I lied to her. I looked her right in the eyes with the most penetrating stare I could muster and I lied.
“You’re not dying,” I said, my voice quivering slightly.
“You’re not dying.”
She stood silently in the doorway of her bedroom wearing mismatched pajamas, though the bottoms looked new. And in that three or four seconds that we looked at each other, I prayed that she felt a twinge of hope that perhaps she wasn’t dying at all. That it was a nightmare. I wanted to her to have that gift, so I lied to my close friend Patty, even though both of us, unfortunately, knew the truth.
We knew each other for 16 years before she died. I met her because my son Evan became friends with her son, an only child, in elementary school. Both of us were mothers to sons. Aside from that, we had little in common. Socioeconomically, we were worlds apart and she was my only friend that was a native Los Angelino. One time, I asked my therapist-friend why she thought Patty and I were able to be close friends despite all our differences.
“Pain,” said my therapist-friend. “You and Patty both know what it is like to experience a lot of pain.”
Since this was my therapist-friend, I assumed she wasn’t talking about physically. Patty’s mother died when she was just 16 from cancer. She told about the times that she would give her mother the shots of morphine to ease her mother’s suffering. I didn’t need details. This was all I needed to know in order to understand. As for me, I got the unlucky roll of the genetic dice exacerbated by some unfortunate environmental factors that resulted in me being less than perky for long periods of time.
When Patty passed away she had been sober for over 10 years. Before she became sick, we would talk on the phone, and somehow during the course of the conversation she would start to verbally beat herself up for being an addict, even if it was a former one. To stop her, I would remind her that when it came to her kind of addiction, it could have just as easily been me.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
The truth is I haven’t the foggiest idea why I didn’t abuse drugs or alcohol the way Patty had. That’s why I didn’t judge her by her past and went to the party to celebrate her 10 year sobriety “birthday.”
I miss my friend Patty. No one on this planet could make me laugh the way she did. And this helped to ease MY pain.
The summer of 2009 my husband and I, along with some other extended family members, took a vacation in Stonington, Maine. During that vacation, while outside and for no explicable reason I looked up into the sky and then took a picture of a cloud formation that resembled a sculpture made from white cotton candy. As we were driving to the airport to head home, I checked my phone messages. There was one from Patty’s son. Patty had passed away. The funeral would be the day after we got back and would I come.
A few weeks later I decided to look at the pictures I took during that vacation in the summer of 2009, and there was the cloud shot. For some unknown reason it made me think of Patty. So I made a print of the clouds, and framed it. It hangs in my house, in a place not usually frequented by guests or strangers. I can finally now look at this picture and remember my friend Patty with joy by recreating the happy times, and the bond we shared, just by staring at the clouds.
But this took a really long time.