So I know that Tumblr isn’t really intended to be used as a traditional blog, and I normally just post stupid things like stock photos of pregnant women eating pickles. But I woke up this morning missing Esther even more than I do normally. Instead of just churning the same thoughts around my head over and over again, I figured I’d try to work through them a bit more by writing them out.
It’s been over two years since I first met Esther. We were both listening Andrew Slack talk about The HPA’s campaign at the time, What Would Dumbledore Do?, and there was a handful of people that stuck around after the livestream was over. Esther and I ended up exchanging Skype handles after chatting for a while. We didn’t actually talk until maybe a week later; I like to say that we were both too “intimidated by the other person’s awesome” to muster up the courage to message one another. Neither of us really knew what to say to the other, though we both really wanted to get in touch.
I don’t remember who finally messaged the other, but we forged a fast friendship. Esther invited me to this chat group that was called SPEW at the time. I guess the name standed for Skype Potter Epic Win, which really makes very little sense. I hardly cared though. I wasn’t spending too much time in the chat then, and I had no idea that SPEW was where I’d meet so many of the people I now consider to be my closest friends.
I wasn’t around for Esther’s birthday party on Skype, but I understand that that’s when our group really expanded. They had a movie party via Skype, and a ton of people from Twitter - almost exclusively Harry Potter fans and Nerdfighters - spent the night celebrating Esther’s birthday online. That was August of 2009. SPEW quickly morphed into something very similar, but much grander. After watching some stupid video on Youtube, we began referring to our Skype chat as Catitude. Now, we were calling the chat something new just about every day at that point in time, but for some reason, the name “Catitude” stuck.
It wasn’t until later in the fall that Esther finally told us about her cancer. By that time, we’d seen her oxygen tube, and some of us had figured out that she was wearing a wig. She’d told us that she was sick, but she very intentionally waited to clue us in on the seriousness of her illness until our friendship had been established a bit further. She made it clear, though, that she was doing well. She was still going to school at that point in time, and I didn’t really think I had any reason to worry. After all, Esther had this way about her. I couldn’t imagine anything getting the best of her. Honestly, there were times when I forgot about the cancer altogether, which I think is partially what Esther had hoped for. Our friendship continued to grow on relatively normal - though decidedly nerdy - terms. I’d already been frequenting Catitude just about every night for a while, but these dweebs on Skype were clearly some of my closest friends by the time 2010 rolled around.
As we inched through the spring, it became evident that Esther’s condition wasn’t as great as she liked to make it out to the rest of us. I vividly remember heading home from school for lunch at the end of the school year and finding Esther online again and again and again. I didn’t really pick up that she was no longer going to school until then. But even then, I remained convinced that she’d see the other side of her cancer. I couldn’t imagine any alternatives.
I was about to graduate high school when Esther gave me some incredible news. She told me that Make-a-Wish had agreed to fly six of her friends out to Boston to spend time with her, and that I was one of the six she wanted to see. I’m a bit upset that I can’t remember the specifics of how it happened, but I do remember the absolute elation. I’d never been on a plane; never traveled at all, really. And I was going to see Esther! And five others! Over the course of the next month, I could hardly talk about anything else. I worked with the rest of Catitude to create a scrapbook, filled with letters from Esther’s closest friends, as well as various Youtubers and wizard rockers that we knew Esther admired.
That week was easily the best of my entire life. We met Andrew Slack from the HPA (don’t forget that he indirectly led me to Esther to begin with!); John Green spent an entire day with us; there was a lunch cruise and a wizard rock show. But my favorite parts were probably simpler than that. We spent every free moment cuddled together, simply basking in each other’s presence.
At the same time, seeing Esther in person made it clear just how sick she really was. The night that John Green came to see us, he had our entire group sit in a circle and tell Esther exactly what we thought of her. We learned later that Esther’s parents had asked him to do this; they were (rightfully) worried that we’d never have another opportunity. I was lucky enough to arrive to Boston a few days early, and to leave a few days later, than most of the crowd. But after our stay in the hotel, Esther was absolutely exhausted. She slept most of the time Lindsay and I spent in her house.
Lori, Esther’s mom, spent a long time talking with us the night before Lindsay and I flew back to our respective homes. She explained how she’d asked the nurse that made trips to their home how long she’d seen people continue to live in Esther’s condition. The nurse had said a couple months. Upon hearing this, I assumed that the nurse meant that two months was the least possible time Esther may have, which was alarming enough on its own. It wasn’t until I’d arrived home that I began to understand what Lori had really been trying to tell us. At the very most, Esther was expected to live for another few months. Our time with her was precious and limited.
Esther spent less and less time online over the next month. While she’d been pretty much bed-ridden for quite a while, most of her day was spent sleeping now. I don’t think any of us could stop worrying about her, and I think we would have lost it if we hadn’t had Esther’s CaringBridge page to keep us in the loop. Esther’s 16th birthday came and passed, and we were all so thrilled to see people like John and Hank, Lauren Fairweather, Matt Maggiacomo, and Andrew Slack doing so much to acknowledge Esther. After all, these people were the closest things we had to celebrities.
I remember Esther telling us about the scans she would have to have taken soon. I don’t know if she ever addressed this to the entire chat - I think she did - but I remember talking to her privately about how scared she was. There was a chance that the cancer had spread to her bones. I didn’t really understand how serious the threat really was, but I’d never seen Esther as scared as I did during that week or so. So naturally, when the news came that cancer hadn’t actually spread, I was relieved. I interpreted it as an “all clear” sign. I managed to keep hope that she would turn out okay.
I left for college in the middle of August. I remember Esther being so excited for those of us that were moving into our dorms and starting these new chapters of our lives. I did my best to be mindful of how much time I spent on the computer at that point; after all, I was supposed to be making friends that would last me for the next four years. Of course, I could hardly resist popping into the chat whenever I had the chance, but it wasn’t quite how it used to be.
August 24th was my second day of classes. It was nearly the end of Latin American Studies, and I was getting a bit restless. I pulled out my phone and decided to check my email. I saw there that there was a new post on Esther’s CaringBridge. I’d learned by then that an update meant one of two things: Either there was decidedly good news, or decidedly bad news. I took a deep breath and opened the page.
I dismissed myself from the classroom as soon as I read that Esther likely wouldn’t make it through the night. I stood in the building, sobbing and shaking and desperately calling anyone I could think of. Most people didn’t answer. Those that did hardly knew how to respond. I can’t blame them; I was a mess of incoherent and jumbled words.
So I made my way back to my dorm and spent the entire night on Skype. My phone sat next to me on my bed. Nearly everyone in our entire chat popped online as soon as they heard the news; slowly but surely, we all gathered in a Skype call, as we’d done so many times before. Most of the time was passed silently. Instead, we sat on Twitter and Facebook, sending Esther little words of love and encouragement.
At some point, John tweeted about Esther condition, asking others to send her prayers as well. Twitter exploded. So many of us spent hours staring at the screen, watching hundreds of tweets pour in. More people than I could ever imagine told Esther how much they meant to her - how she had changed their lives simply by loving those around her.
Though none of us really wanted to, most people tried to get a few hours of sleep. I lied down, still in the call, and managed to get a little bit of rest. I woke up to sounds of crying, and I knew immediately what had happened. All I was capable of saying was “no.” “No. No. No. No.” Lindsay and Teryn, the only two left in the call, never actually said what had happened, but the CaringBridge update was there to confirm it. Esther had passed away in the middle of the night.
Finally, I took my laptop and phone to the basement of our residence hall. My roommate had been gracious enough to let me sit in a Skype call all night, but I couldn’t imagine breaking down in front of her like that. I took on the task of calling some of those that had fallen asleep. We spent the next few hours online, together despite our geographical locations, supporting each other and loving Esther. Twitter continued to spew out tweet after tweet, but now they had a different tone to them. People told Esther that they loved her one last time. They wished her a safe journey.
By the graciousness of other people, I was able to attend Esther’s funeral. My mom said months down the line that she’s not sure how I’d be doing if I hadn’t been able to be there, and I have to agree. While it was a heartbreaking event, every minute was filled with such love that you couldn’t help but feel Esther there with you. Leaving was nearly impossible.
The following months were equally difficult. We all struggled and grieved in our own ways. Personally, I no longer felt capable of keeping up with my classes. I became so depressed that I ended up withdrawing from my university and moving back home over Thanksgiving break. Things became easier as time passed, but only marginally. Esther had been the backbone of our group of friends in so many ways, and things felt strange without her. Still, the chat quickly became more than just a place to pass the late hours of the night. It felt more like a refuge - a place where you knew everyone around you knew Esther as you had known her.
We all began to get nervous as LeakyCon approached. Dedicating the ball to her felt right, and we were assured time and time again that Esther would be present in so many ways, but it wasn’t what we needed. We began planning our stay in Orlando in the middle of LeakyCon 2009, and our plans had always included Esther. Going without Esther almost felt wrong. We all anticipated what it would be like without her to the best of our abilities, but it was impossible to really know what LeakyCon would have in store.
To a certain extent, I have to say that LeakyCon ended up being quite cathartic. Needless to say, Esther’s absence never went unnoticed. Still, nearly every minute of every day was filled with the kind of love that we shared with Esther. She felt closer to me than she had since I headed home after Make-a-Wish, and that was almost entirely because of those who chose to remember her.
I still have a hard time believing that it’s nearly been a year. Of course, all of us in our group of friends still struggle with Esther’s death. We still regularly post on her Facebook, letting her know that we’re thinking about her. We still talk about how much we miss her, and how we don’t know what we’re supposed to do next. But LeakyCon has left me feeling a little bit stronger, and a little bit more hopeful. One of the things I’ve struggled most with is remembering that Esther isn’t completely gone, and LeakyCon did wonders to remedy this. While Esther as we knew her may no longer be with us, the love that she shared with each of us most certainly lives on.
Esther, I love you. I know that you know that, but I mean it. And I trust that you’re okay. And I want you to know that I’ll be okay too.
The Weapon we have is Love.