Monday, August 14, 2006

Life keeps happening.

When I was ten years old, a little girl named "Allie" moved in to a new house her family built two doors over from my house. Her family, originally from our tiny town, had been living in Ontario for some time, and her parents had just moved, with her and her siblings, back to the province they pined for.

She was eleven, but because I'd skipped a grade we were in the same class, and we quickly became fast friends. We went through Junior High together, and then High School; got our drivers' licenses together; went, together, best buds, through boyfriends and exams and parties and drama and angst. We went to University together at MUN (Memorial University of Newfoundland), and for our last two years shared an apartment off-campus.

We got our first jobs around the same time and then got our own bachelorette pads, still in St. John's, still fast friends and enjoying the incredible heady excitement of being young and cute and single, with cars and money in our pockets, having lunch together during the week, clubbing on Saturday nights and spending Sundays hiking or driving in the South Side hills, cross-country skiing in the winter and horseback riding in the summer.

Eventually she moved to Ontario and got a job teaching high school, started a career; met a nice man there who had two kids from a previous marriage, married him, bought a house. And I met a nice man from New Brunswick and moved here, and got a job and started a career and got married and bought a house. She was my Maid of Honour; I was her Matron. Our husbands became friends through a shared interest in aviation and model-building and boats and other things. (But really - what choice did they have?)

And no matter how long it was between visits, when we got together the years and the distance were completely irrelevant and it was as if we were simply resuming that same, long conversation that we'd started when we were ten and eleven years old catching frogs in the stream by the side of the road. She is not a friend; she is family, and now her husband and her stepchildren are too. I have learned, as I got older, how very rare that kind of deep and long-lasting friendship is.

Maybe that's partly why I took it so very hard when her father died a couple of weeks ago. It was a stunner, really - he'd successfully come through surgery to remove a cancerous tumor, and the news was fantastic, they got all the cancer, the family's mood was celebratory. He was moved from Intensive Care onto a ward; Allie's younger sister went back to Ontario, her brother returned to his job in a town four hours away from the hospital.

Then all of a sudden, their father was having trouble breathing; all of a sudden, he was back to the ICU, then back into surgery - a blood clot in his lung. Bang, just like that - nothing to be done.

It all happened too quickly for me to get back for the funeral, even if traveling to Newfoundland wasn't prohibitively expensive and difficult at the best of times (in summer it's not unusual for ferry passage to be booked solid months in advance); but yesterday, Allie and her husband stopped overnight with us on their drive back to Ontario.

Her father's death hit me disproportionately hard - it wasn't that I was close to the man himself, but that I see him as so much a contemporary of my own father. They're around the same age, lived two doors apart, both deeply committed Lions, active in their respective churches; traveled in the same social circles, played darts in the same league, camped in the same campgrounds and drank at the same kitchen parties. Allies' father's illness and sudden death has brought some home truths right to my doorstep, and I'm not liking them very much.

While I wasn't able to get there for the funeral, I was, thanks to my Dad and Sis, able to email a note to Allie while she was still in Newfoundland, which they printed and gave her. "If there is anything we can do," I wrote, "anything, please don't hesitate to ask."

And she asked, or, rather, she didn't ask, she left a message on my cellphone saying that she and her husband would be crossing on the ferry between Port aux Basques and Sydney on Saturday night and "if we were going to be home" (the good friends' 'out' in case of emergency) they'd stay with us Sunday night. Because they're not guests, they're family.

"If there's anything we can do," we write and say. And sometimes we really, really mean it. We think that our heart will break, because someone we love so much is going through such unimaginable pain, and we are utterly helpless to ameliorate it. I was very grateful last night that we were able to give them a place to bunk on the long drive back to Ontario, a few hours of relaxing and talking and listening to the weird black humour stories about the funeral over cold beer, and this morning making them tea and bread with my mother's partridgeberry jam and hearing them say it was the first time they'd slept through the night since her father had died and the whole damn family descended on her mother's house.

Life's happening too fast lately. I think of the words of Californian philosopher-hippie-poet Ashleigh Brilliant (who I met through his little self-published books in the 70s, but who I see has nicely made the transition to the web):

"I'm exhausted.

I understood so much today."



Anonymous Shannon (cousin) said...

Great friends are hard to find, but when we do their pain always becomes our own as well. My thoughts are with you and Allie's family during this tough time. *hugs*

PS your sister sent me an email! I'm so excited to hear from her!

11:39 a.m.  

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