Losing Wendy

My pretty friend Wendy with her son Doug, on the left, and his friend Will.

She was a rugby mom like the rest of us, standing on the sidelines watching her son the same way we all watched our sons – hands over our eyes, fingers parted just enough to be able to see.

Rugby is so tough (as evidenced by the sport’s tagline: No helmets. No pads. Just balls.), that it’s nothing short of terrifying to watch the child you’ve spent your life protecting hit that pitch and the opposing team unprotected. Maybe it’s different for dads, but for moms, that fear bonds us. None of us knew Wendy (or each other) that well, but gathered there together (and occasionally hiding behind each other’s back when the fingers over the eyes thing wasn’t cutting it), we were friends. Friends united in pride for our sons (“Go Doug! Go Mikey!), fear they’d get hurt (“Who’s down? Is that Will? Cuyler?), and the delectable bloody Mary’s somebody’s boyfriend whipped up surreptitiously on the sidelines. We loved seeing each other during the season and relished our role as the Mount Saint Mary’s University Men’s Rugby moms.

And then she got sick.

Esophageal cancer.

At a match shortly after her diagnosis, Wendy turned to Coco, our blonde, beautiful, hysterically funny and fearless head rugby mom whose husband coached all our kids until, surprisingly and not so surprisingly, they each ended up playing for Mount St Mary’s and said,

All I want is to see Doug graduate.

Wendy and Doug walking the wintery grounds of Mount St, Mary’s.

She got sicker and we didn’t see her for a long while. A few of us tried to visit but, God bless her husband Steve, when he felt Wendy needed rest, no one was allowed in. I don’t blame him one bit; he knew we’d sneak in our bloody Mary bar and then God knows what kind of rugby mom mayhem would have ensued. So, we didn’t see her for what seemed like months and then, suddenly, one Saturday, she was there, at a match, not just cheering the boys on, but having made the most delicious Chinese food for them to enjoy (and us to sneak tastes of).

It was May of this year when Wendy went into the hospital for the last time. Her son Doug came home from the Mount. His best friend Will did too. Doug, Will, Coco, all of Wendy’s dearest friends, her husband Steve, their son Steven, converged in her hospital room. Steve wanted Wendy to rest. He wanted her to be done with the pain and to be ale to let go in peace without others around her crying, praying, and holding on. I wasn’t there, but I heard. Steve wanted Wendy to go unencumbered. Yet no one left her hospital room. At two o’clock on Friday afternoon, May third, I got a text from Coco.

Beautiful, loving, effervescent, petite-as-my-pinky but larger-than-life Wendy was gone.

My heart broke then, and it breaks now writing about it. We didn’t have to be best friends for me to love her. Wendy was light, and joy, and goodness, and she was so damn funny. She adored her sons and when she looked at Steve, you could see that despite all their years together, she was still smitten with him. She loved us rugby moms and we loved her. And she is gone. Taken by cancer too fast, too soon, too young.

I’ve experienced loss. Painful, heart wrenching, terrible loss. Loss that was expected, and loss that came out of the clear blue sky, and I still can’t believe that I’ll never see Wendy again. She’ll never again hide behind me on the sidelines, giggling and watching Doug through her fingers right up until the moment he’d catch that ball like his hands were made of glue and take off down the field for the try. You should’ve seen her then.

She’d go racing down the sideline with him, screaming her support, watching her baby score. I will never see her do that again and, far worse, neither will her husband and sons.

I just don’t get it. There are so may truly terrible people in this world that – forgive me – deserve truly terrible deaths.

But Wendy? Stu? My brother David? What could possibly be the reason for their lives to be cut short?

There is no reason. In some cosmic spot they rolled the dice and Wendy lost. Stu and David lost, too. Victims don’t get to sit at the table and place their bets. The game is going on someplace else without them.

How long before the cosmos plays the hand that determines my fate?  

Wendy, I’m so sorry we never got to know each other beyond the rugby sidelines, but I want you to know that I loved you. All the Mount St. Mary’s University Men’s Rugby moms loved you. This fall, when we’re watching the boys through our fingers, you’ll be in our hearts (which, frankly, might be a safer place to watch from) and thinking of you.

And Wendy, you have my word:

When your baby gets the ball and he’s flying down the field to score, we’ll be running along the sidelines with him, screaming your support.

For someone so petite, Wendy (center, in the yellow cap, her husband Steve is on the left), was larger than life.
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When Valerie Monroe calls me

Sometimes I give in to this fantasy about when Valerie Monroe calls me. Ms. Monroe, for those of you who don’t know, is the Beauty Editor at O The Oprah Magazine. When she likes a product, its sales skyrocket. When she loves a product, its developers can go buy themselves rockets, and yachts, entire islands, and whatever else their little hearts desire. She knows what the beautiful people – celebrities, socialites, and scores of Instagram influencers – use and trust to maintain their beautiful people beautifulness because she asks them.

And one of these days, when I’m famous for my words and renowned for my unyielding gorgeousness, she is going to ask me, too.

I’m ready, Ms. Monroe. I think about my response when I’m between deadlines, have photographic evidence that my both my sons are safe and sound, my workout and laundry are done for the day, I’ve spoken with my mom, my dad, and my boyfriend (and confirmed as best I can that my dad and my boyfriend are not currently in cahoots), the plants are watered, dishes are put away, my bed’s made, and I’m between books. This is also known as When Susan Has Too Much Time on Her Hands.

I imagine the scenario unfolding this way.

My phone rings and I say, “Ms. Monroe, it’s so lovely of you to call! I can’t tell you how flattered I am!”

To which she responds, “Please, call me Val.”

Val! I can call her Val! We are so on our way to being BFF’s!

“Val,” I say, with all the confidence of someone who just talked Kim Kardashian in off the ledge over the flack for her Kimono line, “what can I do for you?”

“Well Susan,” she responds, “you can give me the answer to the question women the world over are clamoring for: What is your secret to staying so young and beautiful?”

I pause for a moment. One can’t come across as too eager in these situations. It’s just not what Beautiful People do. Furthermore, it’s not what pretend Beautiful People who just received an imaginary Beautiful People club membership card do. It would be heartbreaking to have that sucker rescinded.

“Val,” I say, “you’re so sweet. I am neither young nor beautiful, and I really don’t have a beauty secret.”

“But there must be something,” she insists, “some particular product you love, trust, wouldn’t be caught dead without!”

“Well you know, Val,” I say conspiratorially,”there is one item I use everyday, sometimes several times a day. In fact, I use it so frequently I keep extras all over the place. In my desk, my bag, the car, the kitchen. Actually I have dozens in the kitchen. I’d be lost without it.”

“Susan!” she exclaims. “The women of the world are waiting! What is this item?”

“It’s my Plackers Micro Mint Dental Floss Pick!”

“Get out!” she responds and I flash on Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine on Seinfeld giving Jerry or George one of her character’s trademark, over-the-top shoves. I love that show. Should I ask if she’s a fan? I mean, who doesn’t love Elaine? I should ask. I’m going to ask. But no! That’s not what Beautiful People do. Stay the course, Suzy, I tell myself. Stay calm, cool, collected. It’s too soon to lose that imaginary card!

I take a deep, Beautiful People breath and respond.

“You know, Val,” I offer. ” I’m 57, and if I so much as look at my refrigerator I get food stuck between my teeth.”

“Stop!’ she says, elongating the word so it sounds like stahhhhhp which thrills me because it’s exactly how my besties and I banter back and forth and that can only mean one thing: she likes me. She really likes me! Oh my God. I feel faint. I’ve made a fabulous new friend, and I’ve given the women of the world a beauty product that actually works and it’s under ten bucks!

Dear God, I’m such a good person.

“Susan,” she says, ” I can’t wait to share this with our readers. Dental floss picks are going to be flying off the shelves! It’s been delightful talking with you and, at the risk of overstepping my bounds, I just want to say that I love your books.”

She loves my books! And my dental picks! This fantasy can’t get any better! Unless of course she actually calls. I’m ready. My response is planned. My phone is charged. And of course I’ve flossed.

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A conversation with my Dad

“Suz, how’s, how’s, you know, my favorite guy?”

I’m on the phone with my Dad. He’s 90. Can’t hear. Can’t recall much anymore (including, sadly, his kids’ names, never mind those of our significant others). He also can’t stop talking long enough for me to help him out.

“He’s—” I try.

“You know who I mean!” He laughs.  “The big guy. Your guy.”

“I do dad, I do,” I say laughing. “You mean—”

“Dammit. Why can’t I think of his name?”

“Dad!” I yell, not too loud, just loud enough to get his attention, stop him before our entire conversation becomes what it usually becomes these days – a heartbreaking, hysterical, but ultimately exhausting exercise in futility.

“What? Why are you yelling at me?” He sounds offended but that’s good. It means he’ll stop talking for three seconds.

“Robert,” I say. “His name is Robert.”

Silence. And then, “Why are you yelling at Robert?”

“I’m not, dad. I’m trying to tell you his name.”

“I know his name!”

I want to smack myself in the head with my cellphone.

“How is Robert?” He asks, finally.

“He’s great, dad. You know, kicking ass, taking names, being his usual Master of the Universe self.”

“That’s from that book,” he replies, and then pauses. I don’t jump in. He’s got it. I can feel it. “Bonfire of the Vanities!”

“Great book,” I say. “Though I still think Tom Wolfe quit at the end. Like he suddenly realized they were only paying him for 100,000 words so he just wrapped it up, really quickly. I found it very dissatisfying.”

“So, how’s the relationship?” He asks.

“With Tom Wolfe?” I say, teasing him.

“Smart, very smart, Suz. With Robert. How’s things with my favorite guy?”

“Things are wonderful, dad. He’s so good to me and he’s incredible with Case.”

“I know he is,” he says impatiently, “but what’s the prognosis?”

What’s the prognosis?

“It’s terminal, dad.” I reply. “I’m gonna die of love.”

“I raised four wise-asses,” my father replies. “You know what I mean. Not prognosis. Errrr… the plan? Do you two have plans?”

Ever since my dad met Robert, about two months into our relationship, this is all he’s wanted to know. And now, as we’re approaching two years together, it’s all he wants to talk about. It’s funny how he forgets Rob’s name, and calls him Steve, Stu, Bob, Bobby, and “the dark-haired fellow,” but never forgets that there’s man in his little girl’s life who’s been around awhile. And, more than that, he wants to know what Steve’s, Stu’s, Bob’s, Bobby’s, and “the dark-haired fellow’s” intentions are.

“Yes, daddy,” I reply. “We have plans. We plan to spend the rest of our lives together.”

“So, marriage then!” he exclaims.

“Dad, stop,” I say. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

“Crystal?” He bellows. “You don’t want crystal! You want diamonds!”

“Big ones, pop.” I reply.

“That’s my girl! Make sure you tell him, or I will! I’ll say—” he pauses. “I’ll say—”

“Rrr—” I start.

“I’ll say young man; my daughter gets diamonds! Big, Hope diamond-size diamonds! Nothing less!”

“You do that, dad.” I reply, laughing.

“Hey, I gotta advocate for my little girl,” he says, “even if I can’t remember her boyfriend’s name.”

Or, hopefully, his phone number.

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And now, another reason not to go hiking

A close encounter of the bear kind at the summit of Old Rag Mountain. Photo by Jack Cumming, via National Park Service, via InsideNova.com.

As if I needed another reason not to go hiking: bears are helping themselves to the picnics outdoorsy types bring to enjoy once they reach the summit of Old Rag Mountain, and they don’t care that folks are standing there, taking their picture as they make their escape. These are very comfortable bears, my friends, so comfortable I expect we might soon see them snapping selfies with their Safeway and Wegman’s bags filled with all manner of ill gotten goodies.

Oh no, the hiking thing is not for me.

I did go once, with He Whose Name Will Neither Be Spoken Nor Written, and between the sweat and the bugs and the bugs sticking to the sweat, I was miserable. I actually ran all the way down the damn hill to the car. And we all know how much I hate to run.

Are you sensing a pattern here? I hate to hike, I hate to run. One might get the impression that I don’t enjoy outdoor activities and yet I do. I do enjoy outdoor activities!

I enjoy taking a book outside to read, in the shade, where there’s a breeze and no bugs. I enjoy taking a glass of wine outside, to sip, in the shade, where there’s a breeze and no bugs. See? I’m really very outdoorsy!

I even emphasized my specific outdoorsy attributes in the online dating profile I used to have. Sadly though, most of the men who contacted me thought those qualities were up for compromise – with one even suggesting I bring my book on a hike he and I would take together so I could read it at the summit. Can you say “Swipe left“?

Oh no, the hiking thing is not my thing. Between the sweat and the bugs and the bugs sticking to the sweat and now the possibility of crossing paths with a bear, you can count me out my friends. But I don’t begrudge you your passion for getting out there, conquering that mountain, filling your lungs with fresh air and releasing those awesome endorphins. Do it, I say. Just do it! But when you do, leave your Safeway and Wegman’s bags in the car. With me. I’ll be sitting there with the a.c. and my reading glasses on, enjoying a book and looking for bears snapping selfies.

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