We weren’t the best friends in high school, but we tended to run in the same nerdy circles: she was in band. I was in the orchestra. We were in those student clubs that did lots of stuff behind the scenes, but we were, nonetheless, the reliable ones. We could be counted on to show up, do good work, rarely complain, probably laugh a lot…I left Kentucky for New England and she went south for medical school. We both became doctors, though I like to wear my shirt that says “Not that kind of doctor.” She was a real one: a pediatric kidney surgeon.
When we saw each other for high school reunions every decade you’d be hard pressed to believe much time had passed: we still laughed about memories, still listened with interest on the life updates.
Then–and I can’t remember how I found out or when–I learned she had cancer. Because we were now separated by distance (and she’d moved back to our hometown so more people saw her or heard about her diagnosis), I followed Facebook for occasional updates. At our last reunion in 2013, she told me she visited Boston regularly for treatment and that we should get together. I agreed, not thinking much of it because it seems lots of people tell me they’re coming to Boston and then either do and don’t contact me or don’t come at all. No hard feelings, whatever the case.
When she texted me last week to tell me she would be in town and asked if I wanted to have dinner, my first response was to be “too busy.” After all, we weren’t besties, right? I got over myself, though, and, instead, regarded it as a little bit of home come to Beantown and if she was willing to come to my side of town, we would have dinner. She said yes and we made plans to meet.
That was today. I always have to remind myself that I get too stuck in my ways and my routine: I like to be home at the same time so I can feed E, play with him a bit, get him to bed at his usual time. However, I miss out on parts of my life sometimes. A sanity saver is the order of the day. We had a wonderful time at dinner, which included a hilarious update about our hometown and some of our classmates. Her humorous retelling of events pushed aside any homesickness, too.
We talked about her diagnosis, which, she said, isn’t good. She also said that her doctors simply don’t know, and that the situation was bleak five years ago but she’s still alive. I kept trying to remember what she looked like in high school, but all I could do was to see her in front of me, sparkling, hilarious, radiant, frank. E was the perfect dining companion: he ate his dinner, sang a few times, played happily as food moved around, but he seemed to know that this dinner was not about him and was okay with that.
It was pouring as we walked home from the restaurant–a short jaunt that might have ordinarily been annoying but all I could think about was: she came to Boston for her cancer treatment and she wanted to see me. She wanted to spend time with me. I couldn’t help but hug E a bit tighter as I told him about “Mama’s friend from home” and how we need to take the time for special moments because this life is so, so short. What a blessing it is.