Last Look

Four years ago, I drove across the Bay and met a couple of friends out for lunch. We had a grand day chatting with each other and doting on the one friend’s new grand baby that her daughter dropped by to show us. From all outward appearances, we were just three good friends talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. No one would have suspected that one of us had stage 4 cancer and was weeks away from dying; weeks away from leaving her friends and loved ones and succumbing to a disease that she had so gallantly and courageously battled.

I don’t remember the topics of conversation or laughter and it really doesn’t matter. What I do remember, though, is the way Janet looked at me when we started leaving that afternoon. I remember those piercing, loving blue eyes of hers and the killer smile that always made you feel loved and cared for; and how she stood in the parking lot as the three of us were saying goodbye and how time suddenly stood still as she appeared to take a mental picture of us and everything around her.

And the longer she looked, the tighter the knot twisted in the pit of my stomach. I knew my friend, and I remember feeling that something was terribly wrong. So, taking the bull by the horns, I asked her if there was something else she needed to tell us – if the cancer had worsened?

She gave me that reassuring smile of hers and told me to get on the freeway – that she’d give me an update on everything as soon as she knew – as soon as the Doctors told her.

“Stop worrying,” she lovingly scolded. “I promise I’ll call.”

I knew that she wouldn’t. She knew it, as well. But what could I do? What could I say? We all got into our cars and home we wistfully drove.

And shortly after our lunch date, regular communication with Janet stopped.

Phone calls went unanswered. Emails and Facebook messages were far and few between. And those messages that were answered were cryptically short. The panic set in. The realization that my dear friend was dying hit home. She was leaving without saying good-bye. She was leaving and protecting me – protecting me one last time – not because she was selfish; not because she didn’t care…. She was so dedicated to me, so faithful and so caring. She knew I was unwell. She knew I was fatigued. She knew the drive over to her would be taxing and compromising, so she kept me at bay; kept me safely ensconced in a protective cocoon.

Like a butterfly escaping and transforming anew, I broke thru my cocoon and eventually her denial; and insisted I drive over – insisted I come – because I selfishly needed to; selfishly cared.

She knew that I loved her. She knew how I felt. She knew that I needed one last time for “good-byes”.

My dedicated, loyal friend; my Lancelot from the start. School was our Camelot and I was her Arthur. From the moment I met her, she was my aide, my confident. She graciously followed and did more than assist; she inspired and cheered and laughed when I blundered – and always the protector – she lifted me gently and helped me transform. She taught me, she cared for me; and when I was too ill to teach, she selflessly took over and never complained.

“How could my Lancelot die?” I needed to know why.

So ride-over I did and our visit was great. We ate and we laughed and we said our farewells.

And when I arose from her bedside to leave her frail, beautiful, blue-eyed-self, wearily lying in her bed that day; I remember walking toward the bedroom door, eyes misting, looking at the floor; not wanting to look back, not wanting to break down. But me being me, and her being her – I glanced back one last time, took-in her loving eyes one more moment, and then broke down sobbing, as she bravely smiled on, and out the door I went – out the door I staggered.

Crawling into my car, I began to compose myself, when I suddenly saw Janet’s husband gallantly standing on the sidewalk next to my door.

“Hey,” he began. “You doin’ ok?”

“Janet’s worried that you’re too upset to drive all that way,” he continued.

“She sent me out to make sure you’re alright. So, that’s what I’m doing, ‘cuz you know Janet, and if I don’t she’ll be upset. So, are you ok?” he dutiful asked.

I answered that I was and he nodded ok.

I drove on and got home and have no idea how; but of this I am grateful, of this I am certain – Janet’s life was a precious, flawless gift to me, and I will always be thankful for her dedicated, unconditional love that she showered on me and so many others.

Last year, as I celebrated my 60th with a whale watching trip out of Monterey Bay, I thought of Janet (as I often do on especially beautiful days) as we headed-out on the open seas of the Bay, and began to tear-up for a brief time, when I suddenly sensed this light presence next to my glasses and noticed a monarch butterfly fluttering to the right of me. I never saw a butterfly so far away from shore before and it brought a smile to my face and lightened my heart. As I watched it disappear into the horizon, I couldn’t help but think that somehow this beautiful butterfly was Janet’s attempt (from beyond) to let me know that she was ok and that it was time to let go; that she lost her battle with cancer, but that our friendship was still intact and that she was an integral part of my life and who I was – that as long as I was alive, SHE was alive – and for that I am eternally grateful.

May you all be blessed with the unconditional love of a friend or dear one, and may you know the joy of bestowing that same love on another.

I’ll catch you the next time, looking at life from my shoes!

I

Lucie Runs Outta Luck!

I have major sleep issues.

For people that know me, that little fact is really nothing to write home about.

I haven’t slept in years.

Doing my Monday morning errands this week, though, I ran into some people who I think may have been a little sleep deprived themselves; either that or badly in need of a Monday morning attitude adjustment.

I thought a trip to the library that day would be a good plan of action in light of the fact that I just read an article in “Scientific America” that talked about how your brain has a built-in garbage disposal that gets rid of toxic proteins and that much of this “cleanup activity” takes place during sleep.

In light of the fact that I’m not sleeping too well these days, and probably have a lot of garbage floating around in my brain, I thought a library visit would be a healthy choice of action for me after my morning adaptive P.E. class.

Concerned about my next “garbage pickup date” and needing to challenge my brain as much as possible, I checked out one of Janet Evanovich’s summer reads and headed back to the parking garage to pick up my car and continue my errands for the day.

As I was walking to my car, humming one of my favorite songs (I kid you not!) – “If I Only Had a Brain” from “The Wizard of Oz”- I was unpleasantly greeted with the repeated beeping of someone’s car horn, when I noticed a gentleman in a Toyota sedan erratically backing into the front end of some lady’s Mercedes as she was driving down the lane.

Immediately realizing that the offending horn-tooter was the woman in the Mercedes, I saw that she was in the right of way and was laying on her horn because (I assumed) she didn’t want the front end of her car mangled.

The Toyota dude apparently saw it differently, because the next thing I heard him yell was a not-too-friendly, “F-yourself! And go around me!”

Uh-Hun.

The dude backs up into her (on a one way lane!) and HE swears at her.

OK.

I figured it was a good time for me to get the hell outta Dodge and go to the Target Dept. Store for errand number 2 of the day.

 

I get to Target and spend 15 minutes looking for a type of protein bar called “Kind”. They used to be healthy for you, so Target always had them in the aisle with the other healthy, protein bars. Guess they’re not so healthy for you anymore. According to one of the clerks, there’s some class action lawsuit against the company for not disclosing the fat calories in their almonds or some such nonsense, so they have to put them in another aisle.

Hm…

They had a sale on them – buy 4 boxes and get a $5.00 Target gift card. I figured the “Kind Co.” thought if they were going to secretively get you fat with their almonds, they’d best give you some incentive to do so.

Alrighty. I’m game. I like bargains just like the next guy. I’m not getting too much sleep these days and thought the added protein would help get rid of some of that extra brain garbage that I’ve been carrying around and help me sleep.

With the help of a store clerk, I found the Kind bars in the cookie aisle and finished my shopping. I headed for the check-out area, when I noticed unusually long lines at each of the registers. Accustomed to using the express line most of the time, but wanting my $5.00 gift card for my “Kind bars”, I opted to stand in one of the long lines, so I’d have access to a human cashier.

I quickly analyzed each customer’s basket of items and decided that aisle number 5 looked the fastest to me.

Yeah…

Well, Erma Bombeck here couldn’t have picked a slower lane if she wanted to! After all the other aisles got crammed with a bazillion customers, I discovered that aisle number 5 was being serviced by a handicap clerk with access to only one hand.

“OK. No big deal,” I said to myself.

“I’m a retired special ed teacher and I’m happy to give up a little time to accommodate his handicap.”

Uh-Hun.

Well, of course the customer in the front bought over 25 items and lucky me – two of the 25 items didn’t have price tags – so they had to call customer service.

“No big deal,” I said to myself. Ruth, our chair Yoga instructor, recently taught us some stress relieving exercises that you can do for situations just like this.

“I’ll do one of them,” I told myself.

Uh-Hun.

Well, apparently, before I could start my “de-stressing,” I was smiling too much at the little girl in the shopping cart in front of me because the next thing I heard was this little munchkin say,

“Mommy, this lady’s smiling at me. I don’t want her to smile at me.”

Evidently, this smiling, over-weight, gray-haired, old woman standing with 4 boxes of “Kind Bars” and 2 different types of cat food, must have seemed dangerous to this munchkin. So, not wanting to send this child into therapy sessions well into her old age, I decided to try to win her over and said,

“Hi Sweetheart. You helping Mommy shop today?”

The Mother, hearing my question; abruptly turned around, eye-balled my smilin’, clueless self from head to toe and snapped, “Haley, you don’t have to look at that lady or answer her if you don’t want to.”

Un-Hun.

I totally understand teaching kids “stranger danger”, and I can appreciate how stressful it is for parents these days keeping their kids safe, but ya think maybe we’ve gone a tad too far when we start treating everyone like they’re dangerous pedophiles and nut cases?

Geesch!

There used to be a time when people bonded while standing in unusually long lines and chatted about the weather or one of the headlines in the current Rag (magazines) on the check-out stands. Now-a-days, people go into a yoga pose or just impatiently breathe heavy and check out their Smart Phones. What’s happened to socializing with another human being?

I don’t know who I felt sorrier for that day – the Mother, who frowned at me with disapproval – or the little munchkin, who also scowled at me like I was something “bad”? Maybe I felt sorry for both of them.

And maybe, just maybe, I’m feeling sorry for society, as well.

After patiently waiting in line for 15 minutes, behind Snagglepuss and the kid-version of Grumpy Cat, I finally got rung up and then told that I had 3 of the 4 type of Kind bars that were eligible for the $5.00 gift card and that if I wanted the promotion, I had to go back and get the other kind or I was “outta luck”…

Cazzo!

By this point, I wasn’t smilin’ too much and was thinkin’ maybe I could understand Mr. Toyota Dude from the parking garage this morning.

Have a good one, People! And remember: we’re all carrying around a lot of garbage these days – some of us more so than others. Be kind to one another and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.