Whenever I'm told to write about someone who's deceased and meant a lot to me, I always write about the same one person, Tonya.
Tonya's memorialized for me within my mind. But I also have a photo of her spirit hanging on my living room wall. I say her spirit, because Tanya's not in the photograph. I am. My brother, my nephew, and her husband are in the photograph. We had the picture taken at her wedding in 1998. Then, we didn't know the cancer had spread. We didn't know she was going to die soon. Now when I see the picture, I see her, too.
I met Tonya when she was 14 and I was 21. She was a fast-tailed little girl I guess. She was "going with" my brother who was 20 years old. But I didn't judge her as "fast"-- my mother did. I did think she was too young to be "messing around" with a man. She moved in with my brother a year later. I could see that her mom and dad didn't seem to care. So I didn't care either. Everybody seemed happy.
Tonya became pregnant again at sixteen, but she stayed in school anyway. She graduated at 18 - on time. She became pregnant again a year later, and still went on to a two-year junior college where she attained an RN degree.
I'm not bragging on her. Really. We weren't really friends. I knew her as my brother's girlfriend and that was it. But she was in the family now, so we were close like family usually is.
I never had to brag on Tonya. She did that herself. She was always there talking about her achievements and her plans. And everything she planned, she accomplished. She was big-headed, which was the only fault I felt she had. Some people thought that the fact that she cheated on my brother as she got older was a fault, but I didn't. He cheated on her and everybody knew it.
Tonya and my brother never married, but she was a housewife to him for about ten years-a long time at such a young age. My brother once told me he never hated her for cheating on him because he felt he had taken away her childhood. I agreed.
My brother gave her an ultimatum one day: either she stop making it so obvious that she was sleeping around, or she leave. She left. By now, she was a successful nurse working two jobs, she had two beautiful boys, a really nice convertible sports car, lots of clothes, a few furs, and lots of shoes. And she was pretty, and getting prettier every day. But she was still big-headed. Proud. And we all still love her. Even my brother did.
One day she called my mother and told her she had found a lump in her breast. She was only 26. Being a nurse and having worked in oncology (cancer ward), she knew a lot about lumps and lymph nodes and stuff. She also knew the doctor well and could get in for a biopsy fast. She went in for the test and called my mom and said it was cancer and that she would be having a mastectomy. She had it within a few hours-maybe 24.
She let us know that she had a lot of cancerous lymph nodes under her arm and that she would have to have the highest dose of chemotherapy allowed. She had chemotherapy from January of 1997 to January of 1998. She had a party the following week of her last chemo treatment.
The cancer spread fast. In about a month it was in her liver. Soon it was on almost all of the right side of her body-in her bones. Then in her skull. She died July 1st, 1999.
Tonya told me every pain she had, because I asked her to. I told her to call me whenever she needed, no matter how late. She did. I became a close friend to her during her illness from day one. Friends instead of family. We had an unconditional love.
Now, she is an inspiration to me. She pushes me to live life to the fullest. Her life is/was an inspiration to me. When I think about life and living, I automatically think of Tonya. Always. She's memorialized in my mind that way.