Tuesday, October 15, 2013

People let me tell you about my best friend...

Gary picked at the line down his pant leg. He wasn't sure why he had let the salesman at Men’s Wearhouse talk him in to the permanent crease. He didn't even like a crease normally. But he had heard the magic words, “It will make you look taller” and he had fallen for it. Which is ridiculous, how could a crease in his pants make him look taller when he would be sitting down most of the time while wearing them? Oh well, now he was stuck with the crease. First world problems right? Or as his friend Anne would tell him, “Take a spoonful of cement and harden the fuck up, princess.”

Gary closed his eyes for a minute. Deep breath. He could and would make it through today. He hated speaking in public. Hated it. Hated dressing up. Nothing good had ever followed when his mother told him to wear dress shoes. He still believed that to be true. Dress shoes meant endless church services, funerals, weddings, diners at fancy restaurants. All things his 12 year old self rebelled against. And as an adult you could add job interviews, meeting the parents and public speaking to the list. Nothing good ever followed putting on dress shoes, except maybe the time you could take them off again.

Driving across town Anne filled his thoughts again, which often happened when he needed to do something difficult. What would Anne do? They had met when they were 6. She had been in Mrs. Carter’s class and he was with Miss Angel but they were put together in the same reading group. They were Gold Star readers. He had been really proud of this; until Anne pointed out that he was a good reader because he had no friends to play with while she was a good reader because she was smart. Anne wasn't trying to be mean; she was just stating a fact. He hadn't had any friends and so spent all of his time reading and she was very smart. He liked that she told it like it was, not only to him, but to everyone, teachers included. From that day on they were best friends. And because of Anne he ended up with a lot of other friends. She drew people to her like moths to a flame.

It was hard to explain why exactly. She wasn't who you would picture when you thought of popular girls. Gary’s mother had said that she was the most sober-sided child she had ever met. And it’s true. She wasn't bubbly, or perky, or overly friendly. She didn't have any sort of sense of whimsy about her; clouds never looked like anything but clouds to her. But still, there was just something. She always had an idea of where to go, what to do. She had a strong sense of not only who she was but who you were as well. You couldn't hide from Anne. She would tell you exactly who you were if you tried. And Gary had relied on that strength for as long as he could remember.

When they were 8 they had decided that it would be a good idea to catch tadpoles for a “science experiment.” Basically the experiment was could they catch tadpoles but they still treated it very seriously. They spent a week gathering their equipment, scouting the perfect pond location, getting a crew of adventurers together and giving everyone their assigned parts. Of course it all fell apart once they got to the pond and the excitement of scooping up the swimmers in jars took over. Ten 8 year olds wading through the muck and mud with pant legs rolled up not quite far enough, gloves abandoned in the grass because wet gloves couldn't grip the slick mason jars. It was probably the best morning of his life so far. The plan was for each of them to have a jar of tadpoles and then watch them for a week and then release the frogs back out in to the pond. That was the plan anyway.

An hour later standing in Anne’s living room, dirty feet on a white rug, explaining to her mother that she was going to keep a jar of tadpoles, well two jars because Gary had a cat and they knew Sebastian would never leave the swimmers alone, two jars of tadpoles in her room for a week then they learned the one part of the plan they didn't have worked out. Parents. Calls were made and they all ended up back at the pond releasing their hard fought catches a little earlier than planned. And then Anne and Gary spent another hour cleaning up the footprints they had left on the carpet. But it had still been a great day.

And Anne learned from that mistake and from there on out plans were worked through with parents in mind.  Sometimes that meant swearing everyone to secrecy so they wouldn't find out, but parent’s likely reactions were always taken in to account.

Always a plan. And always the next plan percolating. When they were 24 they ran a marathon. It took a year of training for Gary to go from occasional runner (late for a train, maybe a game of touch football in the park) to marathon ready. Running in the heat, running in the rain, running when he wanted to do anything else but run. But he did it. They did it. Crossed the finish line with decent times and then she looked at him from the corner of her eye and said, “You know a 50K is only 5 miles longer.” He threw a glass of water at her.

Gary pulled in to the parking lot and took another deep breath. Showtime.

Standing in front of the group he smiled and then started his speech.

“I got two cards in the mail this morning.You know the type? The ones you buy because you have to? The off the rack type, where you go to the section you need and pull the card out, then you put a little personal note inside to make sure the person you are sending it to understands that you were really thinking of them. I’ll spare you the premade note and just share the personal touches. The first one said, ‘When you see a rainbow, think of Anne’ and the second one said ‘Cry me a fucking river, asshole.’ 

The second one was mailed two weeks ago and somehow took its sweet time getting to me. See, I had a cold and had been whining about it to my best friend. Because that’s what we do when we are sick and not feeling well, we whine to our friends. Of course when your best friend is dying from cancer you can see how she might respond to your complaints of a stuffy nose.

I thought at first that the second card must have gotten lost in the mail, but then I realized that more likely it was Anne’s plan that I would get it today. Her way of making sure I made it through this speech. Made it through this day. Just a little reminder that now it’s up to me to be the strong one. To be the one to tell people who point out rainbows,‘You know calling them rainbows is sort of dumb.They should be called refraction circles.’ I can hear from the laughter that some of you had that conversation with Anne. She was one of a kind.

Thank you all for coming today. Thank you for being here for each other as we try to figure out the what nexts without her.

As we remember her, as we mourn her, as we move on without her in our daily lives I want to leave you with another Anne story.

When we were in high school she and our 10th grade English teacher got off to a rocky start. You all know how Anne could be, she was smart, she knew it and you should know it as well. She was also easily bored. One day early in the semester Mrs. Gilbert tried to trip her up. ‘Anne, what are your two favorite words?’ Anne instantly came back with, ‘Priapism and defenestration.’  You could see the glee in Mrs. Gilbert’s eyes. ‘Use them in a sentence.’ See, she just knew that her smart aleck student was just tossing out words that she didn't know to look cool. She didn't know Anne. ‘He had always thought defenestration would be the worst thing that could happen to him, then he discovered priapism.’ Of course by this time we were all madly looking up both of those words. Anne won.

Anne almost always won. 

Almost always.“

Gary took another deep breath and walked back to his seat.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice work, pulling this all together like you did. Personally, I'd still be searching for an opening line. =]