Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sharmayne

I've often thought how strange it is that we never get tired of our own company.

I suppose some slightly screwed-up people might hate themselves but if we're reasonably well-adjusted and strive to be good we can pretty much live comfortably with ourselves for every minute of our lives. It's really amazing when you think about it. And it's nearly impossible to honestly say that about anybody else. Even the closest husbands and wives need a bit of separation now and then.

As Kahlil Gibran so perfectly instructed, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.”

If you're really lucky, maybe once or twice in a lifetime you'll meet somebody who makes you feel valid, love-worthy and whole; somebody who is as comfortable to be with as you are in your own skin.

I was really lucky. I met Sharmayne.

The funny thing about our friendship is I can't remember when or how it began. I'm sure we met at Stagedoor Comedy Playhouse and I know it was more than thirty-five years ago but the specifics just don't exist in my memory. Over time I've learned to shrug it off and just accept the fact that Sharmayne and I have always been together.

And, I'll tell you something else: we always will.

Sharmayne and I were always able to talk about everything without shame or discomfort. Often we didn't talk at all. We could, and did, sit together in a car for many miles comfortably lost in our own thoughts together. And when we did talk the natural understanding we shared always had us peppering our conversation with knowing nods and exclamations of, “Yes, exactly!”

We talked a lot in her final year of life and we held nothing back. There was no need because sharing our thoughts was as natural to us as having them in the first place.

Some months ago, before Carolann and I moved to Texas, I sat with Sharmayne just after she had stopped working and was fully involved in her cancer treatments. I asked her if she was in pain and she said, no, not usually but that every little ache or the slightest cough scared her. At the time the finality of her illness wasn't a foregone conclusion. She was still fighting hard to win and live. I asked her if she was afraid to die and she said she didn't know. It's actually a very difficult question to answer, having never died before. We agreed on that and thought it was kind of funny.

Talking about the cancer and the unknown path of her immediate future – whatever may remain of it – didn't upset her. When she did cry it was when we talked of Olivia and Lorelei. Sharmayne had lived more than 62 years and didn't regret a thing but the idea of not watching her daughter's daily journey through life and motherhood or her granddaughter's full blossom pissed her off. It wasn't fair, she said. She told me that giving life to her daughter and watching her grow, sometimes by the minute, was the miracle that had given her life all its meaning.

“Yes, exactly,” I agreed.

But as much as that hurt her heart, Sharmayne's only fear was that her granddaughter wouldn't remember her. I tried to assure her that she would but frankly, I remember darn little about the people in my life when I was five and of course that was the first thing Sharmayne pointed out in response.

Those days on Tom and Sharmayne's couch led to many long phone calls between California and Texas. And, I don't want to give the impression that our conversations were all sad ones. Quite the opposite. Our time together gave us wonderful shared memories and we relived them often.

In early December Sharmayne and Tom decided I needed to come for a final visit. I wanted desperately to do so but couldn't afford it. They made it possible and for that I will always be grateful.

Ridiculous as it sounds given our natural bond I was nervous as I approached Sharmayne's bedroom for that final goodbye. I had spent four days on the road wondering what I could say that would be loving and warm without being maudlin or reeking of false bravado. Would she cry? Would I? I expected we would and I knew it would be okay but still, I was nervous as I entered the room.

Sharmayne was lying in her hospital bed, a bit groggy from her meds and having just awakened. I admit to being a little shocked at her appearance because she seemed older and more frail than I had ever seen her. It was to be expected, I guess, but I hadn't thought about it before that moment. And, she was bald, of course. That didn't bother me in the least but it was a dose of the reality I was only now beginning to see. But then she looked at me and smiled and all was right with the world again.
 
This was Sharmayne as I had always known and loved her.

“David,” she said simply, “I like your hair.”

“I like yours,” I replied with a grin.

“Liar,” she shot back. And fear left the room.

Over the course of the next few days we did our usual reminiscing. We talked about how our kids had grown up together and how astonishingly perfect they had both become despite our serious flaws. We remembered road trips and theater parties and jazz festivals and the people we had known back to a time that seemed to promise forever. We didn't talk much about her illness at that point. We weren't avoiding it, it just seemed unnecessary. She was resigned to the truth and we were both making peace with it.

A small tear did trickle down her cheek when I hugged her goodbye. Mine too, of course. But as I turned back at the door to give her a little wave before I walked away the truth of what little we had just told each other draped me like a warm blanket on a cold and dreary day.

This isn't goodbye, we said. We could no more lose or leave each other than if we had never existed.

I asked her to be there for me when I arrive and she promised she will.

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