Elizabeth Gilbert is having quite the year.
In July, the Eat, Pray, Love author announced that she had split from her husband of nine years, Jose Nunes, whom she called “Felipe” in the book. I know! Not the happy ending readers were anticipating…and we had no explanation. UNTIL NOW. Now we know why Gilbert left Nunes because she just posted a gushing Facebook entry describing how she fell in love with her best friend of 15 years, a woman named Rayya, while Rayya was going through cancer treatment. Gilbert describes their love as “the truth,” destiny, everything. DAMN.
This spring, I received news that would change my life forever. My best friend Rayya Elias was diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer — a disease for which there is no cure.
In the moment I first learned of Rayya’s diagnosis, a trap door opened at the bottom of my heart (a trap door I didn’t even know was there) and my entire existence fell straight through that door. From that moment forward, everything became about HER. I cancelled everything in my life that could be cancelled, and I went straight to her side, where I have been ever since.
Many of you already know who Rayya Elias is to me. She’s my best friend, yes, but it’s always been bigger than that. She’s my role model, my traveling companion, my most reliable source of light, my fortitude, my most trusted confidante. In short, she is my PERSON. I have spoken about her so many times on this page, and many of you have heard me speak about her in my speeches, too (such as my “Hummingbird” speech, where I sang her praises with all the love I could muster.) Some of you have even come to see the two of us speaking together on stage, over the years. Anyone who has ever seen us together knows that I am devoted to Rayya. I’ve never made a secret of it. As Ann Patchett said once of our friendship: “Your love for Rayya has always been writ large.”
But something happened to my heart and mind in the days and weeks following Rayya’s diagnosis. Death — or the prospect of death — has a way of clearing away everything that is not real, and in that space of stark and utter realness, I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya. And I have no more time for denying that truth. The thought of someday sitting in a hospital room with her, holding her hand and watching her slide away, without ever having let her (or myself!) know the extent of my true feelings for her…well, that thought was unthinkable.
Here is the thing about truth: Once you see it, you cannot un-see it. So that truth, once it came to my heart’s attention, could not be ignored.
But what to do with this potentially life-shattering truth?
Now let me tell you something I’ve learned from Rayya, over the fifteen years of our friendship. She is the most brave and honest person I know, and she has taught me more about courage and honesty than anyone I have ever met. Here is her mantra on truth, which I’ve heard her express so many times over the years, in so many difficult situations:
“The truth has legs; it always stands. When everything else in the room has blown up or dissolved away, the only thing left standing will always be the truth. Since that’s where you’re gonna end up anyway, you might as well just start there.”
So I did what Rayya has taught me to do: I just started there. I spoke my truth aloud.
For those of you who are doing the math here, and who are wondering if this situation is why my marriage came to an end this spring, the simple answer is yes. (Please understand that I cannot say anything more about it than that. I trust you are all sensitive enough to understand how difficult this has been. As David Foster Wallace once wrote: “The truth will set you free — but not until it’s had its way with you.” Yes, it has been hard. Yes, the truth has had its way with us. And yes, the truth still stands.)
So. Here is where we stand now: Rayya and I are together. I love her, and she loves me. I’m walking through this cancer journey with her, not only as her friend, but as her partner. I am exactly where I need to be — the only place I can be.
LOL, I love her famous author name drop in the midst of this. So pretentious and self-indulgent, just like her book. Hey, good for her for realizing her best friend was her person, but she DID leave her husband and she’s kind of absolving herself from that. Am I being too harsh? I don’t know. I suspect she left Jose in a similar way to how she left her first husband…and it was all about something “out of her hands,” like, something she couldn’t control. Sigh.
Anyhow, despite my side-eye at Elizabeth, I do hope Reyya is doing well and responding to treatment. That part is sad.