Today I went to my friend Linda’s celebration of life. It was one of the few times she was there before I was. Her decorative urn was placed on a table across from a watercolor I had painted of her years ago.
I met Linda after I moved to Simi Valley in the ‘80s. We were in our early thirties, mothers with young children. I had joined a writing group to which Linda belonged. Before long, we got together with other members outside of meetings as well. If one of us had a poetry reading or book signing, the others were there.
We’d call each other and leave messages – before cellphones – “Millie’s at noon?” More than once, we closed down restaurants and learned to listen for a vacuum cleaner – our cue to leave. Back then, we had all the time in the world.
We didn’t talk just about writing. Children, families, husbands, jobs, and our personal histories consumed our conversations. We laughed a lot, celebrated our successes, and shared our heartaches. When my mother died suddenly, Linda and another friend, Martha, were there. During my divorce, they were supportive. After the divorce, they listened to my horror stories of dating again. And when I met my forever husband, they were thrilled (and relieved because those dating disaster stories would cease).
They were disappointed, though, that I didn’t have a formal wedding but married Don at the courthouse. Linda and Martha convinced a local wedding attire shop owner to let them pose in bridesmaid dresses for a comical photo, which they framed and gave us as a wedding gift. (In the above photo, Linda is on the right.) I never knew what to expect from them; when I turned 50, they had bran muffins delivered to me at work.
After I got a real job (freelance writing didn’t pay all the bills), time was at a premium and our lunches were fewer but we met after work frequently. Martha moved to Tennessee but the distance didn’t sever the connection. We visited her there and she called us for a dinner or lunch date when she was in town. With our husbands, we took trips to New York and to Las Vegas.
With Martha so far away, Linda and I became closer. We enjoyed seeing movies together or meeting for a meal or coffee. We exchanged books. I became an artist, and Linda attended many of my receptions. I could count on Linda, who had become a family therapist, to listen attentively. We celebrated each other’s birthdays with long meals and drinks at favorite restaurants. She gave me a psychic reading for my 50th birthday and again for my 65th. We had no clue what the future would bring.
I also could count on her to be late. I’m prompt, if not early, and I often waited for her, checking my cellphone (yes, newfangled devices) or reading a book I had brought to pass the time. If she was running too late, I’d buy my movie ticket and she’d find me inside the theater.
Ten months ago, Linda had surgery. The initial prognosis was promising, but she had complications that kept her going back and forth to the hospital and rehab. I sensed that I might never see her outside a sterile setting. I tracked her at different hospitals and fit visits in when I could. Her world got smaller, and I tried to share snippets of mine with her to engage her – the weather outside, movies, books, funny incidents.
Linda had told me once that she felt that she wouldn’t live to old age. I discounted her premonition but she was right. Time ran out, and for once, Linda was early. I’m pretty sure that when I leave this earth, Linda will be waiting for me. Her brilliant blue eyes will twinkle, and we’ll embrace.
“What took you so long?” she’ll say.