I will speak in past tense… for every life (if lucky enough) will have a new beginning …and the lessons from the old… will help us to start again…
Kathy will begin her new life… her second and most cherished half… today.
I met her more than 20 years ago. She wore glasses, was a total analytical, but had a wicked sarcastic humor…which of course endeared her to me. I remember us all , desks line up against the wall, separated from the presses by windows of glass. We tried hard to earn our keep and fiercely protected each other from the Printing Sales People. We sat back there in our little hallway, making up assorted titles for ourselves…”self effacing blame mongers” comes immediately to mind.
She had 2 small girls and a Husband back then with a load quite demanding. I remember her working 50 plus hours a week, going home to cook dinner every night, while trying to keep up with endless mountains of laundry. I came to believe she was magical.
As a few years passed, and her girls grew, I would overhear conversations about sweaters being left at school, rooms not being picked up and junk food being consumed in secret…but not. Then there were the arguments with her husband, a man I came to admire for his open friendliness. One in particular comes to mind…about how she had left the refrigerator door ajar and he’d found the milk carton “sweating”. I must have laughed about the seriousness of that one for 2 months.
When her oldest became a teenager, I remember her being so nervous about how to go about explaining the mysteries of the birds and bees. I finally had her call and speak with one of my closest friends…the consummate MOM that hides nothing from her kids. The PRO-MOM gave her all the tips she needed to get her safely through.
She endured my Halloween’s with great patience, always creating the greatest home made costume, then tolerated being dragged through a total “Yuppie-does-not get it” city to have lunch and show off our ensembles. She dealt calmly with the stares and always had fun with it. She worked side by side with me, creating elaborately decorated, department lunches and we never ever lost… no matter how great the competition was.
I knew people found her straightforward talk a little intimidating. She had a tone I lovingly called “the Mother tone”. It could make people duck their heads. But I knew she was a pussycat inside. I’d seen her cry, heard her laugh and held her in some tougher moments. But I never gave her away. We became known as the Mom (me) and the Dad (her) in the plant.
She wasn’t much interested in fashion. She liked her comfy jeans and this damn pink turtle neck sweater… that thankfully…eventually went away. I finally got a chance to take her to the mall and we spent hours trying this and that. Her “makeover” produced a lovely, stunning woman (with a Teflon shield). But, when she heard the compliments, she lit up…and I went to my corner and smiled.
I’m a sensitive person who absolutely hates confrontation. She was there with her quick wit and temper to back me up whenever I was outnumbered or outmaneuvered. She just knew I didn’t have it in me to fight… but she could and did and they would back down every-time.
I remember the time we planned a trip together. She had never been anywhere in her life but where she lived. We took a trip to Victoria Island and she had to literally push me onto the peddle jumper they called a plane that took us over because I hate to fly. When we got there, she had no idea that I am a brutal traveler. No rest… all go go go and she kept up with every step. I’ve never been on a trip before or since with someone so appreciative of everything they saw and experienced. It was wonderful just to see. I remember one night we decided to really “splurge” so we went to the best sea food restaurant there. When her order of “Blue Crab” came and was set in front of her, we both sat in silence staring at the thing, entirely in its shell. The young waiter saw our concern, came over, grabbed the thing with his bare hands and cracked it into two pieces. She dug in and found Heaven of earth.
I remember when she and her family had finally been able to buy their dream home but the living-room sat empty for years due to lack of funds. Finally the time arrived for furniture and she got it into her head that a “Butter” colored couch was the perfect choice. I tried to reason that, with 2 teenagers, a husband and 2 cats, her choice was “less than perfect” and suggested a nice sage green. For 6 months I was dragged from furniture store to furniture store in search of that damn “Butter” couch. Sadly she never found it…and later bought one at a store we had been to previously at least twice. When I came to see it in it’s new home. I laughed to myself when I realized it was sage green.
I remember the time she came straight into work and then promptly locked herself into the conference room. I tried to get her out but couldn’t…but she finally did let me in. She was beside herself because she had gotten a ticket on the way home from work (the night before) and then had gotten another one that morning (coming in). She had always said she was a “Police Magnet” and I was beginning to think she was right. We sat and talked and then I told her to call her husband… that if he was ever going to kill her…it would probably be over spending too much on the credit card and not some traffic ticket. They talked on the phone, we laughed after… and she came out. I believe that was my first ever “hostage negotiation” job at the Plant.
She quit once for about a year and a half, but with lack of spending money and my constant badgering, she came back. Misery loves company in Printing and I’m no fool to sit through it alone. It was a long year and a half without her. She stepped back in like she’d never left and things were as they should be.
As the years went by, her children grew and we too grew older. My Father’s death and other Family matters took a great toll on my life and I withdrew from the world as I knew it… She and the rest were always there but I know I was a lacking friend to her and to all that had always known and loved me. But she never complained…she never judged me…she just always seemed to understand… I bowed out of my job and she stepped in to take over and to hold it all together… for the good of the Plant… and they could never pay her back for her dedication.
4 weeks ago on a Monday, I walked into her office to check the board. She leaned over her desk and said ‘I have something to tell you”. I heard the words “Breast Cancer” and nothing more. I saw her lips moving but I could only hear a loud hum in my head and see little white lights beginning to fly. She dragged me out onto the crying porch… a well used spot from all the many years past. I grabbed her and held her and balled like a baby while she held onto me for dear life. I remember the door opening, tissue being shoved out and the re-closing of the door.
She was tough, she was strong and she was comforting me… The rest of the day she spent explaining her situation to all the people we have worked with, sided by side, these many years. It was a quiet day, full of reflection and graciousness towards each other. I did not sleep that night for the terror I felt in the power of that one word, the one that took my Father from me, the one now attached to her. I have trouble with words now and I have hidden my feelings, ever since my Father died.
I got up the next day with an anger I never knew I was capable of. I walked into her office and placed a rubber-duck in a life saver in the middle of her desk. I had designed the sign it held in the middle of the night. I made direct eye contact with her and then without a word, walked out of the room. I heard the laughter about 3 seconds away. The life saver said “FUCK CANCER”.
It has been 4 weeks now and she is stronger everyday I see her. She is holding her head high and I can hear that “Mother tone” still guiding the troops into Printing battle. If the troops only understood what it took her to hold on to that strength…I know in my silent observance.
This past Tuesday, while at lunch, she was explaining how she went to see the plastic surgeon…along with her bowling ball. She explained very matter-of-factly that it was important to understand which muscles would be affected, as she has chosen to move other existing muscles, instead of the more common implant reconstruction. I told her (and I’m quite sure in my mind) that I doubt they have ever had a woman, facing a double mastectomy, blaze in with a bowling ball. But, after all these years knowing her, it does make perfect sense…to me.
Friday, April 4th is “The Day” she has dreaded. I have asked very few questions. What is there left to say. She and I walked to our cars. She told me she loved me. I told her the same. She has a husband that loves her, going insane with helplessness… that will be there to hold her hand and 2 daughters, now women themselves. She will go tomorrow into battle and face this with more courage than I’ve seen in many a bigger, stronger man. And come Friday night, with God’s gentle grace, she will approach the first new day in the rest of her life.
Please say a silent (or loud prayer) Friday for a Mother, a Daughter, a Wife… and a beloved friend of mine… named Kathy.