My oldest friend in the world is Jenny. I think we first had a class together in the third grade. Here’s us looking really dorky in the 5th grade, Mrs. Castro’s class. I am in the back row.
In high school, we didn’t hang out much. We attended the same college, though, and ended up taking inorganic chemistry together. For her, it became her future career. For me, I scraped by with a C, and the best thing to come out of my failed attempt at stoichiometry was our friendship.
Good times in college. Lori, me, Jenny in braces, Brent and my other close friend Kristie down in front. (The NyQuil was a joke, and I think those sunglasses were trendy at the time?)
About two years later, I transferred colleges out-of-state to try and pursue a nursing degree (and ended up switching to journalism). She was one of only two friends from “back home” who came to my graduation. She met all my new college friends, helped me pack, and rode with me in the moving van the entire 14-hour drive from Las Cruces, N.M. to Corpus Christi, Texas, where I had taken a job as a copy editor at the newspaper.
Jenny’s always had a harder life than most of us. She was raised by her father, who was a good dad but was in a motorcycle gang and hung out with a really rough crowd. There was not much money to send her to college, but she did it. After 7 years, she finally graduated. Like she did for me, I attended her graduation, along with our then-boyfriends, now-husbands.
I’ve since moved from Texas to New York to Mexico City, but Jenny and I have always been in touch. She got married, got a great job, bought a house, and is the proud mom to dogs Maggie and Annabel.
About a year and a half ago, during one of my trips home, Jenny pointed to her ankles, which were swollen. Her cholesterol and blood pressure were far beyond normal. A nephrologist diagnosed her with an autoimmune kidney disease known as IgA nephropathy. She started taking medicines and thought all would be well.
But each time I came home, Jenny seemed a bit more worse off. The swelling was expanding, moving upward, and hurting her. In September of last year, even her eyelids were swollen. She would press her puffy legs and it left lasting indentions in her flash. It meant two things: The medicine wasn’t working, and her kidneys were failing.
After finding a better doctor, she started more aggressive treatment in December, and promptly lost 40 pounds – all of it from fluid her kidneys were not flushing out. Since then, thrice-a-week dialysis has helped her stay healthy, but for a young woman who works a full-time job, it’s not a solution. A transplant is.
Jenny emailed me today: Her transplant is finally scheduled for June 26. A relative of hers is donating a kidney. I am ecstatic.
Through it all, she has been amazingly stoic. And optimistic. A few weeks ago, when I last visited, she even stayed up until past midnight with me, at a blues bar. As a group of us from high school caught up on recent goings-on, she shrugged off the murmurs of pity from us. But it was hard to deny: When she started sharing her struggle, I definitely felt a bit silly for whining about jet lag and traffic. As the night wore on, and we were the only two left from our group, an older woman came up to us at the bar and dragged us onto the dance floor.
Before we knew it, it was like old times again: we were dancing, in a bar. This time of age and far less reckless than our late teens/early 20s. Jenny may have been abstaining (no alcohol for her, of course), but it was as fun as it ever was.