Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

The Bonds We Forge

Posted: April 26, 2017 in Blog
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Ahem. Me-me-me-me-me. Ahem.
“People let me tell you ’bout my best friend…”
Yyyeaah, lemme tell you about my buddy Zach. He once ate an entire box of dry Cream of Wheat. I wouldn’t let him drink anything because I was afraid he’d blow up. During his awkward teenaged years, he got tangled in my feet on the stairs and knocked me down, breaking my tailbone. He thought it was great fun when we landed on the floor at the bottom of the steps in a heap and he jumped away and jumped back as if to say, “Hey, let’s do that again!” I had to sit on an orthopedic doughnut for about three months. (Ok, occasionally I did wear it on my head. There are photos. Don’t ask.) He once raided the luggage of a house guest and ate her Welbutrin. He slept for three days. I had to wake him up to take him out to pee. He once chased my pet rabbit around the basement in a circle, faster and faster, until the bunny went running up the ramp into his cage, and Zach followed, getting his head and shoulders stuffed through the door before coming to a screeching halt, nose to nose with said bunny and wedged so tightly that neither one of them could move. I was surprised Smudge didn’t have a heart attack.
 
This guy was smart like a box of rocks. Whenever I called the vet with his latest adventure, I had to wait for him to stop laughing before he could answer my question.
 
I thought I would lose my mind before he was two.
 
Then came the days following my brother’s death when I could barely get through a day without breaking down. Zach would climb up on the couch beside me and drape his giant orange head over mine and just breathe with me for hours and I listened to his heart beat until those days passed. Apparently dogs know how to hold space.
 
Good boy, Zacharoo. Good boy.
 
“People let me tell you ’bout my best friend…”
Zach was with me until two weeks shy of his 15th birthday, an impressive feat for a 100 lb Golden Retriever. On his last morning, we celebrated with Frosty Paws and a visit to his favorite fire hydrant and a nap on his blanket in the yard with the sun shining. When he took the shot, I held his head in my hands and breathed with him, wanting him to know I was right there, just as he had been for me. That was this morning, a warm April day in 2006.
 
Sometimes I think I can still hear his heartbeat.
Zach and me

I met one of my favorite people when she was just finishing up chemo for breast cancer. She was interested in volunteering at the agency where I work, and we met to talk about the jobs that volunteers were doing and the time commitment that might be involved.

I’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts. Some people throw light. It’s a warm, peaceful feeling to be in the presence of that light. My new friend Lorrie threw light like that. She led with it. I noticed it the first time we sat together over coffee, talking about LGBT kids. She was magnetic.

When she asked if it would make a difference to the kids that she came to a drop-in center wearing a headscarf, I told her I thought the kids would place more value on the fact that she was showing up to be supportive of them—they were not likely to judge the fact that she’d lost her hair to chemo. She took her scarf off then and the fact that she’d lost her hair dimmed when compared to the animation and luminosity in her eyes.

Lorrie decided she would sit through our volunteer training, a process that requires 24 hours over three Saturdays. It’s a big time demand. While I hope that folks who attend will learn something from the staff or the youth leaders or me, it was during that training that I learned that ANY statement coming from Lorrie starting with, “Oh, Nancy!” meant that filters were off and there was no predicting what I was about to hear.

On the third day of training, I’d left a basket of fidget toys out for the attendees to hand around. It was the usual training fidget toys—stress balls, Play Doh, stuffed bears, Nerf balls, etc. Lorrie set the tone for the next several years of our friendship at that moment.

“Oh Nancy!”

I looked up from a pile of handouts I was organizing on the front table, as a stress ball made its way down the line of new recruits and landed at Lorrie’s seat. She had the ball in one hand and the most incredible twinkle in her eyes that I’d ever seen.

“Nancy!” she repeated.  “This feels just like my new boobs will feel!” She immediately turned to the man next to her and extended the stress ball, laughing. “Here! Feel this!”

I was momentarily speechless, then washed over with a wave of her light and an irresistible urge to giggle. The man who sat next to her looked surprised (although by Day 3, it’s hard to say why either of us would have been) and declined, but he started to giggle too. Then the person on the other side of her started. Then the rest of the attendees joined in.

It occurred to me that we were laughing, however briefly, in the face of cancer.

Maybe chemo should come with capes, not headscarves. I learned a lot about life force and joy from a superhero who kicked cancer’s ass twice in the time that I knew her. During the third bout, when chemo stole her hair again, she shaved her head and sent me a selfie, commenting that she thought it appropriate to share, since this was where she was when I met her, too. Like that years ago night over coffee, it is not her uncovered head that stands out in the photo. It is her eyes—bright and mischievous and daring. She was laughing, irrepressible.  It is truly Lorrie, open, vulnerable, ready for a challenge, unbeatable. Of all of the photos I keep of my friends, it’s probably the most beautiful photo I have.

She brought incomparable gifts to my job and to my life. I wrote about the impact she had on our youth group members when we honored her at the agency gala a few years ago. Over coffee at Caribou, over pizza at Lou Malnati’s, during staff meetings and retreats, from hammering out details of a grant that funded her position through me pestering her for program reports and curriculum details, to developing our pilot program for first- and second-graders, to a serendipitous vacation when we both ended up in Paris, she was a creative force. She was one of my go-to people at first, someone whose input I trusted and whose expertise in her field gave her unique perspective on our new projects. In time, she was simply my friend, one of very few people who knew how writing Urban Tidepool had affected me and with what I was struggling, including processing my pending divorce and the fall out of the people I thought of as my friends.

Lorrie Paris

We lost Lorrie just a little over a year ago. Today is her birthday. It has been an odd year of our Youth Outlook team grieving, of kids and former kids grieving, of our book group grieving, of individuals noting softly in non-sequitur, “I miss Lorrie…”  while we engaged in the day to day activities of which she used to be a part. It has been a year of making space for the folks who needed to say, “I miss Lorrie…” and then coming home and crying alone in my garden or on a walk with one of the dogs because I miss Lorrie too.

The program she developed is going strong. The “talking ball” that she would take home from time to time to wash and return is still in the fidget basket. The stress ball that started years of laughter may still be in the bottom of that basket, too. In staff meetings and trainings, we still refer to “Lorrie nights”. I can’t walk into Lou Malnati’s or pick up coffee from Caribou without thinking about her. Maybe she actually kicked cancer’s ass a third time, because she’s certainly still with us, throwing light and prompting giggles with irreverent comments.

 

If you work in social services, you know how it goes—if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.  This happened. So I’m documenting it. I met a superhero who was having chemo. She was irreverent and sarcastic and funny as hell. And bald. She was my friend. She was my person. I watched her change people’s lives. Sometimes I got to help. Other times, I just bugged her for paperwork about it. She kicked cancer’s ass twice and left a legend. She really should have had a cape.

I will tell you clearly and not as a non-sequitur. I miss Lorrie.

Happy birthday, my friend.

poplet-custom-personalized-super-hero-cape-w-emblem-initial-01_0

Remnants of Shamings Past

Posted: October 27, 2013 in Blog
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I drove around the block three times, each time getting a little more nervous. I wasn’t nervous that I’d be late. I was nervous that I was there at all. “Out of my element” didn’t begin to describe it. Put me in front of a couple hundred people for a presentation. That was more comfortable. I found a parking place about a block from my destination and sat in the car for a few extra minutes, breathing deep and wrestling with an urge just to put the car back in drive and get out of there. Before it was too late.

Too late for what?

Before I embarrassed myself. Before I was visible.

I locked the car and walked the block back toward the storefront, now on speaking terms with the butterflies in my stomach. They had big feet, those butterflies.

Not too late to turn around and get back in the car!

But it was. I had reached the store and someone else was meeting me here. I couldn’t leave now. She was probably parking her own car somewhere nearby and would expect to see me when she arrived. I opened the door and stepped inside, ears burning, eyes roving, waiting for the initial blow. Not sure how it would fall. The first employee who approached me smiled and asked if I needed any help.

“Uuuuuhhhh…no, thanks, not yet. Waiting for someone else.”

A few moments later, a second employee approached. This was going to be it. This guy was going to be the one who asked why I was here. I braced for the laugh. What I got was a friendly smile and a nod, accompanied by, “Is there anything I can help you with?”

I repeated that I was just waiting for a friend…a friend who belonged here. I was the invader. Maybe if I put it out there right away, I would just be forgiven for the invasion in the tone of the old commercial, “Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids.” I pulled out my phone and texted her. I’m here. So far, so good. No one has asked yet why the fat boi is here.

I glanced around the store again, noting the thin, athletic people trying on their new running sneakers. A combination of culinary school and normal aging piled on top of my inherent lack of interest in most sports and I had never felt more out of place. What was I doing? I couldn’t pull this off!

Before I could decide to leave, the door opened and the friend I’d been waiting for—the one who loved running and belonged in this store–came in. I was instantly relieved to see M. and overwhelmed with that sense that I would be shortly be identified as a hopeless case.

(“You fat, stupid fuck!”)

And there it was, unbidden. And unforgettable. It cut to the core. I wanted to hide behind M. and I fought that off.

The young sales guy circled back around and smiled at me again. “Ready now? What can I help you with?”

When we got seated and he measured my feet, he asked what I was training for.

I was tempted to tell him, “For the roundest executive director in the world competition.”

M. offered, “She’s training for her first 5K.”

My head snapped around. “I am?”

She laughed. “You are.”

The sales guy grinned again. “You’re gonna love this.”

(“You dumb, useless fuck!”)

Really?

I sized him up again. He clearly was not making fun of me. There was no hint of judgment in his voice or his expression. On the contrary, he looked…what was that??? Enthusiasm?

(“You fat, stupid bitch!”)

I cringed and looked down at the new sneakers he had tied to my feet, getting up to walk around and test them out on his suggestion. When I paid for them, I made it a point to thank him for being so patient with me and told him I’d been a little nervous. I think he understood, even if he didn’t know why.

Those verbal attacks (and the physical assaults that accompanied them) are more than 30 years behind me. The source of them has been gone since 1997, dying, I was told, alone and probably terrified in puddle of his own blood.  And still those words touch my life, even today, in the oddest places and at the most unexpected times. Still, they interfere. I point out in Urban Tidepool in one dark scene where this same brother who did his level best to dismantle my sense of self turned his attention on our father that my athleticism was at best questionable. In my effort to help the father that day, I threw a small figurine at this brother—the first thing I could get my hand on. I was not the world’s most athletic child. I missed my target and then I grew up to be not the world’s most athletic adult.

My lack of athletic ability is less the issue here, though. I wasn’t nervous going into that running store because I’m not a jock. It took me a minute or so to place it, but I was nervous because, as I pointed out in an earlier post, sometimes the words take a long time to heal.

For many years, I knew those things that were said to me were right. I knew I was the fattest, dumbest, and probably the ugliest person on the planet. We believe what our families tell us, and when they tell it to us over and over again, over the course of years, those words etch themselves into our view our own bodies. It’s kind of the opposite of the Harry Potter effect. (“It lives in your very skin, Harry….Love.”) How many times can you call a little kid a fat, stupid fuck before he or she begins to believe that he or she really just is a fat, stupid fuck? And when it’s over, when those words are done or that person is gone, how long does it take to reverse that impression and rub away those etched words from our view in the mirror?

Apparently now, 30 years after the last beating, after the last humiliating verbal attack, those words can reappear in a heartbeat and I wait for total strangers to join in, all while I am attempting to do something good for myself by starting to exercise more. Because we believe what our families tell us. And words take a long time to heal.

Thank you, M. I couldn’t have—I wouldn’t have—done it without you.

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