Barb is my most amusing muse and such a dear friend. Tonight we finally celebrated her birthday–more than a month late. It has taken me more than a month to be well enough and for her to be available to celebrate.
My best punch lines are her inspiration. She visited me while I recuperated from radiation and chemotherapy at my mom’s house. I was lying on the den sofa beneath an afghan that was my Grandma F’s. It was in that wavy pattern we used to see after TV went off at night (a far better thing than the all-night infomercial). I felt awful. At the time, I experienced terrible spasms in my urethra throughout the day. I cried freely when these spasms began. In between bouts of this agony I woiuld struggle to focus on my work, my recovery, and my life. Barb came during this time to cheer me up. And she did.
She looked at me, wrapped in my grandma’s afghan with its pink, brown, maroon and fire engine red stripes and said, “Have you ever noticed that every afghan contains at least one scary color?” She shuddered as she pointed to the red stripe.
Barb holds unique views on many aspects of normal life. I will relay more of them in less direct attributions in this blog so that she will continue to share her views with me freely. Barb also is the person who first came to visit me in the hospital when my cancer nightmare began. She is the person who came back when I struggled with recovery. She took me to doctor’s appointments and cried with me when Dr. H told me that I had a 95% or better chance of being alive in five years, rather then the 40% or better chance we had been expecting. She has accompanied me to chemotherapy, radiation, and the dreaded bladder examination.
These days she is opening medical bills and preparing a spreadsheet of expenses to help me assess the “damage” done to my finances by surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, another hospitalization, and other medical treatments.
She calls me nearly every day to share her life. During these past months when I struggled with cancer and its aftermath, she lost her mother and has been settling her mother’s estate. Barb has a narrow frame, but manages to shoulder more than anyone I know.
There are times when the best friend you will ever have can do nothing except listen. I am grateful that Barb will answer the phone when I have worn out my welcome elsewhere. One of her personality traits is that she has mastered the answering of a question with a question. This has been very helpful during appointments with doctors.
Barb is also tough. I recall the time my law firm gave me tickets to a concert at the United Center. Barb and I were in the law firm’s skybox with the daughter of a client. The other woman and her friend were rude. They drank too much and insisted upon singing aloud along with the main act. Barb leaned past me and cast several nasty looks at the other women. Even though I said nothing, the women decided they would rather pick a fight with me than Barb. The four of us ended up facing off in the women’s restroom. Barb jumped in front of me when it was clear I was the other women’s preferred punching bag. Barb will take on a battle when I would be inclined to walk away. I am not saying I could not have squashed the other two women by sitting on them, but it’s nice to have a friend who would take a punch for you.
Barb once went on a cruise with me and my niece Maureen (my friend Cindy also has shown that kind of bravery). Maureen grew tired of stupid old Aunt Cheryl during that two week plus extra days cruise. But she was happy to tell Barb all about it as soon as I fell asleep. Barb was very patient, telling me only that I should stay awake to hear “Gabigail’s” reports of my early onset dementia. I did not need to do this as Maureen had been leaving out her open journal in which she kept writing: “Aunt Cheryl seems to be having PMS–again!” (In case you’re wondering, Maureen and I have made up after our past squabbles. Indeed, she and her fiance Jutstin came all the way out to Chicago to take me to chemotherapy and radiation after Thanksgiving.) Barb remained my friend even though Maureen tried her patience. She did manage to get a little “revenge” when we were in a cab for a tour of the island of Mallorca. As we drove along a scenic road at the edge of the island’s cliffs overlooking the sea, Barb whispered to Maureen, “This is the kind of place tourists get robbed and thrown over the cliffs.” Poor Maureen. She blanched at the idea of it. Barb has a wicked sense of humor.
That sense of humor is to be respected–and feared. I will confess that I sometimes fear that Barb will sign me up for a makeover by some show like What Not To Wear. Barb watches all of the style shows. I don’t. Lately my clothing style has been clothes too large or purchased in another decade. It is a credit to Barb that I have yet to appear on such a show. The temptation must be overwhelming at times. My friend Paul keeps hinting he will sign me up for Hoarders even though I have never collected tinfoil, old newspapers, or empty cans. I am an easy target even if most of what I collect are books.
Okay, if Barb is eccentric, then I am more so. It must help to explain why we have been such good friends for so long. It may explain my relationships with all of my friends!
Barb doesn’t require of her friends devotion to her every whim . Barb loves opera, but she has not suggested that I join her since we saw Amistad together. I wept openly from boredom. She loves running and other exercises and has never been anything but encouraging when I exercise. My exercising is never “pretty.” Indeed, after I spent an entire summer riding a bike, fellow riders would call out to me, “The first day is always the hardest!”
It’s not wise to expect any person to be all you need in life, but it is a wonderful thing to have a friend who embraces your differences as well as your similarities. It makes me wonder why more of us don’t adopt the same strategy at work, in families, or in marriage.
Happy Belated Birthday, Barb. Thanks for being there when I need you–even if it means you have to face my family’s scary afghans!