She was a Nor-easterener who arrived down South via her husbands job transfer. I know for certain that she was not ready for the mentality of the southern kind. She was perhaps the most elegant and socially poised lady I have ever known. Upon arrival for her hair appointment I was greeted with the savoir-faire that only a few possess and very few carry off. All the makings of a debutante and all the class of a true blue blood. Her style and grace drew me to her the moment I shook her hand, and the honest friendship we shared sailed our boat for many years. I was never surprised when cocktails were poured as her extremely keen sense of honesty would prevail. For those who happened to be in our presence when that occurred, would walk away dumbfounded and took a look at what may have been brought to their attention if it was noticed by the lady "EVE". It was always amusing when innocent people got what I would call a "review". You had no choice but to take a look at yourself and analyze what would be a profound observation that she so uncannily perceived.
She was tall and statuesque, with the very finest blond hair and a smooth complexion that was a creamy ivory color. The fairest skin tone made her extremely sensitive to any light intensity and the sun was not her friend. Sunlight was a bitter enemy and the southern exposure only made it worse for her to live in. She was a night girl and the night life was what she preferred. Her husband was a chronic worker and she was a chronic socialite and loved the theatre, the arts and any and all parties. I became the token arm date and we traveled the many roads to any event that needed our presence. It was not unusual to see the sun come up when we would be together. Her husband hardly noticed her absence and never questioned her activities. He knew me to be his replacement and that placed him in a thankful category to not be the one dragged to all the "events" on her social calendar. We mingled with the elite and became regulars at the opera, ballet and any entertainment venue that she was interested in. She drew people to her and conversations would never end as she always had something to talk about.
Her loud voracious laughter could ignite a room and everyone in it would soon catch the infectious laughing bug and you could observe a rare and beautiful thing when you see that a crowd is all smiles. I was in awe of her and silently drew an immense amount of enlightenment from her, and yet she never knew that to be the case.
Well ....not until later...
She was always at the top of my invite list and many other's lists. She would always arrive late and be the last to leave any party. The social engagements that I and my singing partner would entertain at, she was always there cheering us on and creating an energy that made our performances even more electric. At times we could hardly stop the laughter that burst out of us when performing as her laugh would take us away and leave us lost and scrambling to get back on track. She was a mentor and showed me insights into life that I still use to this day.
Her family accepted me as if I was born into their family. Her "Kentucky Derby" parties would be on a par of a Hollywood Social Gathering. The champagne and cocktails flowed all day long at that event, but when it came time for the race, all bets were on and boy did the money flow from all those wealthy people. She was a mean gamester and cast a heavy monetary shadow when the horses began to run. Since betting was illegal in our Georgia town, it was not a problem in the private residence, at a private gathering. The elite crowd became agitated when the race took off and all their sculptured vocabulary became a unique blend of four letter word sentences. All the polished demeanor's were lost for the time until a winner was announced. The winners popped champagne bottles left and right, and conversations returned to a normal eloquence. The amount of money bet on split among the winners and the losers money was given to her charities. A good time would be had by all and the talk for many a day thereafter. I would leave the party realizing that I had witnessed an amazing event that was incredibly carried out and knew that was pure enjoyment for all who attended.
Not long after one of the Derby parties, she came in for her usual weekly hair appointment. I noticed something on her scalp and at first I thought it was an average scalp abrasion yet over the next couple of weeks the small abrasion changed to three different colors and I became alarmed. I made a three attempts to suggest strongly that she have a doctors visit, all which she dismissed for a month and then finally I put my foot down and told her that I would not continue her appointments if she did not get the area checked. She relented and went in to see the doctor.
The results were not of a positive result. It was diagnosed as malignant melanoma, a diagnosis that no one wants to hear. It was not a surprise to see how she handled that information, for it concluded with a scotch and water and an assignment for me to procure a very nice wig for her to wear during the chemotherapy period. Once again I was in true amazement as her outlook and demeanor were totally carried out with finesse. It was harder for me to understand how I was chosen to make that observation and totally be responsible for awareness that was brought on by that small scalp intrusion. It changed all of us who were involved in her physical transition. We grew to understand just how quickly life can change and how aware you must be at all times to appreciate the health and happiness that are ever present and go unnoticed or appreciated.
She turned the corner with a remission report that unequaled most with her type of melanoma. So she celebrated life as it was once was before the cancer and returned to her social life as if it had never ended. I became overtly paranoid that something might happen again and after a couple of years my uncertainties faded and I rode the tide of health with her and took in her aura of positivity. There were many more social engagements and more Derby parties and life moved forward for quite a while.
It was never mentioned to me until later that she made it her least favorite thing to do which was reoccurring doctors appointments for checkups on her blood levels. She hated them and simply allowed appointments to be missed and pushed them out of her mind so they would not interfere with her calendar. The physical changes that occurred in one week were monumental. As I wet her head to do the weekly shampoo I felt many soft like mounds that almost covered her entire head. I was not sure if it was water spray or not but I realized that my eyes had filled with tears and my face was wet from the tears that brimmed like a flood gate had opened. It was lucky that she did not see that play out as it would have been a dead giveaway that something was wrong, and I knew once again that I had to break the news that something was awry.
I waited till we were almost finished with her appointment when I told her what I had found during that shampooing. She told me that she had not been getting her checkups and that this could possibly have been avoided if she had followed up but she just did not want to miss a single moment of life and that was just too much for her to do and sitting in a doctor's office was not on her list of social engagements. We called for an appointment immediately after our talk and she told me she would let me know what was found after her test results. We agreed to meet up at our favorite restaurant when she found out before the rest of the family would know. She drew me close to her heart by allowing me to share such an event that would be ever so life changing for her and myself.
Three days later I sat anxiety ridden for her to appear at our favorite restaurant, and when she appeared I scanned her face for tell tale signs of sadness yet I could not find any. She sat down and quickly tossed back a few sips of her cocktail and then she began to talk and I felt like I had left my body and felt ethereally high above looking down and watched her world come crumbling down. She could barely make the words audible through the waterworks streaming down her face, but her diagnosis came with a timeline that would play out within forty five days. In that spilt second of verbal acknowledgement I was frozen with fear that my friend would not be with me for much longer and literally could not comprehend that she had an exact amount of time with which to live before her body would let her down.
There is no way to explain how much love, hate, anger, fear and awareness that spilled out that evening. We could hardly stop the flow of water that seeped from our eyes. We bonded once more in an entirely different way. Suddenly she stood up and needed to use the bathroom facilities and I was too caught up in the moment and the huge amounts of thoughts that pummeled my brain to realize that many minutes ticked by. When she returned, she was laughing hysterically. I feared she had lost control when she began to tell me a story that I still share with people when they are confronted with a health scare.
I finally came to realize that she was in a good frame of mind and she relayed her story exactly as it happened. It seems that she had been preparing her toilet seat to sit down when she was peeling off the toilet paper to cover the seat as she had done time after time throughout her life as been instructed by her Mother, to prevent any germ contamination, when she stopped midway and spoke to herself out loud. With her panties down around her ankles and just about ready to sit, she stopped midway and pushed the toilet paper into the water and defiantly said "to hell with it. What have I got to lose I always wanted to experience a public toilet seat" At that moment she had freed herself from self pity and focused on what she wanted for get done before the time line ran out.
The next afternoon she explained the situation to her family and they embraced it as well as they could. She informed them that she was in control of her feelings and had alternative plans for her exit from this world and that they all needed to be on board and accepting of her final choices. I reacted curiously and did not make a connection until after the family meeting when we went out for lunch and she handed me a plain brown mailing envelope that held a book within.
She informed me that she ordered it from England years before when she was ill the first time, but had kept it hidden and out of sight, but now it needed to be read.
Within it's content held a bevy of recipes to end one's life quickly and easily without any chance of a slip up. It held amazing ways with which to end the suffering of a loved one or yourself. It was a book that held many secrets that would help many spare their last moments of life before the pain would take over. While the judgement of this choice was not mine to make I upheld her conviction to do it her way as she had done her whole adult life. All involved were on the same path and agreed that she would take the lead and we would follow suit as spelled out in that "book".
The last few weeks of her life were spent with all of us sharing and embracing the reality of what we would be facing very soon. I have never laughed so much and cried for selfish reasons that pertained to my fear of the loss that could never be filled again. I watched in amazement as she walked those last weeks as if nothing was wrong and always kept her positive sense of humor. Cocktails at six was always the start of the evening's festivities that we shared together in those last days.
It came as described by the doctor, that numb feeling that would end up paralyzing the right side of her face. When that recognition occurred it would be her decision to not allow it to go any further. It was a decision that we all accepted and kept silent about. At this crossroad came the final path she would choose to walk down.
Our instructions were simple: We were to go out to dinner and then she strongly suggested that a movie afterwards would be a nice ending to the evening. Dinner was unusually converse with not a mention of her sagging face and when it was finished she wanted to beg off and go home but insisted that we drop her off and leave her alone to rest a while. The decision to take her back was unanimous and we dropped her off and we went to the cinema. While nary a word or thought came out in sentence form we were all suspicious that her bedtime cocktail would make her rest comfortably for a very long time.
Upon arrival back home after the movie, we walked in to find her beautifully attired and poised elegantly on top of the bed. An empty cocktail glass sat on the night stand and her aura permeated the room as she had made her exit from life gracefully.
There were no tears just all of us smiling and realizing what courage it took to free herself and how divine she looked laying on the bed. A kiss goodbye was given by all in that room that evening.
We followed her instructions and we laid her to rest as she had chosen. I walked away on that final day split between happiness and sadness and felt angry that she had to be taken from her physical body. I had to realize that the amount of gift that she left me with would be with me the rest of my physical cognitive days. Not a day goes by that I don't think of her and the inspiration that she left with me. She stared death in the face and came out a winner to all she touched with her grace. If she were here she would chastise me for even taking the time to tell her story for all to read. She definitely would not want me to lose the time involved in the writing as it might make me late catching the next flight out to my next life destination.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
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