, how far along it was, whether it was too late. It would have been too much, and as we were directed towards the cancer ward, all that I could see in my head were images of my best friend, happy and healthy Abbie, who would be back at my side very soon. This was just a blip along the way.
When I saw her, it took a lot for me not to run away. She didn't look like how I'd pictured, in one light I saw her, she was the same, in another she was a completely different person. I found it surprisingly easy to handle the baldness, I knew that Abbie loved her hair, and it was clear from how she behaved that a part of her didn't want me there. She didn't want me to see her like this, and neither did I. I had been one for fantasy, pretending everything was one way, when it could have been the opposite. I might have survived on believing that she was fine for a little while, but sooner or later, I would have needed to face the truth.
Abbie remained in hospital for a little while, my visits scheduled between her other friends and family. Parts of the visits were familiar, us laughing together and I telling her all of the gossip going on, and yet there was a sad look on her face as if hearing about it wasn't enough. Her supervised trips to the bathroom left me and my dad in the room in silence, just waiting. And when I was there during meals, I watched her get upset about the horrible food, and then talking with the woman who makes wigs. Not long after that, she was allowed home, I was the one who circuited the school with the giant card, and handed it to her at her doorstep with the strange feeling that I was showing her that we all loved her, but at the same time, the giant words "GET WELL SOON" could have only reminded her every time that she looked at it that she was actually ill.
She was then told of her operation in Birmingham, she would be free of crutches and being carried around. The chemotherapy would cease, her beautiful blonde hair would grow back. She would be my Abbie again, except with a robotic knee.
All that made that thought bearably was joking to her that if she still wanted to be a policewoman, she would make an excellent RoboCop.