To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. —Ralph Waldo Emerson
She taught me how to lasso, a skill which I am still convinced will one day save my life.
On the desk before me sits a large brass key ring, retrieved from a box which arrived on my doorstep some weeks back. Inside the box were remnants from a long-ago past I had once shared with someone, a woman who helped to change my life in many ways.
A couple of years ago we did a show on a local Pancreatic Cancer support group, which I was particularly pleased about. When it comes to my shows (and my writing, as well) I ascribe to science writer Theodore Sturgeon’s dictum that, “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”
Good for the moment, but perhaps not worth going back to.
Yet this show, I felt, maybe fit into the ten percent model of work that I could be proud of.
What a bitter irony it was, then, that someone close to me should call less than a week later to tell me that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
When I was very young I met Jolyne when she was a courier for Purolator Express (which dominated the field long before Fed Ex or UPS) and majoring in Horticulture at the UA. I had just come out of a bad marriage to a woman who was as immature as I was.
Working as Night Manager at 7-11, I met Jolyne when she would come in every night for a cup of coffee. It took months before I had the nerve to ask her out.
But I did, and six months later we were living together. She was the first woman I had ever met who wouldn’t take any of the silly crap I had given other women, including my wife. She was the first real feminist I ever knew, and expected respect.
She made me start to grow up.
A former barrel racer for in the rodeo, she taught me how to lasso.
Okay, not from the back of a horse. I’m still piss-poor at riding horses.
She loved to drive fast, even in that Purolator Econoline van. One night, on her Eureka Springs route, picking up bank work to take to the Fayetteville Airport, a deer jumped in the way of the van - an incident which could have ended both of their lives. She leaped from the van, threw the deer inside, and woke me up at thee in the morning to help her skin and dress the deer in the bathroom - my one and only experience at doing so.
Once, pretending over the phone to be with the Nielsen TV Rating Service, I was able to get her ex-husband to tell me all his financial and personal information, so she could get the back child support payments he owed her.
Later, we broke up.
Exactly why doesn’t matter. We’ve all been there.
But after all the anger and hurt feelings, we managed to salvage our friendship, and even a love for each other over the years, and comforted each other in times of sadness.
In the early 1990s she moved to California, where she eventually ended up working for the state.
Two years ago.
The doctor told her she had pancreatic cancer, which is one those times when you figure out not how can I beat this thing, but how long can I cheat Death?
She did pretty well, working as much as she could. She had a good support system.
A few months ago she called me one morning and left a message on my answering machine, addressed to the guy who never checks his machine. I happened to be up early that morning, heard her voice, and picked up the phone.
Her doctor had told her to prepare for the end. What can you say at a time like this? You’ll beat this thing? It’s pancreatic cancer! She knew the odds better than most. Only an idiot would say such a thing at this point. All you cam do is say how sorry you are.
Not long before, however, she had consulted with a “holistic healer,” and had given me her name. I check her out, and she seemed to be reputable.
A week later I was checking my email right after breakfast when I came upon a message from her daughter, asking me to call ASAP. I knew what that was all about.
I was still wearing my pajama bottoms and a T-shirt. There was no way I was going to disrespect Jolyne by making this call in this fashion.
I brushed my teeth.
I changed my clothes.
It took all of 15 minutes, but I felt, somehow, better prepared. Her daughter and I talked and cried on the phone for half an hour.
The holistic healer she has gone to had told her she didn’t have cancer at all, but had somehow been poisoned instead, pocketing some several hundred dollars for this “diagnosis.”
Her last days went as you might expect; there is no need to dwell on them here.
The brass key ring sits before me now, reminding me of the days we were together. Oddly, though the box her daughter sent me had several items in, it is the key ring that means the most. It contained so many keys, to so many parts of her life.
She loved to drive fast.
She loved her daughter, and was fiercely protective.
She loved Doctor Who.
She loved the Travis McGee novels.
She loved plants.
She loved foreign cars.
She loved life.
She hated injustice.
She saw something in me, as embryonic as it was, and helped to nurture it.
She was a good friend.
She was a force of nature.
I hope that you know someone like this in your life.
Quote of the Day
A secret is what you tell someone else not to tell because you can’t keep it to yourself. - Leonard Louis Levinson