Monday, September 18, 2006


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.


Minx said...

And neither are you Roberta. Many people take the easy road, walking away, turning their back in case they put their foot in it and say the wrong thing.
This is a wrong assumption, whatever you say is never wrong as long as you say something!
I hope this lady's strength brings her through.

Roberta said...

Ditto, dear Minx. Ditto.

anna said...

What a wake up call! Minx is right
so many people would turn away. This lady sounds like she is very brave - in the daytime anyway. I wish I was there to give
you a hug. her too

Roberta said...

-I wish I was there to give
you a hug. her too-

Ahh, my Anna, I think you just did.

Thank you.

Shadowrite said...

Roberta, this was humbling to read. Makes me realize just how much we gloss over in our lives because we just don't want to face the music. I'm glad you had the courage and the sensitivity to be there for her, even if it was only for a few minutes. I'm sure, to her, they were precious.

Roberta said...

We hope. We hope, Jas.

Amin said...

Roberta, if I may comment on just the writing rather than the situation, not only did you know how to begin, but you knew how to sustain and finish too.

That piece did your friend - and you - a world of credit. It was beautifully written and you're clearly very talented at expressing emotion. A very touching piece and life-affirming. One of those moments that helps to throw into perspective how good we've got it really.

Sam said...

I applaud you courage, grace, and loyalty to your friend.