Whenever an email comes across my laptop it is immediately placed into a wide variety of folders. Some get looked at right away and some will sit there until I get the urge to take a look. Yesterday I was doing half-day duty for work. Everyone agreeing that rest was more important than me talking the right people into doing something advantageous for my employer. When certain people’s email hits my computer, they get moved right to the front of the line. My parents, the ex used to get her stuff answered within a minute, a few friends who do their best to stay in touch even if only two or three times a year. At 10:43 yesterday an email hit my box that rocked me to the point I needed to call someone to talk about it.
A simple invitation to a retirement party. You’d think that given my work environment, someone would be leaving at least once a year. But in this case it was a very dear friend who after spending 20 years twisting the minds of young people with her mathematical skills was finishing her career. She’ll turn 45 during the week between Christmas and New Year’s! And it made my mind go straight for the “Is she okay” button.
I knew the answer to this. For the last several years she has been fighting her brains out with cancer. More specifically, she has been fighting brain cancer. And she has fought it with grace and humor that I wish I could muster at times. Jennifer also happens to be the first girl I ever had a crush on. She’s a little over a year older than me, two years ahead in school and treated me with such respect while we were growing up that her kindness still affects me today.
There I was a stupid 4th grade kid who the school didn’t know what to do with, so at times I spent my days with the 5th and 6th graders depending on the lesson plan. I also would get pulled out every Wednesday for “Gifted Classes” where a special teacher would walk me through subject matter a bit further along than most of my classmates. But when I was sitting across the aisle from Jennifer during music classes [odd thing to be advancing a kid in, but I came new to that school that year with knowledge from my previous school no one felt I needed to repeat!], she talked to me like I was any other person.
For years it was like that, until the day I graduated high school she always treated me as an equal. I feel in love with her and didn’t know that friendship would be meaningful 30 years later. That summer after Patre died and my parents sent me to Europe to get away from everyone, I run into her in of all places Innsbruck, Austria. I’m walking out of the hotel to get something at the store before heading off to stare at a ski jump and there she is getting off a tour bus. This wasn’t one of those slow motion, weird moments from the movies but I ran up to her, picked her up, and swung her around because I was so happy to she her. Right time, odd place?
I worry about her kids who are barely into their teenage years. A couple of boys who make her light up just saying their names. I’ve known her family for a very long time, her brother happens to be the same age as me and is also a good friend. Her father thinks I’m nuts, but he still remembers the kid who would jump on the bumper of the car to shake the baby because I thought it was funny to hear her giggle. A very strong family that has a long path ahead of them while they figure out how to handle things moving forward.
There are very few people who I get this emotional about. She is one of those people who I can honestly say I would trade what time I have to give her more time. An irrational set of thoughts? It’s not that I’m diminishing my value, but acknowledging that she has a few more people who could benefit from her being around.
From the moment I finished reading the email I knew that this would be today’s topic. It gripped my mind and heart, pulled at that fragile balance between things being okay and the depression knowing it was going to win that round. I never thought of her in a romantic way, but I always hoped that the next time I saw her that same overwhelming urge to run up and hug her took over. That pure joy of seeing someone who had that kind of impact on you, the flood of memories where I can’t recall a single negative; I hope everyone has a person in their life that brings them that kind of joy.
You better believe I’m going to do everything I can to be at that party. If I have to drug an IV behind me, well that’s what is going to happen. I want to be able to sit there with her family, friends, coworkers and tell them that story about Austria [although her brother and husband both know it already!] No matter what her future brings, in my mind she will always be that same girl getting off the bus.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “From the Top.”