Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘sister’

A Sister’s Promise

imagesInterview with Nancy Goodman Brinker. An excerpt from the book Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call.

Susan G. Komen was married, with two small children, when she was given a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer. She fought a valiant fight with every known treatment at the time, until her body could withstand no more, and died in 1980. Before she passed away she had her younger sister, Nancy, promise to find a cure for the disease that was afflicting so many women across the country. Nancy thought the world of her “big sister” and though she was in the depths of despair, and “utter hopelessness”, she promised “Susie” that she would do everything within her power to find a cure.

Two years later, Susie’s little sister, Nancy Goodman Brinker, started the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and brought breast cancer to national attention, becoming the largest private nonprofit group in the world devoted solely to funding breast cancer research. Since 1982 the foundation has raised over 100 million dollars! Over half a million people now run in their annual 5K “Race for the Cure” in cities across America. They were instrumental in getting the U.S. Postal Service to issue a stamp for Breast Cancer Awareness; have galvanized the undergarment industry to provide labels on their clothing which advocate breast self-examinations; and inspired countless well known politicians and celebrities to publicly speak about their personal encounters with the disease. 

NANCY: I came from a large extended family. My mother has been my greatest role model. She was very close to her family. She weathered losing so many she has loved. She was the only child in a family where there were several uncles and aunts. Many of these uncles and aunts were more like older brothers and sisters, because she was an only child. My Mom had nine aunts and uncles combined, who had a total of four children between them.

Mother ended up being a caretaker and very close to these uncles and aunts. Except for one or two, she literally nursed them all until they died. I use to spend a lot of time with her when I was growing up, taking care of some of them, going to see how some were doing; watching her suffer many losses and then of course my sister. Mother always had the most optimistic attitude, you know, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” She lost her mother when she was only twenty, so she taught me about loss. I still find it so very sad.To tell you the truth, even now I don’t know if I have learned to really deal with it. There must come a point in your life where you never stop grieving but you just take action, you just go forward.

I honestly don’t know how my mother has dealt with all the losses in her life, particularly one uncle who she loved very much and was like a brother to her. That was the one time I really saw her fall apart. It took her a long time to get over that one. I saw her crying in bed, grieving. Ordinarily my mother is compassionate and full of feelings, yet also stoic and able to go on. This one took a lot of her . . . this one uncle’s death. He loved, supported, helped and listened. He was just wonderful to her. He was gentle and kind and I think that he rounded out her life, gave her the comfort that a parent would give a child. He was her mainstay.

She had a supportive family with all her uncles and aunts around. She was an only child so I think she was a little more used to being alone then some of us are. But this one uncle’s death was very sudden and it was tough for her. She weathered through it. She is a very special person, my mother.

Loss was a part of our life. We’re Jewish and mother had lost family in Germany during the war. I wasn’t old enough to know about it when the war was going on per se, but I knew to the extent that we had relatives who were lost in Europe and the war. We talked a lot about that and how precious life is.

When Susan died the thing that helped me the most was focusing all of my energy on fulfilling her dream and last request, which was to cure breast cancer. I had to do this in her memory. I really wanted to do it. We had been through such a siege.

Luckily, I had met and married a wonderful man just after having gone through an awful divorce. I think focusing all my energy and working as hard as I could on the Komen Foundation, raising my son, and being a wife, helped me get through a lot.

I don’t really remember anything specific that people said or did, except one person who helped a lot. He was a Rabbi that we had in Peoria at the time. We went to see him towards the end of Susan’s illness. We wanted to know how to deal with the children and how to deal with her. He told me what to say and how to say it. He said, “Don’t lie and tell her everything is going to be OK . . . she’ll be OK. She is not going to be OK. What you have to do is learn to be sympathetic and it is awful, you don’t know why it is happening. You wish it weren’t happening. You don’t know what to do about it. And that you love her very much and you’ll be there till the end and do everything you can.”

As the years have passed I don’t think I miss her any less. I probably miss her more. I’m getting older and would love to have my sister with me. We were best friends. I think in one way your circle of friends and people narrows, it doesn’t grow it narrows. What’s important in my life now is different then it was. I have learned that there are very few people in life who love you unconditionally. I think sisters are like second mothers if you will. There was unconditional love there. We could say anything we wanted and be totally frank.

In a lot of ways the Komen Foundation has fulfilled a lot of what we had hoped for. It’s funny. I’m not a person with supernatural beliefs but we have always said that we have a Komen angel and it’s Susie! When things start to go wrong she’s there, something turns and it goes right. I can’t explain what I mean but believe me it’s there. I don’t believe in angels in the traditional sense, but I do believe in angels. I don’t know what it is, but there is some spiritual holdover. It’s certainly not in the normal body, but there is something to this and I just can’t quantify it. I have felt her presence on several occasions, so I know it’s there. I don’t know how to describe it to you.

One day I was driving in my car, looked up and there was golden light everywhere in the car. It was like a shower of golden light and I knew she was there. It was very, very interesting. In fact, I was driving down to one of our big Komen events, one of our big luncheon events. It was about four or five years after we’d started and I just had this feeling. It was amazing. There have been other times, particularly at the Races for the Cure, when I felt she was there watching. She’s there, sitting up there watching. I don’t mean to say it’s a different world or inhabiting a different world.

There have been many times when I have almost quit this work. I’ll say, “I can’t do it anymore, it is too hard.” Then something will happen, something very satisfying will happen. I have asked for guidance, “Show me what I am doing.” If I listen and watch the cues it always happens that I find what I am after. There is something very spiritual about this work. There is something almost other worldly about it.

I think it is God’s will and I think there is a lot of randomness in life too. I think that if you are chosen to do something or if you put yourself in the path of being chosen to do something, somehow the circumstances all fall into place. Then you have an obligation to do it. I have been very well fed. I am well taken care of. There is no reason for me to do anything else. There is no reason for me not to do this. I must do it. For me to spend my time at anything else would be wrong, just not right.

Just playing and having a life of leisure is not my style. But it isn’t that it is just not my style, it’s also the fact that there is a lot of work to be done. I wasn’t given the opportunity to do what I do without a reason.

Sometimes I get back a lot from the work and other times I don’t. But it isn’t what I get back from it, it’s what happens, it is how well I do my job. If I do my job well and at the end of the day people’s lives have been saved and we have moved along, then I feel good. It keeps refueling the reason for why I’m here. It’s like I am on a mission.

I don’t understand why Susan died and I lived through my cancer. I have no reason to understand it, except that she was born premature and for some reason her immune system may not have functioned as well. I may have been given a longer period of time to do this work. I don’t know. Believe me, there were times I wish I could have fought her battle for her. I think I was diagnosed with this disease to unfortunately understand, on a very personal level, besides everything she went through, what it was.

Looking back there are few regrets. I wish that I had had a little more time to be, well . . . I would have liked to have had another child. At the time they advised me not to. With breast cancer they weren’t suggesting that people go on and have more children. Today it would be different. I missed out on a lot of things with my son when he was young. He’s turned out, thank God. There are times I wished I had had a little more time and hadn’t had to stay up all night worrying about things. I have been so intensely involved in my cause.

I have some wonderful friends, but I don’t think I’m particularly popular on a personal level. I think people like me, basically view me as strong, you know? But there are things, that because I am an agent of change, I’m not the person you would just call to go play with. My friends are wonderful and they tend to include me, but I know they don’t think of me as being a cozy person. I’m intense about everything I do. I’m sure they feel uncomfortable. I wish I were more low key. I’m just not. No matter how hard I try I’m not wired that way. So I try to cope and handle it, but it just doesn’t seem to work out for me.

On the other hand I’ve learned to not be afraid to take something on that seems impossible. My father was my role model for success and achievement. With enough commitment, courage and persistence, especially persistence, you can overcome almost everything. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist. I’m not. I have largely been successful because I surround myself with extremely bright people who are much better at everything then I am. Don’t be afraid.

More inspiring stories at Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call

A Woman’s Own Way

An excerpt from Good Grief: Love, Loss & Laughter.

“Emotional, tearful, talkative, weak, dependent, scattered, illogical, over-reacting, out of control and hysterical.” These are some of the judgments and labels that women are painted with when they react to the loss of a loved one.

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Some times women (and men) do react to a sudden or expected death with a great deal of emotion and cry, talk, scream, wail and/or moan. Thank goodness that they do, for by doing so they are teachers for both sexes of how to honor and acknowledge a natural, human response to loss. If people are not allowed to “let go”, “collapse” or “lose it” after the death of a loved one, when on earth can they? When is there ever a better time to release the anguish and pain of having someone or a number of people ripped out of your life?

There is nothing inherently “weak” in allowing the true depths of our suffering to surface. It takes strength to allow oneself to be vulnerable and honest. It takes incredible energy, support and awareness to do something that most Americans have pathologized, minimized or tried at all costs to “get over”. Yet, more often than not, women are the pioneers in taking this journey of mourning, of walking through the valley, stepping on the sharp rocks and finding their way back to life; often with a new found respect and appreciation for the preciousness of life.

In some cultures, both here and abroad, there are women who are the “designated mourners” at funerals, and are the ones that show up at families’ homes when there has been a death. They hold a place of honor in their communities, because of their ability to connect with, hold and release the individual, and the communal pain of loss and separation that has occurred. Like midwives at births, these women are held in high esteem, as strong, aware healers who have their feet planted solidly on the earth, while their hearts compassionately open to both the suffering and the pain.

We, as a society, have slowly begun to recognize the power of grief and mourning and are starting to realize that such reactions are normal, for both women and men, and that to not have such outward or visible reactions to loss is also an acceptable way to mourn.

Because of past conditioning by families, institutions and media, women have often bought into the stereotypes of how they should or shouldn’t grieve and mourn. If they aren’t crying, sad, depressed or screaming after the death of a loved one, they often think something is wrong, that they’re “weird” or “abnormal”.

Just as there is wide variance in men, with regards to how we react, process and think about loss, so to for women. There are no universal women, or universal men with exact, programmed responses to life and death. There are countless ways in which we mourn. How we react to loss is the outcome of hundreds of factors, including, but not limited to, our relationship with the deceased; how long we’ve known them; how we have dealt with past crisis; how old we are; how they died; whether we were with them or not at the time of death; how we were told of their death; what kind of support system we have or don’t have; other responsibilities; financial or health concerns; what our belief systems are; and the messages we have received from others on what is or is not acceptable.

I have met women who were in great turmoil because they were not proceeding as “planned” by their and/or others’ expectations of when, how and where they should be at a given time, in regards to their grieving or reactions to the loss of a loved one.

One woman had not cried since the death of her father six months previous. She thought something was “wrong” with her. Yet, after describing everything she had had to do in the last six months, and the kind of relationship she had with her father, she realized that she had been doing just what she needed to do in order to survive and function. Once she was acknowledged and validated for doing what she needed to do, in the way she needed to do it, she was then able to acknowledge and express her conflicted emotions without fear of judgment or “being crazy”.

Another women said she never mourned or cried for her sister, whom she had loved dearly. Upon further reflection she realized that she thought about her sister every day when she jogged and was inspired by her sister’s life to continue teaching and helping others learn.

And some women (and men) tend to avoid their grief and pain by avoiding such emotions as much as possible. They stay busy, work twelve-hour days, drink excessively and/or use drugs. They jump from one relationship into another, and/or become so focused on a particular goal or activity that they are, for a time, able to compartmentalize, push aside, numb out or ignore the feelings, thoughts and impacts of having someone die.

These are all natural reactions to pain, to not wanting to hurt. Usually, however, such reactions end up causing more complications and don’t take away or change the pain of loss that remains.

I would ask that you take a moment to think about women. Think about their personalities, differences, relationships and families; how they interact with others; how they mourn and see themselves. Ask them which roles, lifestyles and behaviors they feel have been imposed or expected of them, and which ones they have chosen or made their own. They may be emotional, stoic, afraid, silent, loud, tearful, strong, confused, clueless, aware, insightful, isolated or social. They may be your partner, your sister, your mother, your grandchild, grandmother, aunt, colleague or friend. I invite you to see and treat each one as unique, creative human beings, who have the right, the power and the prerogative to deal with and react to life and death on their own terms.

More support and stories at: Good Grief: Love, Loss and Laughter.

Trust Me

A shaky excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

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Master Tova was traveling with Sister Sun and Sister Moon to visit one of the community centers. They came upon a narrow rope bridge which crossed a deep gorge and raging river below.

“I’ll wait here until you return,” Sister Sun said, shaking in her boots every time she looked towards the walkway.

“Nonsense,” Master Tova replied. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“I’ll stay with Sister Sun,” Sister Moon added, holding on to her companion for dear life.

“We must cross,” Master Tova replied. “They are waiting for us and Sister Star needs our assistance. You know she is very ill and may not have much time left.”

“We feel deeply for Sister Star,” Sister Sun trembled, “but it will do her no good if we parish before we see her.”

“This bridge has been here for centuries,” Master Tova explained.

“Exactly,” Sister Moon exclaimed.

“Thousands upon thousands have safely made their way upon its planks and rope handrails,” Master Tova reassured. Both sisters stood frozen, shaking their heads. “Look,” Master Tova said, as she walked onto the bridge and turned around. “See, it’s as strong as a rock.” She jumped up and down several times. The bridge bobbed and swayed side to side. Master Tova returned to her reluctant students and said, “You must trust in life or you will never get anywhere.”

The Master took hold of Sister Sun and Sister Moon’s hands and led them toward the structure. Just as Master Tova was about to step on the bridge, Sister Sun coughed. Her cough caused a loud crack. They watched in horror as the ropes snapped, the wooden planks broke, and the walkway plummeted into the gorge below with a deathly crash.

Sister Sun and Sister Moon’s eyes were as large as saucers, as they pulled Master Tova back from the edge and fell to the ground.

As they got up and dusted themselves off, Master Tova turned and spoke. “Like I said, it’s always good to consider alternatives, and cough before proceeding. We’ll have to walk upstream and wade across the shallow portion of the river. It will take longer, but we’ll get their safe and sound.”

Many honest and trusted stories at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

I Can’t Hear You!

A sleep-deprived excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

There was an older man named Alejandro, who lived down the road from the Abbott’s monastery. He loved playing music from Mexico and the land of the Incas and played it night and day. He was hard of hearing so he had to play the music as loudly as he could, so he could hear his own voice and accompanying drum. Sometimes, he would drum and sing until he fell asleep just as the sun rose.

A number of the nuns were upset with Alejandro and complained to Abbott Tova about his annoying, and off-key voice and drumming, keeping them awake night after night.

The good Abbott knew that Alejandro pined for his childhood sweetheart, whom he’d married and lived with for sixty years. She wasn’t about to ask him to stop, but also understood how difficult it could be to sleep when his voice and instrument’s sounds traveled through the night air and seeped through one’s pores like slow torture.

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“Please, do something,” one of the senior nun’s, Sam, implored Abbott Tova.

“I cannot ask him to stop, nor will I,” the Abbott replied.

“Then many of the nuns will fall asleep during practice and miss their chance for enlightenment,” Sister Sam retorted.

“If they are not able to awaken during sleep, then I have taught them nothing.”

“Many of the chores will not be done if they are sleeping during the day,” Sister Sam continued. “The garden will not be planted. The meals will not be prepared and the floors will not be swept.”

“So what?”

“So what? We’ll starve and live in filth, is so what.”

“You are only seeing two alternatives Sister Sam. Telling Alejandro that he can no longer sing for his lost love and find what little comfort it gives him, or letting him sing and our community goes to ruin.”

“I don’t see any other way,” Sister Sam surmised.

“Then you are caught in Limited Mind and must have slept badly. There is always another way.” Abbott Tova went to her chest and began rummaging around and throwing out one item after another. “Ah, here they are,” she said, and handed a bag to Sister Sam.

Sister Sam opened the bag, picked up a small wax ball and said, “What in the Goddesses name are these?”

“Are you blind, as well as sleep-deprived?” the Abbott laughed. “They’re earplugs.” Abbott Tova took a pair from the bag and placed them in her ears. “I’ve been wearing them for years and sleep like a baby. Hand them out to the nuns and there will be no more problems.”

“Oye veh!” Sister Sam exclaimed. “Why didn’t I think of this?”

“What?” Abbott Tova said, as she began replacing the items she’d removed from her chest.

“I said, I should have thought of this!”

“What? Speak up.”

“I said . . . oh it’s nothing.”

Sister Sam bowed three times, turned around counter-clockwise twice, and left with the bag of earplugs, amazed as always at the wisdom and compassion of the great Abbott.

More deaf-defying stories at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Your Mind’s Skillet

Taking Stalk of Your Life as told to Sister Jean. Written in 769 A.D. From Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

If you want to find grace, then be grace. If your name is already Grace, then you have no need to seek.

If you want harmony, then be harmony. No, not you Harmony, I’m referring to everyone else.

If you desire peace, love, and happiness, then become that which you seek.

“How?” you may ask.

It’s as easy as making a pie. First, you must have the right ingredients. In this case, the ingredients are peace, love, and happiness (in no particular order).

“How do we find these ingredients?”

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They are everywhere. Look all around you. People are trying to sell it to you every day. Find the best market and pick some up, but make sure it’s fresh.

After you have the ingredients, wash them with insight, chop them up with intention, place them in your mind’s skillet, and marinate them with clarity.

“How do you know when it’s done?”

It’s done when you feel the vapors of peace, love, and happiness clinging to your bones and seeping from your pores. It’s done when all those you meet can smell your goodness and know that you are the embodiment of what everyone desires.

Of course, one can over or under cook, and find that they are too mushy or too raw. In this case, you must go shopping once again and seek what it is you wish to be within without.

There is no other way. It can take minutes, hours, days, or years to be an example of peace, love, and happiness. Don’t ever stop searching, otherwise you’ll have no ingredients and there will be nothing to eat.

More life recipes at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Our Slithery Friends

An excruciating excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Sister Bonsai and Abbott Tova were on their hands and knees digging up the soil in the garden to plant some hemp seeds. When Sister Bonsai lifted a rock to make way for the next row, a cobra raised its head and spit in her direction. She fell backwards just in time to miss being hit in the face. Abbott Tova grabbed her arms and quickly pulled her farther away from the deadly snake.

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“Oh my!” exclaimed Sister Bonsai. “That was close.”

The Abbott nodded. “It’s good you’re fast on your feet or should I say rapidly falling? At least you fell in the right direction.”

“Thank you,” Sister Bonsai exclaimed.

“No problem,” the Abbott replied. “I thought we’d weeded out all our slithery friends.”

“Friends? How can you call that awful creature a friend? It almost killed me.”

“They probably thought you were trying to kill them. How would you react if you were sleeping in a cool shady spot under a large solid mass and suddenly the roof was lifted away and a giant shadow hovered over you?”

“You’re right,” Sister Bonsai replied. “I never thought of it like that.”

They both watched the cobra slither away, down towards the gully to find another safe shady area. As they stood and made their way to the shed for the bag of seeds, Sister Bonsai looked puzzled, still a little shaky, and deep in thought.”

“What are you thinking?” Abbott Tova inquired.

“Why were such deadly creatures created and other nuisances like fleas and mosquitoes?”

“They just are. I’m not sure if they were ‘created’ as such, but perhaps existed previously in other forms.”

“And why,” Sister Bonsai continued, “do some animals eat their prey while they are still alive? It seems especially cruel and barbaric.”

“Why does suffering exist?” replied Abbott Tova. “Why is their pain, loss, sickness, discomfort, old age, and death?”

“Those are deep questions Master, but your question does not answer my question.”

“Nor should it,” said The Master, as she scooped some seeds into the bag they were both holding.

“If there are no answers and only more questions, then what’s the use in trying to make sense of anything?”

“Indeed.” Abbott Tova grabbed another spade, as she and her student walked back to the field.

“So, you’re saying there is no need to figure anything out or make sense of the world we live in?”

“As a famous songwriter and activist once said,” The Master surmised, “We’re just sitting here watching the world go round and round.”

“That’s sounds nice, but doesn’t solve any of our problems.”

“He also said, ‘There are no problems, only solutions.’”

“Then what’s the solution?” Sister Bonsai asked.

“Ah, that’s a good question.” Abbott Tova replied thoughtfully. “Here, take this.” She handed the Sister the bag. “Let’s plant these seeds and give them some water.”

More abundant wisdom at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

The Barking Seal Admiration Society – Part 2

From short story collection Saint Catherine’s Baby by Gabriel Constans

The Barking Seal Admiration Society – Part 2 (Conclusion)

Joanne put her bag in the trunk of her partially rusted Volvo station wagon and closed the beige trunk with a thud; sealing the contents for a safe trip home. She’d just called her husband and kids to let them know she was on her way.

“Drive careful little Sis,” I said sarcastically, both of us knowing she was probably the safest driver in North America. I used to tell her she drove like an old granny when we were teenagers. She’d sit at a four way stop, for what seemed like hours, making sure there weren’t any cars approaching within a hundred miles!

“You big Dufus,” she grinned. “Have I ever been in an accident?”

“No.”

“Have I ever gotten a ticket in my whole life?”

“No.”

“Then shut up already and give me a hug.” She grabbed my arm, pulled me close, put her arms around my back and squeezed hard. I squeezed back. She squeezed harder, as did I, until it felt like she’d break my back.

“OK! OK!” I gasped, pretending to be out of breath. “Man! You’ve gotten strong in your old age!”

“And don’t you forget it!” she teased, as she got in the car, closed the door, strapped herself in, adjusted her mirrors and rolled down the window.

I leaned in and kissed her. “Love ya. Take care.”

“Likewise.” She kissed me back.

“Remember,” I kidded, “it doesn’t matter how you feel as long . . .”

She shook her head, having shared this joke a hundred times. “Yeah, yeah,” she completed the line, “as long as you look good.”

I jerked my finger, like shooting a gun and blew away the smoke, completing our leave taking ritual. She waved and rolled up the window, then suddenly rolled it back down. I leaned in.

“Call her,” she said.

“What?”

“Call her tonight.”

“Who?” We’d been talking about Robin every since we’d left the beach.

“I mean it Rueben. There’s something between you two, something special.”

I’d planned on calling the minute Joanne was out of sight.

“Sure,” I grinned.

“Promise?”

“Promise,” I said and crossed my heart.

She rolled up the window, checked for oncoming cars, for what seemed like an hour, then slowly eased onto the highway. She looked in her rear-view mirror and waved one last time.

I stood and waved to my beautiful little sister. As she drove away, I remembered telling her once, after she’d interrupted my cowboy game once to often, “Leave me alone! I wish you were dead!” The memory filled me with shame.

“Hellooo stranger,” Robin answered, with a seductive, languid drawl.

“Is this Robin?” I asked, “The surfing consultant?”

“Rueben! I knew you’d call.” Without skipping a beat she said, “Can you come over tonight?”

“Tonight?” I think . . .”

“Think!” she interjected. “There’s no time to think.”

“Well . . . sure.”

“Can you pick up some wine and flowers? I was thinking about you all the way home and plum forgot to . . . oh yeah! Make sure they’re . . .”

“Fresh cut,” I finished her sentence, “right?”

“You devil. How’d you know?”

“I don’t know.”

“That place next to . . .”

“Shopper’s Corner,” I surmised. No problem. It’s right on the way.”

“You sure?”

“No problem, I’d love too.”

“Love too,” she repeated. “Isn’t that a great word – love?”

“Yeah, it’s a great word, but don’t you think we’re moving a little fast here?”

“Fast?! Are you going to wimp out on me before we even get started?” She quietly added, “We’re mates and you know it.”

“Mates?”

“I may not know a lot, but I know when I’ve been thrown a pearl.”

“A pearl?”

“This kind of thing is rare,” she went on. “Some people don’t know when it’s come up and bit them in the bud and others keep thinking it’s somewhere they’re not.”

“That may be true, but . . .”

“I’ve only felt this way once before,” she said. “I may be about to die, maybe not; but I’m not about to let your fear screw things up.”

She got that right. I’d been burned before. In my early twenties I’d fallen in love with a slim, nineteen-year-old redhead named Francine. We were stupid enough to get married. It lasted about a year. I was so dependent on her approval I would have leapt off a cliff if she’d asked. She had to literally jump in bed with my best friend before I crashed and burned. That experience had embedded its tentacles deep under my skin and been tediously removed, one by one, year after year.

“You’re right,” I said. “I felt that way before and this feels like the real thing, but…”

“No buts about it. The only butt I want to see is yours.”

I don’t know where she got the courage to be so blatant, but she was right on the button. Something in my chest had been cracked open like a safe and she had the combination.

“I’ll be there in an hour.”

“One more thing,” she said. “I love you.”

“Likewise.”

“Likewise?” she teased. Is that the best you can do?”

“Robin,” I paused, “what can I say? I love you too. Be there soon.”

“Not soon enough,” she whispered.

I started to hang up, then quickly brought the phone back to my ear. “Robin! Robin!”

“I’m right here,” she replied calmly. “It would help if you had my address, right?”

“Yeah.”

“6427D South Cliff Drive. You know where that walkway is by the harbor?”

“Sure.”

“A half mile from there, off Seabright, take a left on Surry.”

“Got it.”

“You got it all right; you got it all.”

“See ya.”

“See ya?!” she protested. “I hope you’ll do more than that.”

“You know what I . . .”

“Of course,” she interrupted. “And you know what I mean.”

“Sure do,” I said, twisting the smooth phone cord tightly around my index finger.

Beyond all logic, the magic continued. We spent days and nights “being in our skin”, as Robin would say; listening to the rhythms of the world; the sensations of our bodies; touching, sensing, smelling, gazing upon one another’s human form, with mournfully explicit awe and delight.

Entering her small, cozy apartment by the sea; felt like committing myself to a religious sanctuary where all our prayers were offered and received.
She talked openly about dying, but more about living. She wasn’t afraid of death, but she loved life. She loved here mother, her brother, her nieces, her eighty-year-old grandmother and her friends and colleagues. She’d worked in public relations for the Santa Cruz Visitor’s Bureau for over fifteen years and was missed by her peers, who often stopped to visit. Indeed, public relations, was an apt description. She had an uncanny ability to put people at ease.

Her best friend, Bessie, told me about a bigoted movie producer visiting from Los Angeles, who’d locked horns with Robin’s supervisor, Mary Lou, a tall, intelligent woman, who’d been born and raised in Texas. During a meeting with Robin, Mary Lou and Bessie, the movie producer had made a snide remark about cowboys and rednecks all being “stupid hicks.” “Mary Lou’s cheeks turned fire red,” Bessie explained. “Her jaw was tighter than a vice. If this guys company shot their film here it would bring the city a couple million bucks. Mary Lou was just about to let the jerk have it when Robin smiled and said, ‘You’re right. There are some stupid cowboys.’”

“Well,” Bessie continued, “Mary Lou and I gasped and stared at Robin in disbelief; until she added, ‘There’s idiots everywhere, aren’t there?’ ‘You got that right,” the producer said, shaking his head. ‘I must say’, Robin continued, ‘I’ve said some pretty stupid things my self. I bet there’s a lot of lame producer’s in Hollywood.’ “The producer jumped right in and said, ‘You have no idea,’ and started telling us about one ‘incompetent ass’ after another.”

“Needless to say,” Bessie concluded, “we made the deal.”

Robin’s charm remained intact in the midst of purgatory. You name it, she tried it: medications, transfusions, intravenous therapy, diet, herbs, detoxifications, chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, hormones, prayer, meditation, visualization . . . but the cancer kept chipping away.

The last weeks found me sinking, looking for a branch to hold onto. I was being pulled under by emotional quicksand. There was nothing solid to stand on. Her face had turned black, blue and yellow, as if she’d been in a bar room brawl. Her skin was translucent, stretched over her frame like a sheet of white plastic; her arms as thin as straws. She struggled to take in a full breath. The body I loved was disintegrating like melting snow.

“I hope I’ve made a difference,” she said softly, one gusty morning.

“Without a doubt,” I assured, with a lump like a clod of dirt stuck in my throat. “You’ve given so much love.”

“Yes, I have.” She stroked my cheek. “That’s been the best part.”

“What now?”

She turned away, looked out her large window and watched a mother and daughter lean against the cliff side railing, their hair being blown by the wind.

“I don’t know. What do you think?”

“What do I think?” I wanted to run, jump off the earth, find a black hole and hide. “I don’t know, but you can’t leave.”

“Nice thought, but just a wee bit unrealistic.” She rolled her eyes and grinned at my naivety.

“It’s just . . . I don’t know . . .” I struggled to find the right words. “How do you keep this up?”

“I have no choice,” she said, without hesitation.

“I know we don’t always have a choice,” I blundered, my mind racing with useless, crazy thoughts. “If it was me, I’d be screaming and yelling.”

“I don’t have a choice,” she reiterated. “This is who I am.”

We heard someone knocking. Our intimacy departed, as we turned our heads. The door flew open, pushed by gusts of cold air and Robin’s mother, who entered the tiny living room with the electric hospital bed looming in the center. She struggled to close the door behind her, pushing against the tenacious wind and patting down her gnarled hair. She took off her floor-length wool coat and placed it on the corner chair. With a forced cheerfulness that belied her dread, she exclaimed, “There’s my girl.”

“Hi Mom,” Robin smiled, holding out her shaking arms.

Joanne was making a return visit in a few days. We’d kept in touch. She knew the story. I wish she was here. She’d know what to do. She’d help her big brother learn how to say goodbye to the Barking Seal Societies lifetime member. She would know how to say “I love you” without clinging to hope. She and Robin understand life from a place I do not know. They know that “take one day at a time” and “seize the day” are not cliches; they’re the essence of our reality.

If only Joanne was here and Robin wasn’t leaving. If only . . .

THE END

Part 1

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