Summer is a funny time in my city. On the one hand, for the next two-and-a-half months, at some desk in some office in every glass-and-concrete box in my city, someone is frantic to get “it” all done before their five-day vacation, even though they will bring a BlackBerry, cell phone, and laptop stowed in a carryon that barely meets TSA regs. Ask any European. Ask any American. We work more, relax less, and vacation hardly at all. It sucks.
This means, on the other hand, that someone else is already savoring the very brief interlude that today’s American vacation affords. The archetypal American vacationee will attempt to cram a month’s worth of down time into a single afternoon at the beach, usually on day four, when she/he gives in and doesn’t open the lap top, leaves the cell phone uncharged back at the timeshare, and contemplates a great-sounding lie in order to stay another two days in this very spot.
This means, for just a moment, that my own office phone does not ring off the hook, and my email is manageable. This means, for just a moment, I have what almost feels like a normal job. This means, just for one unfamiliar moment, I can take a moment to ask our reservationist if I can read her paper while I take a lunch break at the bar. That’s right, a real lunch break–all 20 minutes of it.
“Sure,” she says. “Just leave it up there. I’ll be right behind you.”
I haven’t read a paper in months. Months. I get my news-junkie fix at all hours of the night–at 4 a.m. on a bad night, when I am willing myself to go back to sleep, or at 5:30 a.m., when I have given up on sleep and only want to hear a weather forecast that will determine a morning or afternoon walk to/from work. Much beyond that, I don’t care.
Thus, it was with a borrowed newspaper in hand that I perched this day at the closed back bar that only opens on weekends, a double order of fries with a strawberry shortcake–hold-the-biscuit-please–dessert chaser just mouthwatering moments away. I only read the headlines and first paragraphs of the stories in the front section of the paper. Blah, blah, blah. I can get that on the TV news. (I know, I am a current-events moron. It wasn’t always this way, I promise.)
I focused, instead, on the Metro section, because it is here that I can glean the local spin on the local news. A break-in here, a fire there. Multiple stories about how to make it all better, everywhere, if only….
Which led me to the back of the Metro section, to the obituaries. A photo of a beautiful young woman graced the left top side of the right fold–the “notice this” spot in any paper. Oh, I noticed her, alright. I know her. And because I know her, I assumed this was not an obituary. Besides, she is a local celeb of sorts. She must have known someone who died. Exactly.
She is the mom of a boy my boy was great friends with throughout elementary and middle school. Our boys spent many a day together, playing video games, playing golf, and just hanging out. They parted ways in high school, when they went to different schools. But now and then, I ran into this very accomplished mom who is a few years older than I am, but who always looked a decade or so younger than her age, as if that matters. We never shared much in a personal way. But we were always extremely personable to one another, in our ways.
The last time I saw her, she looked great, as always. She was walking into the fine-dining spot I briefly worked in, with several investors. She was a VIP that night. And I was helping the hosts in all my authority as a clueless assistant manager.
She knew me right away. I instantly knew her, too. And she laughed as she clasped my hand in hers and asked, “Are you waiting for a table, too?” Because it had been four years since I had seen her for more than a quick hello in an aisle of a suburban grocery store I no longer lived close to. And she thought I was still a writer, and that the life I lived was still a bed of luxurious roses, and that we must have this common bond of waiting for a table over which to re-connect.
Except we didn’t. I was the connection to her table, for sure, but only to get her seated on time. And when I told her, “No, I am not waiting for a table. Actually, I work here,” she was shocked, then recovered, and smiled her best wishes, the way highly successful people do, when puzzlement borders on pity because they don’t know you anymore.
And on this day, I looked again at her photo on the upper left side of the right side of the fold. And I read the story that followed, only to realize that, indeed, this was an obituary. Hers. Just like that, suddenly, she was gone.
And I couldn’t believe it. So, I read the obit three times to make sure. And then I was sure.
And as I face the biggest transition of my adult life, a transition I never, ever thought would be my reality, I cry for this mom I only knew on the periphery. Did she ever wonder about her life, where she was at, where her future would lead? Did she ever wonder what it would be like to be on her own, just for a while, to regain herself? Or, did she die happy in the knowledge that she and her boys and her husband were the pictures of success?
In the end, knowing she is suddenly gone, I cry for her family. Then I cry some more, for me.