I'm most recently a writer. In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot. As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades. An unwilling transplant from the South, twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US. Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect. When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do. Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
My Best Friend
Nancy and I met because she was my children's teacher. We were about as different at first glance as two women could be. That never got in our way. You know those rare and wondrous times when you meet a person and feel an instant recognition, as if you've known one another in some other life? That must have been the case with Nancy and me, because regardless of the obvious differences, we were best friends in the finest sense of that overused label from the get-go.
We did the usual things, lunch and shopping. We spent one very memorable evening in her swimming pool with a bottle of wine (after almost injuring ourselves attempting to uncork the thing in a scene worthy of Lucy and Ethel) discussing everything from childhood angst to motherhood to men. That out of the way, we settled down to saving each other's lives.
Nancy was responsible for my first meeting with the man who turned out to be the love of my life. She didn't set us up, but she was right there cheering us on once the flicker turned to flame. I insisted she stand up with me at our wedding, ignoring her strident protests about the indignity of being a 55 year-old bridesmaid. I'm pretty sure she secretly loved the role; she pulled it off with her usual panache, leaving me feeling like a pale understudy to the star, as usual.
Did I mention that Nancy was an actress? One of the best I ever had the honor to dress in my career as a community theater costume designer. I can sum up her talents by telling you that when she starred in our production of "Mame," everyone came to the realization that Nancy, in truth, was Mame. She was larger than life, bursting with energy and invariably in character, in life as well as on the stage.
The last months I spent with Nancy were the best of our friendship. Diagnosed with cancer and told there were no treatment options, Nancy took the bull by the horns, the very thing I would have expected her to do. She traveled to Mexico for alternative treatments, threw herself into living and cried a lot. One day on the phone, during one of our mutual crying spells, I asked the question, "What can I do?" and Nancy told me. "Get your calm little self out here and help me."
That was the most generous thing she could have done for me. At the time, I thought she needed me, and for some practical things like hemming drapes and minding her dogs, she did. But as time has passed, I know she did it because I needed to be with her, to accept what was happening and prepare for life without her. It was the ultimate act of friendship and one I will forever treasure.
I don't need to tell you about the hours we shared, the things we talked about or the tears I cried on every drive to and from her home during those weeks. Suffice it to say we had never been closer, more on each other's side and we both had good memories to savor in the end. The last day we spent together, she asked me to read to her. I was desperately trying to keep up with the reading for my Bible study class, and I read the entire Gospel of Mark aloud that rainy afternoon. Each time I thought Nancy might have drifted off she'd make a face, or a little prompting noise, to let me know I should keep going. I believe she heard every verse, and it was a comfort to think she would take the sound of my voice reading those words with her on the next leg of her journey. I'm pretty sure that's the way she intended it to be, for both of us.
Two days later, on Valentines Day, my husband took me to a lovely lunch at our favorite French restaurant and that night we saw a wonderful production of "Company" featuring a cast full of our theater friends. When we got home, word was waiting. Nancy was gone. It seemed fitting, really, that we had been sharing the joy Nancy had wanted for us, enjoying the pastime we had all loved, while Nancy, surrounded by her family, had gracefully exited the stage.
Do I still miss her? Every day. Do I still talk to her? More often than I'd admit. When I started writing in earnest, I could feel her right there looking over my shoulder, encouraging and offering the occasional English teacher's critique. A friend like Nancy comes along once in a lifetime. There's no real term-limit on a friendship like that. No matter what, we'll always be best friends.