For the first time in my writing career, I do not know how to begin this.
I’ve known her for about twenty years. We worked on a community project together when my children were in elementary school. She always impressed me with her sensible nature and keen intellect. She gave me a kitten she’d found. I had that cat for fourteen years, before she died.
I stopped for gas this morning and went inside to pay the attendant. When I opened the door, she stood there in line with her husband. She was thin and completely bald.
I dropped my eyes and got in line behind them.
My internal dialogue ran rampant.
What if I just stand here quietly, she won’t see me.
What if she turns around and sees me. How embarrassing.
What do I say to her?
What if she’s dying?
I am not ready to hear this.
Summoning all of my bravery, I put my hand gently on her back and said, “Hello, stranger.”
She turned to me and smiled a glorious smile. “Hey! I haven’t seen you for years!”
Bracing myself I asked the pointed question, “How are you?” It was not the flip - off the shoulder- I don’t really care because it’s just something you say when you greet someone- kind of ‘how are you’ and her eyes told me she knew I wanted to really, really know.
“I’m BALD!” she said laughing and rubbing the top of her fuzzy head.
“It very Sinaed O’Conner.” I replied.
“I was supposed to meet with my Oncologist today but he was forty-five minutes late. I don’t have time for that foolishness.”
“How are your girls?” I replied. The word Oncologist terrifies me. I really didn’t mean to gloss over it. I just had to work up the courage to approach it.
“They are now eleven and sixteen. My pride and joys! How are your boys?” she replied.
“Twenty-five and twenty-two. Can you believe it? Where did the time go.”
We chatted a bit about our homes. They’d bought an old school house and have spent the last five years renovating it. Apparently not an easy task.
“Then I got this in the middle of all of that. I lost both breasts.”
“I am so sorry. But I am so happy to see you!”
I walked them to their car as we continued talking about renovations and children. Her step was lively as she joked about having a five o’clock shadow on her head in about two weeks.
“I feel like a whimp,” she continued. “I talked to a woman yesterday that renovated her own house and did without a kitchen and laundry for one year. She has four teenagers!”
We said our goodbyes. I finally started breathing again two miles into my journey home.
My dear lady, you are not nor will you ever be a whimp in my eyes.