Archive | November, 2012

Torti

17 Nov

I once knew a girl named Victoria Lynn – which sounds like the opening line to a dirty limerick, which Victoria would’ve loved, probably would’ve made up the rest of the verse to it and collapsed in giggles as she did it.  On my first Friday of university back in 2001, as a clueless, wide-eyed little fresher, I walked up the path to Hillel House – the house I lived in that year, with 24 other students – and saw my friends Rachel and Rob coming out across the lawn, following a girl in a denim jacket, jiggling her car keys, laughing loudly back over her shoulder at someone inside the house. Although we’d only just moved in, the 3 of them were off to Manchester for shabbat and Vicky was driving. She introduced herself a little shyly, all I noticed was that she was wearing large silver hoops in her ears, and that was our first meeting. Nothing extraordinary about it. Despite my many memories of her, when I think about Vicky today, I still picture her bouncing across the lawn of Hillel House, signature denim jacket on, laughing loudly at someone over her shoulder.

That year, that first year at uni, was the year we all got to know this extraordinary girl named Torti. Some of us were let in on her “secret”. It’s a testament to her character that not only did she not use her illness, the pulmonary hypertension she was born with, as an excuse, a defense or a battering ram, she hid it. And not out of shame, but as a way to be normal, to fit in with all the new friends she was making.  Until she passed away, I had no idea how few people she had actually told, and yet how many dozens of good friends and classmates she had made in just 2 years at university.  Victoria was, literally, one of a kind. She was crazy in the most wonderful way, staying up to all hours of the night, throwing dance parties in her room, midnight trips to Tescos for her favourite salad, sneaky afternoon drives to Starbucks for hot chocolate – oh, the amount of hot chocolate we consumed that year – and the nights out.  Torti never drank, perhaps the one hint to other people that all was not right, but was the life and soul of every party in the bars, pubs and clubs of Leeds. She could move like it was nobody’s business, and the boys went gaga for her. Victoria drew new friends in with her smile, entertained them with her singing voice and fabulous dance moves, but they stuck around for her kindness, her warmth and her raucous, loud, head-thrown-back laughter.

At some point towards the beginning of that first year, Torti needed to go to the hospital for a check-up. We had become fast friends, she had told me about the PH and even though it was early on, she needed somebody to go with her so I volunteered.  Later, Abbie would tell me how much that meant to her, but I don’t think I thought about it too much at the time. We had begun to be close, and I sensed something in her that was missing in the other girls in our house. Despite her confidence and sociable, outgoing ways, something about Torti always pulled at my heartstrings.  She was one of the ‘younger’ ones in our house that year, and I clearly remember saying at some point that I felt very protective of Torti, as if she was our adopted younger sister.  We always found a reason to giggle,  even if it was only comparing the hotness of the ‘Jsoc boys’, watching Neighbours in the afternoons, laughing at Yuri our ex-IDF resident nutball, or chuckling with Melvyn downstairs. I think most people in our house fell in love with her during the course of that year.

Underneath the dancing, singing, glittery, glamorous persona Torti had, there was also a responsible, self-aware girl that carried a machine clipped to her waist 24/7, that went for regular hospital check-ups, had boxes of tissues available to her at every second, and was dealing with something far bigger than any of us idiotic, drunken freshers ever had to think about. She never let on. She let on only if she was in pain or struggling. When one of our other housemates was sick and having fits, Torti was the one that stayed with me, holding her head up, while everybody else was panicked, not knowing what to do.

We had known each other all of a few months when we went to the hospital in Sheffield, but here I was squaring up to the specialist with her, having the facts and figures of her disease laid out bare in front of me, and she didn’t hide or shy away from any of it.  They began to do some tests, and Torti insisted I stay.  I remember that she’d told me her doctor was fit, and when he walked in we both got a bit giggly and silly as he joked and flirted with us. On the way there, she’d told me more about her doctors, and more about what having the disease meant for her everyday life. She was sweetly proud that she’d been featured in a medical textbook when she was born, and that everybody was amazed she had made it past her teenage years, and was living independently at university. When I think about it now, I am choked up thinking of how brave she was, and what an enormously big deal it was that she lived with us in Hillel House that year. I had no idea at the time what an accomplishment it was for Torti, how much it meant to her family that she was fighting on – and not just fighting, but winning. Torti made more friends that year than I have probably made in my lifetime. The stories and anecdotes people tell about her reveal how she drew people in towards her, how much fun she was, how much laughter and silliness she wrought, how she was loved, and how much she loved.

We had a wonderful first year there all together, and then – as per tradition – we moved on. We moved into houses, seperated from those we had grown with in our first, slightly scary year, but remained glued together by our Jewish student community. Each shabbat was an opportunity to reunite on Friday night, to giggle in a corner with Torti and Eva and Marcus and Joel, to catch up on each others’ news and make fun – as was our right, of course – of all the newest freshers.  Though we could never have sustained the closeness that came from living all together, we still managed to see each other on nights out in Leeds, for the occasional cinema trip and drive out to Starbucks for hot choccie. She was living with her best friends, some of them girls she had grown up with, and I felt at some point that I had lost her a bit – we were never going to get our year in Hillel back, but we did make sure to chat on the phone.  One Sunday we randomly drove over to Manchester to see her little niece Charly, who entertained us, telling in her tiny voice how she had learned who the prime minister was (Tony Blair!”), as well as the chancellor of the exchequer (“Gordon Brown!”). Torti marvelled at her.

When Torti attended a conference on Pulmonary Hypertension to speak as a young adult who was surviving with the disease, she was incredibly nervous. We spoke while she was there, I was in London at home, and tried my best to reassure her that she was doing an amazing thing, answering zillions of questions from parents and children, and that she was an inspiration to them. I remember her worried, shaky voice coming down the phone, and still to this day I think about that conversation and feel entirely blessed that Torti was ever a part of my life, even for the briefest of moments, that she let me in.

One Sunday, Abbie and Victoria were at my house in London getting ready for an engagement party or something exciting, the details of which time has blurred.  I was standing in my parents’ hallway when my sister called to tell me she was pregnant with her first baby!  I was so excited that Abbie and Torti came running, and as I put the phone down the 3 of us jumped around like loons.  Sometimes when I think of Sam, almost 10 years old, I remember that moment briefly and think – she’ll always be with me. I won’t ever let her go.

In 2002, Rachel and I had decided we’d apply for a Study Abroad placement for our 3rd year, choosing the same American university and crossing our fingers that we’d both get in. We flew to Penn State for our junior year and began an amazing, bonkers, adventure that had lasting effects on us both.  Never in my worst, most deadful nightmares did I expect a call from one of my housemates in Leeds on a particularly cold November evening, asking where I was and if I was with somebody.  It will always be impossible, just impossible, for me to forget the sound of Jo’s voice coming down the phone, brave Jo, telling me that Torti had taken a sudden turn for the worse, had been very ill, and passed away. Torti had died. Torti had died? I couldn’t process it.  All of two minutes before, I had been trudging through a thin layer of snow with my friend Meg, on our way to halls for dinner. I was looking forward to some oily, pesto pasta and to seeing Phil, my newest crush. Within minutes my world had flipped. I grasped out for Meg’s shoulder and sank to the cold pavement.  I couldn’t talk. I told Meg to go onto dinner, I ran back towards my dorms. I couldn’t go in, I didn’t know what to do. Rachel was away for the weekend, I didn’t know nobody else there. I was alone, on campus, as everybody walked to dinner, and Torti was dead. What did those words even mean? I called my Mum, screaming down the phone. I was hysterical, she couldn’t make out what I was saying until she shouted at me to calm down. She started crying. I was bereft.  I tried calling Eva,  I tried calling Marc. I tried to process it. She was gone. I would never hear her raucous, beautiful laugh again. We’d never dance together again, or giggle in her car, or make stupid faces at fit boys again.  I thought about Abbie, and her family.  I got a call from a friend, and I remember thinking – why is she so upset? She hardly even knew her. I felt possessive and protective of Torti, as if she was only ours, as if she belonged to those of us who lived with her in Leeds. And of course she didn’t. The wonderful stories and memories left on her website are a reminder of just how many hundreds of people Victoria touched during her lifetime.

It’s been 9 years since she passed away. As her sister Abbie wrote on facebook last year – where did that go? We’re in our 30’s now.  Some of us are married, some have kids, her little niece Charly is now all grown up.  It’s 9 years since her family lost their daughter, sister and friend. It’s 9 years since I sat outside in the freezing snow, crying, wondering how it was possible that she was gone.

x

Happy Birthday To Me!

8 Nov

31 years young today – hurrah! 31 sounds so old. Mostly because sometimes I still think I’m around 23/24 and have forgotten that actually time has flown and we left school more than 10 years ago! This morning I’ve celebrated with cards, presents, flowers from my hubs & being driven all the way to work and it’s only 8am! Bring on the rest of the fun, I say!

yum…

Wishing you all a great & happy day too x

 

 

Stronger

6 Nov

Some days you just need a song a bit like this.