You meet her shortly after you move into a little brick tree house nestled in a hill. There is a creek and a park that you visit almost every day. You share the swings with two saucy blond sisters. Your mothers chat for hours while you three explore. Pebbles are collected and carried up to the narrow bridge. You lean over and toss them in the creek, delighting in their splash, the ripples that follow. The bridge feels high but you feel brave because you are with them.
Lucy is your age, Eva a year older. They have each other but easily make room for you. Sometimes you say their names as one: LucyandEva. LucyEva.
They are your first friends.
Your house has a puppet stage, above ground pool and a collection of dolls. Theirs has a television, a wide open yard for tag, and coca-cola in the fridge. The three of you cut a well-worn path through the neighbor’s yard that separates your homes.
Your parents board a plane to Europe; you stay with Lucy and Eva for two weeks.
You start school and cry for your mother. The teacher points to another girl, says she’s smaller than you and she’s not crying. This makes no sense to you, but Lucy is there with her big smile. She will be your person in this unknown place. Years later your son’s pre-school teacher will tell you he does not yet trust any of the adults but he has already forged a fierce friendship. You completely get it.
You and Lucy put your faces in the water for the first time, blow bubbles for ice cream bribes. The girls sneak over and decorate your yard to celebrate a favorite doll’s birthday. Lucy makes up reasons to celebrate stuff.
Lucy and Eva move at the end of the school year. It is your first heartbreak. You will sit on the curb for many recesses waiting for someone to invite you to play.
Their new house seems grand, but they are still the same Williams girls. The three of you lie on the plush living room rug eating popcorn and watching Wonder Woman.
Their parents divorce and Lucy moves again. You are nervous about what to say on the first visit. Lucy and Eva set the tone: they decide you need a makeover. When they are done you have a new appreciation for eyeshadow and feathered hair. Their entire townhouse complex turns out for a massive game of Capture the Flag. You do not want to leave when your father comes for you (the new, more sophisticated version of you).
They move much farther the next time. Your visits are infrequent, the letters only occasional.
Confession: you enter a rather lengthy self-centered phase when you don’t make much effort with friends who aren’t an immediate part of your life. You are so awfully busy, after all. Lucy stops trying to stay in touch.
Years later, after a missed decade of weddings and babies, you, Lucy and Eva reconnect on Facebook. They bring their mother to your house, you invite your parents. You sit on the porch and talk for hours; it’s as though you’re all at the park again and nothing’s changed.
It turns out that you reconnect with Lucy right around the same time that cancer chooses to connect with her too.
There are pre-surgery lunches and post-surgery visits. Lucy remains upbeat, in her no-nonsense way. She speaks of essential things on a drive to chemo. She dismisses the time where you were absent from her life as no longer important. Lucy does not waste time on regrets or the self-absorbed. You love this about her.
She cherishes the past and plans for the future, but most of all she is laser-focused on the present, on her loves: her husband, her two young boys, her work and her massive circle of people, including many battling cancer. You see her optimism, caring and faith, and you are awed.
She moves from the Washington Suburbs to the Virginia Beach area and back again. Cancer moves with her. She embraces her neighbors and finds a tribe at Beyond Boobs. Lucy is Ms. June 2015 in the Williamsburg Beyond Boobs! calendar; your girl shines like a diamond. She says every day is a special occasion and embraces the title Pink Warrior Princess. You remember her decorating your yard with streamers, curling your hair for Capture the Flag and understand that Lucy is both Princess and Fairy Godmother, bestowing love and celebrating all her people.
Even after she moves back to the Washington area she continues to do some work in Virginia Beach, three hours south. You think of days you can barely write a page and consider your friend who leaves her house before 5:00 a.m. to get to her job, all while mothering two young boys and going through chemo.
Gandhi said that strength does not come from physical capacity but an indomitable will.
You write the words on a sticky note and tell her, “this is you, Lucy.”
She keeps living life fully, shares her latest efforts to find a job in Washington. You meet for lunch in the winter of 2016. She brings her friend Betsy, because you and Betsy are both writers and Lucy loves connecting like-minded people. The three of you talk for hours, trying not to interrupt each other because there is so much to say. Nothing can happen to a woman this alive, you tell yourself, not Lucy of the widest smile, the pink-lined coat and the indomitable will.
But the cancer returns and it has a strong will too.
The day you hear of hospice, you visit a Renwick Gallery exhibit called Wonder. You and your son lie on your backs as a massive net undulates 40 feet above you, modeling the energy released across the Pacific during the tsunami of 2011. (The wondrous and beautiful can also be fierce.) You take a picture of the wave at its most pink, light shining through, and think of a Pink Warrior Princess.
Lucy Williams McKay dies on Mother’s Day, at home, after she has said goodbye to her family, her boys. The idea of adding her name to the list of amazing, vibrant, loving people you — we — have lost to cancer fills you with utter despair.
Her husband Jon acknowledges the collective sadness and anger over the loss of Lucy. He also speaks of healing. He writes that “Lucy, the queen of eternal optimism, would accept nothing less and would say once again ‘you just have to.'”
The love for Lucy pours forth on Facebook from far and wide: her warmth, that smile, the women across the country lighting candles in honor of their friend and mentor. From her husband and family you understand all she did to prepare her loves for this: the time she took, the care she gave them, the way she celebrated the everyday. It becomes clear: cancer could not take her spirit and her indomitable will. Because all she did in a lifetime — those countless waves and ripples that were Lucy — means we feel her presence in the most beautiful, loving ways.
You picture her boys celebrating the world, just as she taught them, and understand this is how healing begins.
Lucy was the Northern Virginia not-your-typical support system facilitator for Beyond Boobs. For those who wish to honor her, donations may be made to support women living with breast cancer at BeyondBoobs.org or to help with the the building fund at Hope Lutheran Church www.hopeannandale.org.