Wednesday, December 25, 2013

At Rest, Redeemed at Last

Many years ago, when I was young and very foolish, I left my husband for another man with whom I had fallen in love. I loved this man as fiercely as I ever could love, and we lived together for a few good years. I have been filled with guilt to this day over what I did to my marriage, but at the time, it felt like my path was set and I was doing what I had to do. I learned to shoot a high powered rifle and a sweet sixteen gauge shotgun with this man. I hunted with him, and shot a deer each fall, sitting and waiting in my tree stand from sun up to sun down. When the Great Horned Owl swooped through my thicket at dusk, it was time to unload, and climb down for the day. He taught me how to skin and process the venison which I made into Italian sweet and hot sausage, and small breakfast links, gifts for my family at Christmas.
 He gave me my first diamonds.
 He bought me a motorcycle and came with me to safety classes where I learned how to drive it, and after we would go for rides, him on his old Harley and me on my Honda 550 Special. We played cribbage endlessly at night, went fishing at dawn w/ his friend Tom putting his boat in the Delaware and motoring upriver through the morning fog. We'd see deer at the water's edge, magical in the mist.
I learned how to drive a tractor, pull the baler and hay wagon up and down the windrows while he stacked the bales. I lived the happy life of a farmer's wife

  We had a lovely sweet time together, that included visits with his best friends, Billy and Cheryl and their boys, Chris and Danny. The boys were enthralled with my throwing of perfect spirals as we'd have a catch with the football in the fall, and my wicked fastball in the spring. They'd never seen a grown up girl throw better than most boys. I grew to love them like family. We'd meet for dinner where 8 year old Danny would order 2 dozen steamed clams and proceed to put a dozen in his mouth, cheeks pouched out like a chipmunk; he'd chew away through dinner, while we laughed and talked over pitchers of beer.

I bought the bakery and ended up spending long hard hours working at building my business. The man was none too pleased, and as I spent more and more hours away from home, he drifted further away from our relationship. I was no longer the sweet young thing he could take out on the town, I had gained weight and looked a fright when I came home exhausted, more and more to an empty house. I was not surprised when I found him at our favorite haunt with a cute little blond by his side.

I was looking for another place to live but meanwhile there were Sundays to spend elsewhere, away  from the farm. I would go to the grocery, buy the fixings for a spaghetti dinner, tomatoes, sausage, onions, meat for meatballs. I'd show up at Billy and Cheryl's on my bike and they would tactfully avoid asking the obvious. Instead, Cheryl and I would hit the kitchen and I taught her my grandfather's recipe for meat sauce. I'd have a catch with the boys, we'd throw sticks for the German short haired pointer that was the light of their lives, besides each other. Cheryl and I would pound Coors lights like water, Billy would watch football with the boys and we'd eat a feast of spaghetti and meat sauce, sausage, and garlic bread until we'd groan our way from the table. This Sunday tradition went on for many months.
When I finally found a place to live, the man was not there to help me move, but Billy, Cheryl and Tom were. They helped me pack up my farm life, and moved me to a small house near my bakery. We did finally talk about the man, all of us bewildered over what had happened, why, always why....we'd seemed such a great couple, he loved me, we thought. I loved him beyond all reason and my heart was irrevocably broken.

I continued to work away at the bakery and spend my Sundays with my saviors Billy and Cheryl, punctuated by occasional fishing trips with Tom, my good friend. Then I suffered a series of losses that set me back terribly. My Mother, Grandfather and Grandmother and beloved dog of 16 years all died within a relatively short period of time. I retreated from life, from longtime friendships, from my Sunday tradition. I poured myself into my business, trying desperately to survive through devastating depression. Years passed and I made new friendships through the bakery, good solid friendships. I contacted again friends from long ago. I rejoined the world, in a way. And every so often, although not every week, I'd swing by Billy and Cheryl's. It was always like I had just been there, always welcomed with open arms and warm love.

We'd meet up at the grocery and catch up and promise to call but our lives were busy. I had left the bakery and had a regular job, their boys had grown. I'd stop every so often at the ice cream shop where Danny worked and he would make me the world's best chocolate malted. Then came the day 4 years ago I ran into Cheryl at a tent sale.Her face was puffy in a way I recognized, like Mom's on prednisone  after cancer treatment. She told me she had been diagnosed w/ melanoma, but was fighting it every way she could. We talked and hugged at length. I hooked up w/ Billy on Facebook and would see photos of him and Cheryl at their beloved Phillies games, always smiling, Cheryl still with that puffed face but bravely soldiering on through life. They came to see me at the Market and told me I should sell jars of my sauce, and I took their advice...it is a good seller!

Today, Christmas Day 2013, I found out that my dear Cheryl died yesterday after a 4 year battle. Billy said she is in a better place and I want to believe that. But I am saddened deeply by her loss, and for Billy, Chris and Danny. To lose a loved one so young,  one so full of life, so full of love is a terrible thing. I cried bitter tears for my friend and her family. I am honored to have had her as a friend, I was lucky to have known her , and in a way I feel redeemed for ending my marriage the way I did, because had I not, I would never had her friendship, such a sweet and remarkable woman, and her family, dear Billy, Chris & Danny.

Wing your way to Heaven, Cheryl and rest well. We will meet again; until then, I will hold you forever in my heart with love, light, and gratitude.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Again

           My friend L. and I this year celebrated our anniversary of 50 years of friendship. We first met in kindergarten at 5 years old. We had the unfortunate fate to attend a not so local catholic school where we weathered the wrath of the frighteningly abusive Sister Christine every day. L hated it so much that for a few days she hid behind a big tree when the bus came and ran back home when she knew her Mom had left for work. That ingenious plan did not work for long, an soon she was back on the bus, properly chastened. We had free time in the stone courtyard before the opening bell rang and for some reason ( I have no idea what induced me to do this) I would smush her into the corner of the church wall and and repeatedly ask "what didja have for breakfast?!" and every day she said oatmeal! oatmeal! We still laugh about that absurdity.

           And so a friendship was born. We both changed to public school, and were separated off and on  throughout, but our connection was strong. I was the one who made her turn her chair at the bar so she'd be seated beside the man she ended up marrying, with whom she has been ever since. We made yearly camping trips to Cape Cod. We took walks, long hikes along a beautiful boulder strewn river. We had monthly girl's dinners with two other friends, filled with laughter and good food. She stood at my side when I got married. I was with her husband beside her bed when she gave birth to their son. Ours was a friendship unbreakable, even as we drifted apart after her son was born, and marriage and life took over. We would get together, talk on the phone, arrange dinners w/ our husbands, take walks but over time they became more infrequent. When she became a busy realtor, and I a shopkeep, our lives took us down separate paths completely. But when we'd talk on the phone or get together, it was as if we had never been apart. We chat and laugh as if it was yesterday that we last saw each other.

           She left a voice mail, the other day, saying she needed my help. Since it is Thanksgiving weekend I assumed  it was her yearly call for my pumpkin pie recipe. I called her back and left a message of how she could reach me as I was starting a 2 week house sitting gig. She called back twice on my cell while I was at the market with no time to answer. When finally, I called her, I was driving home. She said " I have bad news that ends up being good news" Then she started to cry, something I rarely ever saw her do. I pulled into a driveway as she said those dreadful words "I have breast cancer". I felt as if I had been sucker punched and couldn't speak for a few seconds. Then I started asking questions, becoming the researcher that I had been when I was diagnosed. She calmed down immediately, and we proceeded to talk for almost an hour as I sat parked in a stranger's drive. She, like me, is in the earliest stages, and her prognosis excellent. But that awful 'c' word, and the even uglier word 'malignant' were hovering over our conversation the whole time like a circling vulture. I was able to give her a lot of information which eased her mind, was able, as always, to make her laugh, and we ended the conversation with the arrangement that I will accompany her to all of her doctor visits and ask the questions and write down the answers and information, just as Margaret did for me years ago and I did for her as well this past year. We hung up on a hopeful note.

       I backed out of the driveway, dazed and shocked and saddened. I drove on, remembering that Greg is away and I was headed home to feed the dogs and play with them before going back. Back to my dear friend Margaret's house where I am sitting while they enjoy a 2 week vacation. I realized as the tears finally started that I had no one to talk to, no one to hug , on who's shoulder I could cry. It was a lonely feeling, but L. did not want me to share with any of our friends in common but Marg and Greg. Margaret would be the first one I would turn to in this situation and she is far away. And so, drying my face, I fed my dogs and played with them in the slanting winter sun. I drove back to Marg's to put the chickens away and feed the sheep. I came in the house and fed the cats, gave diabetic Diego his shot and fed the dogs. I then put my pajamas on even though it was only 6:30pm and climbed into bed. I did not sleep. I talked to Mom, asking her to watch over my beloved friend. I remembered all of the details of my experience being diagnosed with cancer and how I felt.  And I cried for L., an always so healthy, fit and cheerful person having those same feelings and it made me sick for her. The middle of the night terrors were the worst, when you wake up, all of your defenses down and that damned "c" word causes a cold wash of fear to envelop your entire being.

           In our conversation, I gave L. some advice as to what to do when she is awakened by fear in the dark hours. I gave her a mantra to repeat for as long as necessary to push the fear away and allow sleep to take over. It worked for me, and I pray that it will work for her.

          "I am a survivor"