June 23, 2009

Visit With An Old Friend

I hadn’t seen Paul in two years, maybe three. I think I saw him a time or two after Marilyn’s funeral, but I’m not sure. I was reading my blog from February 2007. I found Marilyn’s death. I had written: “Paul asked me if you were ready. He was worried that you sometimes seemed ambivalent about it. I told him I thought you were ready to go, but that you just weren’t ready for your children to lose their mother. I don’t know that anyone ever is, but that in the end, you were ready. I think this reassured him, though even I can’t say for sure that I was right.”

It struck me as funny, reading it again and remembering that time, that anyone should have asked me such a question. I was twenty-six. It strikes me as odd that anyone would ask me that now. I think the older I become the more ignorant I realize I am.

Oh, I know that our relative ages didn’t have a thing to do with Paul's question. I had seen more of Marilyn in those recent weeks than Paul had, but looking back, I sometimes wonder how up front with me Marilyn was. Was she strong for me like she was for her children? I remember once, after she had been diagnosed but before she had gone to hospice, I told her not to cry. We were standing in her kitchen talking and I was getting ready to go. She started to cry and I hugged her and said “Don’t cry. Oh, don’t cry.” She sucked it up, because Marilyn was nothing if not a hard ass.

That request had been for my benefit. My dog had just passed. It had been a rough week. I didn’t want to cry anymore and I knew that if she started I would be off, too. It had nothing to do with whether or not she wanted, or needed, to cry. I was entirely selfish in that. I tried to explain later, to tell her it was okay to cry and that I would be there for her when she needed me. She got a little teary and sad from time to time, but I never did see her cry.

I dug Paul’s email out of my inbox archives and shot him a note. He comes down to Lincoln from time to time as part of a new clinic Children’s Hospital has set up. Paul is a pediatric pulmonologist attached to the University Medical Center and also sees patients of Children’s Hospital, both in Omaha. He met me downtown for a drink. I smiled as we exchanged hugs.

We talked about life, what I’m doing, what he’s doing, where his kids are now. He was driving a pretty new white Volkswagen SUV instead of his beautiful forest green Jaguar. “Broke my heart,” he told me, “but since we got the place in Colorado, I needed something that could haul stuff and handle better. A Jag doesn’t exactly handle well in the snow, especially a supercharged one.” His daughter is married and his son graduated from a university in California and has come back to go to graduate school in Omaha. He said he thought I’d run off with some guy and was living in Utah or Colorado now, which made me laugh.

We talked about death. He got a call and I took a moment to find the ladies’ room. When I returned he was still detailing the pros and cons of treatment options. When he finished, I just looked at him and said “I’m glad you do your job and I don’t.” I would like to be stronger and more compassionate than I am. I would like to actually be able to save people’s lives. And I don’t know how much of that is just “not me” and how much is me simply telling myself it’s “not me” out of fear.

“She’s gonna die,” he said. “Eleven years old and she’s gonna die.” He looked so sad.

We continued to talk, covering religion, or lack thereof, and pets and motorcycles and travel and why they put out these horrible little snack mixes in bars and why in hell do we keep eating them. It was nice to see him again. I hope he’ll look me up again next time he’s in town. And next time, I won’t let him coax me into that second drink. A second is all well and good when you’re drinking beer (Paul claims he’s a “featherweight,” but he’s also British, so I think that’s an oxymoron), but I was drinking martinis. Two in two hours (instead of my normal four or six hours) left me quite sloshed, which is not a sensation I enjoy. However, he had his lovely new SUV with the seats already down, so he gave me, and my bicycle, a lift home before heading back to Omaha.

Earlier, we had spoken about Marilyn and her death and who has spoken with whom from the old fencing club lately, which is where we had all met. “That always was a ragtag assortment, wasn’t it? It always revolved around Ian and once he was gone, well it fell apart,” he observed, taking a drink of his beer.

“As maybe it should have. I miss it though.”

“Me too.”

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