In the sixteen-something years I had known Laura, I had not once met or spoken to her father. That is, until Saturday morning, when he called me on her cell phone. That alone was an indication that something was horribly wrong.
He was calling from a hospital in Arlington, Virginia to inform me that something was indeed shockingly, horribly wrong. His daughter, one of my closest friends, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. She was unconscious and in critical condition. Her immediate prognosis was very poor.
I was, needless to say, dumbfounded. Laura? I just visited her in February. She was perfectly healthy then. Or so it seemed. What happened?!
I would later learn that she had a rare form of ovarian cancer that had metastasized to her liver and lungs. It had apparently gone undiagnosed until it was too late.
I first met Laura in 1994, when we were both students at the University of Houston College of Architecture, she being one year behind me. My affectionate nickname for her - "Monsterchick" - came about as a result of a conversation I had with an irritable classmate in my third-year studio one afternoon. She did not particularly like Laura (or much of anyone else, for that matter) and referred to her as "the Laura Monster" during this conversation. Another classmate, who had been at his desk working on a project, perked up and asked "huh? Who is this 'monster chick?'" The name stuck with me.
But a "monster" Laura was not. She was playful, friendly, helpful, motivated and especially prone to laughter. We developed a strong friendship while we were architecture students, so much so that up until the end she continued to refer to me as "Keifer" - my own studio nickname that I otherwise abandoned after graduation.
As students, we did a lot together, whether it be attending concerts, going to Astros games, going out for dinner or even taking turns working the Daily Cougar crossword during otherwise-boring lectures. She frequently hung out at my house, since it was so close to campus, and enjoyed being entertained by my brother, whom she called "Foo."
We were also involved in the college's chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students, although she much more so than me; she eventually became chapter president. I remember when she wanted to represent the University of Houston at the fall 1995 AIAS Forum - the organization's annual convention - in Portland, Oregon. However, neither the chapter nor the college had the funds to cover her trip, and she didn't have the cash on hand to pay her own way. So she asked me, the sucker with the credit card, if I could float the airfare for her. I did so, and then jokingly told her that I "owned her soul" until she paid me back. It became a running joke between us, but she eventually repaid me for the ticket - sometimes with installments of cash, but mostly through numerous lunches, dinners and pints of beer at local bars - until I finally "returned her soul" to her.
While at the helm of AIAS-UH, Laura worked with HISD to organize the "Bridging the Gap" Competition. In March of 1996 approximately 50 children from a nearby middle school came to the college. These children were grouped into teams and, with the assistance of architecture students, held a competition building bridges out of LEGO bricks. College instructors then judged the bridges based on their aesthetic and structural qualities. It was a huge success that enriched everybody involved and even made the local news, and I never saw Laura as proud and as happy as she was that day.
Even though our career paths took slightly different directions after graduation - I went to graduate school and got a degree in city planning, while she jumped right into the architecture profession - we stayed in close contact. We both ended up in the Dallas /Fort Worth Metroplex in the late 1990s - she at a firm near downtown Dallas and me at the City of Denton's Planning and Development Department - and along with our significant others continued our tradition of dinners, concerts and frequent conversation. A few years later I would move back to Houston and she would later move to the Baltimore/DC area, but we remained in frequent touch and continued to compare notes about our growing professional and personal lives.
The last time I saw her was this past February; I stayed with her when I made a short trip to DC and I had a great time sightseeing, visiting museums, eating, drinking and riding the Metro (I am a transit geek, after all) with her and her boyfriend. Little did any of us know that, even as we dined and laughed and walked through the streets of the nation's capital, she was being eaten away from the inside by a horrible, silent disease. In retrospect, her last Facebook post in early June, wherein she complained about having back pain, was an indication that something might have been wrong, as back pain is a symptom of both ovarian and liver cancer. But she thought that she had simply pulled a muscle or something. You just don't associate cancer with a lively and visibly-healthy young-woman. Which is why this is so mind-blowing: as perverse as it sounds, it would have made more sense to me if she had been involved in a serious car crash.
Mercifully, Laura's battle with cancer was short. In the early evening of Sunday, July 25th, just a day after I was informed of Laura's condition, I learned that she had passed away.
I've had people close to me die - aunts, uncles, cousins, even mother-in-law - but this is just different. This was one of my peers, one of my best friends - my Monsterchick. She was doing so well and had so much ahead of her. And just like that, she is gone.
Laura Edwards was 36.
I am still awaiting word on arrangements for her here in Texas and, as is my custom when people close to me die, I will post her obituary on this blog once it becomes available. Right now my thoughts are with her parents, her brother and her boyfriend as well as all the other people out there who, like myself, have lost such a wonderful friend.