Kelly Anne Murray was my best friend. We passed each other notes between classes, we wore each other's clothes, we even invented our own language. We were silly together, Kelly and I used to walk home from school belting out "Be-Bop-A-Lula" at the top of our lungs.
But Kelly Anne Murray was always leaving me.
Kelly suffered from catatonic schizophrenia and midway through the eleventh grade she had the first of many full-blown catatonic episodes. The duration of catatonic symptoms tends to increase as the episodes become more frequent. Even out of the hospital, Kelly still required a level of care her father and stepmother could not provide, and before the school year was out she moved to Bloomington, MN, to live with her mother.
After a few relatively stable years and stiff regimens of anti-psychotic medication, Kelly returned to Memphis. I saw her as often as I could; sometimes we sat in silence, sometimes I talked to her about this or about that, I was happy just to be talking to my old friend at all.
But in her deepest catatonic states, Kelly's eyes were big and black and empty. And perhaps from a petulant, childish instinct, or a sheer, blind rage at the disease, at times some madness of my own seemed to bitterly demand: Why are you always leaving me...
The mental health care system in Minnesota is infinitely superior to the one in Tennessee, and eventually Kelly went back to live in Bloomington. Because of the nature and the progression of her illness, I hadn't talked to her for some time. I went on with my life and as the years went by it was only in the odd moment that I thought of my old friend.
The other day, my parents ran into Kelly's dad—"It got to be too much for her..,” he told my folks.
I found the obituary notice online.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, March 13, 2005: "Kelly Anne Murray died unexpectedly at home." My dad worked for the newspaper here in Memphis for over forty years; that's obit-speak, for suicide.
I say I didn't think about Kelly much, but this is closer to the truth: the part of myself which is able to write these words with such deliberate, cool reflection, this part can understand and can accept that people grow and people change and people die. This part of myself has made its peace with Life writ large and even before her death, I had long been reconciled to the fact that an illness we do not yet know how to treat took my friend's humanity away, and was taking away her life.
There is another part of me that stomps its foot and speaks as children speak, that part looks for her as she was then, it will not be reconciled to facts simply because they're true. And that part still demands to know: why are you always leaving me...
I loved her. But my words come much too late and I can only honor my friend now with petty truths.
Kelly Anne Murray was beautiful, and she was a mess. She was funny and quiet and sad, and a lifetime ago she was my best friend in the world.
And now she's gone.
Kelly Anne Murray was always leaving me.