Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

Mary S.

I started thinking about my friend, Mary S., yester-eve. I’d just gotten off the telephone with my brother, lamenting the fact that my youngest suffers agoraphobia and has cut most of her family off. She’s told us, in no uncertain terms, that interacting brings on “too much stress” and she needs to stay away for an indefinite time, perhaps forever. She’s told her siblings who were not raised with her, her cousins, and what few friends she still has that I know as well.

This is juxtaposed against the last time I saw her, shortly after her first, “please don’t contact me” plea: we had a good visit. She hugged me tight and whispered into my ear, “I love you, Mom.” It’s a treasure I hold to my heart knowing she may never overcome what she is dealing with.

Mary never did.

I first met Mary, or was even aware of her existence, when I was seventeen and a Senior in high school. She lived two blocks away, in a low brick house surrounded with a wrought iron fence (I could be making the fence up). Mary’s husband had committed suicide in the basement of that house. Mary was home when he did it. She never left the house afterward.

Well, not until they carried her out.

Mary was in her mid-sixties, older than my parents. Her husband, I suppose, had been a friend of my dad’s. Dad knew everyone, and even his enemies respected him. Maybe it was through the Lions’ Club or the Elks, but Dad kept in touch with Mary in the ensuing time after her husband’s suicide. They had no immediate family, but a niece in her twenties lived with Mary.

I need to stop here. I can’t write about Mary S. without hearing her whisper in my ears, “Oh, screw that!” Mary loved Neil Diamond. Mary swore like a sailor. Mary told things like they were, even if they weren’t like that. She was one sassy old lady.

Mary’s niece had to go on a trip and Mary needed someone to stay with her. See, Mary not only could not leave her house, but she could not be alone in that old house. It was a conundrum that could only be Mary S.

And, in a way only my father could, he volunteered me to stay with this strange agoraphobic old woman who I didn’t even know existed. There I was, standing on her doorstep, nervously waiting to introduce myself.

We watched old movies. She cranked up Neil Diamond until I thought my eardrums would never recover and the police would soon be knocking on the doors. We laughed. We danced to Cracklin’ Rosie, Sweet Caroline, Cherry Cherry, and Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. We were free spirits inside a house with a history, a ghost of a husband who decided he couldn’t take life anymore so he turned a revolver on himself.

Mary S. hated guns. She hated being outside. She was terrified of being alone -in that house – but she would not leave that house. She knew she was mentally ill, but she couldn’t – wouldn’t – seek help.

I spent two weeks living with her. We had a crazy blast. We wrote long letters to each other when I went away to college, letters that gradually dwindled to nothing.

Then she was gone, an old woman who died afraid of her shadow, but still rocking to Neil Diamond. Forty-five years later, I miss Mary S. Forty-five years later, I miss my own daughter. Forty-five years later, I cannot find the words. At 17, she was my first elderly friend. She was fierce.

And she would roll her eyes at me, slap my wrists and say, “Don’t tell people about me. Turn up Neil Diamond. I want to hear Song Sung Blue one more time. LOUD.”


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I have a confession: calling people is not my strong suit. I know, that really knocked you over. I have an aversion to the telephone. I do not know when it happened, it sort of sneaked in there.

When my mother was alive, I could yak on the phone for an hour about everything and anything. But I also knew my mom’s “ring” (and this was in the days before cell phones – it was a “knowing” thing). I just knew when it was mom on the other end of the line.

When I was a teenager, I spent hours on the phone with my best friend. She lived 5 hours away. Somewhere in growing up, we lost that. We post notes on Facebook.

This year, my New Year’s Resolution was to be a Better Friend. I don’t really know what that means, but since I am the friend who forgets to call, forgets birthdays, forgets to return calls… I figured it meant remembering to call, remembering to send cards, and returning (AUGH!!) phone calls.

I’m still not so good at it. But – if you are my friend and reading this – I really do love you and care and I really would call if I didn’t have this aversion to the telephone.

I think it has cooties.

We moved the office out to the far end of Portland. I really could not see any good in the situation. I can rack up the “negatives” pretty quickly, starting with the longer commute. But if you are here, you most likely have read my previous posts about the angst of moving. I will not revisit them.

I try to have a glass-half-full view of life. It isn’t always easy. How was I going to make this move into something positive?

Well, I have several friends I have reconnected with on FaceBook who live in that part of Portland. I haven’t seen these friends in real life for… well, a really long time. It occurred to me that I could go with my resolution and I could reach out to these friends and maybe we could actually get together once. They live closer to my workplace and it would be an easy thing to sneak in a lunch or a dinner…

So I posted about it on FaceBook, naming the names of the four friends I know who live in that area. One didn’t respond, but it’s possible she’s simply not on FB that often. Three did. And those three wanted to get together. So we set a date that at least three of us could make. And that date was tonight.

We met at a Subway over at Peterkort Towne Square. Of the four of us who agreed to meet, only three could make it.

Helen and I figured it has been 21 years since we last saw each other. 21 years!! Closer to 15 for Sue & I, but we couldn’t remember a year. Neither Sue nor Helen knew each other, although they may have brushed shoulders at some point in time. We know a lot of people in common because we all attended the same church at some point in time.

It was wonderful. Sue and Helen hit it off. I got to hear about their lives, their children and grandchildren, and the changes that have taken place (nearly all positive) over the years. We didn’t talk about any of the negative (although there is plenty of that, but why focus on it?).

We hung out for an hour and a half. I saw them both off before I went back into Subway to use the restroom. I still had a half-hour drive home. When I came back out, they were still on the sidewalk, laughing and talking. How wonderful is that?

We decided we need to do this every month. We need to try to get some other old friends to come and visit, too.

Maybe the move happened so I would keep my resolution and try to be a better friend. Maybe it happened just so I would get to re-know these wonderful women who were friends of mine in the past. Maybe the world is just full of reconnecting pathways.

Remember this: you are here for a purpose. The people you meet and befriend are there for a reason. You touch their lives for a reason. And you never know when you will be able to revisit those connections.

In retrospect, this has been a week of lessons on encounters. From Leslie from St. Louis to getting together with old friends, I am reminded that we touch other lives and influence people. And other people touch our lives.

If you read my last post, you know how a chance encounter with a door-to-door saleswoman touched me. Tonight, reconnecting with old friends touched me.

Thank you, Helen, for being so transparent and sweet. I don’t believe you have changed that much in 21 years, except to grow stronger. I don’t think you know how strong you are. You are a heroine.

Thank you, Sue, for being so cheerful. You were always cheerful. It was wonderful to see that the challenges and trials of life have not diminished that light. You still put God first and you still put a smile on your face. You are an inspiration.

I love you ladies. I hope we can really make this a once-a-month date. (And you’ll be helping me keep my resolution… Oh, selfish, selfish me! No, seriously – that’s a resolution that enriches my life because I have to reach out and do something outside of myself. I am so glad we got together!) I have a long way to go to be a Better Friend, but I think I see some helping hands to give me aid on the path.

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