Friday, July 3, 2009

Flukes & Blooms

She was outside, looking at the flowers. “I don’t think I mentioned this earlier, but one of my hobbies is taking photos of flowers,” she said, contemplating the few blooms left in my yard. “Let me get my camera.”

“Knock yourself out,” I replied, wondering why anyone would bother. I had not planted much this year, cutting back on nearly everything since losing my job. But if she wanted to take pictures….

It had been a difficult year. And it had all been entirely undeserved. Just when I thought I was done with the bitterness, it would all come rushing back. The last thing on my mind was flowers.

She aimed her lens at a rose. I hadn’t seen her in nearly twenty years, since college in New York. So much had changed, yet we seemed the same. We could still party like old times, as long as we were home by eleven, wore comfortable shoes, and took a couple of aspirin and an antacid. And since we couldn’t see our crows’ feet without our reading glasses, essentially we were the same. Close enough, I reasoned.

I fiddled with the television remote. My laptop was on the coffee table, next to a magazine I was reading. That was me, doing a dozen things at once, packing everything I could into a moment. I was busy with graduate school, an arduous job search, and being the stereotypical valiant, strong, single mother of two boys. I’d have a chip on my shoulder, too, if I had any room for one.

She steadied herself near the azaleas, quiet and still, taking photo after photo. Eventually even the dog got bored with her endeavor and walked away.

Suddenly the sound of a song from Mary Poppins filled the air. I was pretty sure it was coming from outside my head. This day was getting progressively stranger.

“That’s my cell phone,” she remarked. “I set the alarm on it to remind me to take my medicine. "'Spoonful of Sugar’ – get it?”

“An alarm for meds?” I laughed. “Are we that old?” I still didn’t write grocery lists, insisting on carrying the list around in my head. I’d forgotten many things that way, but so what? It was the principle of the thing. I’ll get old when I’m good and ready.

Anger keeps me young, I thought. These days were bittersweet, my fury harsh but healthy. Time may not be on our side, but I wasn’t about to check into the geriatric ward, either.

“Strange looking pills,” I remarked as she pulled them from her purse.

“They’re for my liver,” she took a drink of water. “Actually, it’s not MY liver. I’m just borrowing it.” One corner of her mouth curled upward.

Every few hours, Anne took anti-rejection medication to keep her body from attacking her donated organ. Eight years earlier, she had been diagnosed with a rare liver disorder, one so rare that her doctor missed it completely. Somehow, though, she knew something was wrong. But she didn’t know exactly what.

“It was a fluke, really,” she said. “What are the chances of meeting a liver specialist at a party? And he was cute!”

She had a slew of flukes in her life. After her liver transplant, she came down with thyroid cancer, discovered by chance during a checkup by a doctor touching the base of her throat. “I told him he was examining the wrong end of me,” she giggled. She could giggle at the damndest things.

One day she felt dizzy. With her track record, her doctor sent her in for an MRI. “It’s no bigger than your fingernail, and it hasn’t grown at all, so that’s a good sign. After all, size is everything!” That was Anne – ever hopeful, giggling and fluky. Even a weenie brain tumor was something to joke about. I envied her attitude, but certainly not her situation.

She’d be leaving soon. I was just fine alone. It was great to have her here, share old times, but I was comfortable on my own. I didn’t need anybody.

With a hug, she was off. I grabbed a beer from the fridge.

Later that day, an email popped up from her, taking forever and a day to load, especially to an impatient, moody grump like me. Sheesh, I huffed, I have things to do.

It was filled with her flower photos- still, clear, and beautiful. She had taken a few blooms and made them glow, made them perfect, made them timeless. Just a few raggedy flowers….

Damn, I thought. She had gotten past the anger, past the pity. She was on the other side, capturing giggles and picking flowers, making an incredible, everlasting bouquet while I grumbled and whined. That, too, wasn’t fair.

I wanted to be able to do that. Here I was trying to cram all sorts of events into my life so it would count for something, as she blithely took one moment at a time, polished it until it shined, and shared it with everyone. She made it look easy. Compared to many things in her life, I guess it was.

Quietly she was able to stop the world from turning, keep it still for a moment, insisting that it take the time to look at a single, lowly daisy. Even more extraordinary, the world would do it.

“Wow,” I wrote back. “These are incredible.” Lame, I know, but for once I was beyond words.

“Annie,” she replied, knowing what I was thinking. “We don’t know what tomorrow will be. Some of us don’t know if we’ll even have a tomorrow. So I choose to focus on today. That’s why I take pictures. That’s why I came to visit you. That’s why I’m here.”

I shifted my gaze to outside. I got it now. I was stubborn and thick-headed, but finally I got it. And I thought I was strong.

She’ll be back to visit again, I’m sure of it. Until then I have her flowers. Actually, I reasoned, I had them forever, which is longer than I’ll ever need.

5 comments:

Diane said...

Ahh, Annie, as usual, you distill life to it's bare bones- what a lovely essay in tribute to your friend !
Been missing you, girl !

DeskDiva said...

Annie, that is a powerful story, and I'm very glad I read it. Thanks for sharing your voice and hers. Her courage is amazing - and so is yours.

PoorRichRichard said...

Wow! This really kicks ass! My day just got better for readin' it. I go on Dave Barry's blog site every day, and I've seen your name in the comments sections which promted me to check out this blog. You're a good writer. Thanx for sharin'

Annie said...

Thank you for your kind words! FYI - this story was just accepted into "Think Positive," a new "Chicken Soup for the Soul" compilation to be published November, 2010. And thanks to everyone who bought "All in the Family," last year's Christmastime "Chicken Soup" book, which outsold all previous CS books. ("Nana, the Passive Aggressive Baker" was my story in that one.)
4 Chicken Soups so far. And yes, I've been working on my mental yoga so I can pat myself on the back. ;p

Ken said...

Sounds like a keeper friend. Good points.
Old fat guy