Ella and Erika met at their little brothers’ preschool playgroup. Ella was a shy 6-year-old in bright colors and glitter, and Erika a friendly 5-year-old who only liked to wear black. One born on the summer solstice and the other the winter solstice, they were instantly two sides of the same coin and immediately inseparable.
When Ella developed Juvenile Rheumatoid arthritis the next year, Erika slowed her pace to the speed of a girl on crutches and carried the things Ella couldn’t. When the doctors put Ella on the chemo cocktail that ultimately sent her into remission, but also made her too sick to do much but lay on the couch, Erika asked her mom for board games and coloring books that she knew they could both do. If Ella was too sick even for that, she simply sat on the couch and kept her company.
When she was too sick to play, the other girls we knew lost interest and found other friends with whom to adventure and play make believe. But not Erika. Through sickness and remission, able-bodied and paraplegic, this tiny girl somehow saw what even many adults could not – that beyond the sickness and the constant turmoil was a friend worth waiting for.
People often talk about how amazing Ella has been in weathering the storms of the past four years. I look at these two girls, and often think that the truly heroic one has been Erika. These have been some of the most difficult years I’ve ever seen anyone live. Ella had no choice but to find her way through them. Erika had the option of leaving, but chose instead to stick close and walk through it beside her.
I will be forever grateful.