In the middle of the day on a Thursday, my bestie’s name showed up on my iPhone. I was so delighted to hear her voice, I didn’t get some clues. Carla didn’t usually call me on the phone—that’s so last decade. Texting was more typical. Also it was a time when she is usually working. I rarely tried to contact her at work, which is one reason we hadn’t talked or texted much. It seemed like she was always working. I didn’t stop to ask why she was calling me at such an unlikely time, or even how she was.
Her news chilled me; she had just been diagnosed with stage IV metastasized breast cancer.
My reaction, then and for the next weeks, was “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“I’m coming over now,” I said. Carla lived a few blocks away.
“I need help,” Carla said when I got there.
“Anything,” I said, grateful there was something I could do to help my sick friend.
“I need you to get up on the roof with me to check whether the roofers who worked on the house next door damaged my roof.” This was so very Carla. She wouldn’t be able to rest until she made sure her roof was sound.
I was once a construction worker, and spent years remodeling my own home (with Carla’s frequent help), and I’ve no aversion to climbing up on roofs. But at age 66, it’s not something I do often anymore. Carla was ten years my junior. We held the ladder for each other, inspected the roof. No damage had been done. Then Carla needed to rest. I think we both knew that that was the last time she would climb onto her roof. It would be the last time for a lot of things. We had met for a beer at the Wild Side West just a week earlier. That would be our last beer at the Wild Side. She had helped me solve a plumbing problem the month before. There would be no more plumbing in Carla’s future.
Now, just over two months later, I’ve changed the tense to past. My bestie Carla died this morning.
Carla was a fabulous finish carpenter, a stickler of a building inspector, a fierce disability rights activist and a super competent department head. She was at the top of her game as the director of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office on Disability. I do intend to eulogize Carla Johnson at length, but for now I’m just grieving the loss of my dear friend. Rest in Power Carla Jean.