May 29, 2009

Smiles... Not Forgotten

I am alone in the house as my husband dropped my eldest at a friend's and then took the younger two to see the new Terminator movie.

It is quiet.

I didn't go because, 1) I had no desire to see the movie (I want to see UP! and Night in the Museum II), and 2) I have to get up at 5AM to run 5 miles.

And it was a weird week and I'm tired.


I am not good with names. As a matter of fact, I'm terrible with them, and in all honesty, I mostly don't care. It is what it is and some people are blessed with remembering everyone's name and I ... was not.

I can remember every detail about someone, their family, some odd stories, who they are married to, what they do for a living, and on and on; I could probably write books on people whose... name I do not remember.

Three and a half years ago, Bones was in first grade and it must have been close to Thanksgiving as they were studying Indians and parents were asked to come in and help in various 'centers'.

There was a center where we were making corn meal pancakes. (A disaster if I recall...)

A center where we were stringing beads and making Indian necklaces.

A center where some Indian craft was being made.

A Mom and I were assigned to make the horrible corn meal pancakes for the kids. I didn't know the Mom, her family was new to the school. She had a little girl whose name I never knew or maybe knew, but forgot. They transferred from a local school that... well... many children have transferred from.

And we talked all morning as we made these awful pancakes (bad recipe), and after the first five minutes, I'd forgotten her name and I figured, "Whatever."

I don't nee to know someone's name to say hello and have in depth conversation. Plus I figured eventually I'd hear someone say it and then it would stick... for about five seconds and I'd forget yet again.

For the next two years, I would see her in the hall and smile, wave, "Hey! How are you?!"

That was that.

There is an odd phenomena that occurs when you have kids, in particular in a small school. The girl Moms know the girl Moms, the boy Moms know the boy Moms and rarely do those streams cross... as if it would be a bad thing.

Different interests... bring about different sets of parents. Girl Moms just didn't show up to the Boy soccer games. Boy Moms just don't show up at the local dance studio's recital.

It is what it is.

I don't know the girls and I don't know their Moms.

It's not uncommon for me to lean over to one of the girl Mom's I DO know, probably because we either had kindergarten together, they have a son the same age as one of mine, or we were forced to work at length something, and say, "Wait. Who's that girl?" only to hear in return, "Oh she came two years ago. That's Lisa Smith. You've seen her Mom... Tall, blonde, stacked?"


But it happens... a lot. And all the little girls look alike to me.

Anyway, so earlier this year I heard, "Marlene's Mom" had cancer. Marlene's Mom had bad cancer... I heard various stories, breast, brain, something... always bad.

I always thought it was sad, because it is. It's horribly sad. But I didn't know her, Marlene's Mom, who I will call Kathy, I didn't know Marlene, and so it was chalked up to tragic, sad, 'if they need meals, I will DEFINITELY make them."

I knew one of my girlfriend's had been friends with her since they were born. I have been sad for my girlfriend. I can't imagine losing, what the kids nowadays call a 'BFF'. That is what "Kathy" is to my friend.

Her BFF at age 44.

And at the band concert, there was Marlene playing her flute and there were her parents sitting up front and this was the first time I'd seen Kathy.

After the band concert, I was speaking to the band director. Kathy walked up. I smiled, she spoke to him, I spoke to him, we both left.

And something was eating at me.


What was it.

The smile.

Why did I know her smile? From where?

This bloated woman wearing a hat, with her wig. This woman who looked to be 55... where did I know her?

The next day I was fixing breakfast when it hit me. I knew her. She was my Indian cornmeal pancake friend. We'd strung Indian beads and talked for two hours as we played with the kids.

I knew Kathy.

I remembered her smile.

Other than that... she does not look the same at all.

I called my girlfriend, Kathy's BFF, and asked her. Yes, it was her. Yes, it is not good. And for the first time, I truly inquired about all of it.

Because now... it was different. Now it didn't feel like gossip. Before it was "Marlene's Mom" and it wasn't my business. It was a stranger who was suffering and struggling and I would offer my prayers and meals, but I would not pry.

But now... I had to know. I had to understand. I needed to know how bad this was and what was going on because... it was different now.

I'd made cornmeal pancakes with her when our children were 6 and now... she may not see our children to 16.

I said to my girlfriend, "Was it breast cancer that started this horrific ordeal?"

GF: No... mmm... the other one.

Me: Um, ovarian cancer?

GF: Nooooo... rrrr... the OTHER one!

Me: Uterine cancer?

GF: Noooooooo.... yet the OTHER one!

Me, running out of girl parts:... cervical? Did she have cervical cancer?

GF: YES! YES! That was it. It started with cervical cancer.

And you could have blown me away because... we women don't die of that now.

Not in America.

There are tests for it and we have technology and... we don't get cervical cancer.

Sure, I have friends who have had pre-cancerous cells of the cervix and got it take care of... but it never turned into 'no kidding cervical cancer.'

She hadn't gone to the doctor in so long... and when she did... she had it.

And now she's playing Cancer Whack-a-Mole. "It's in the lung! Whack! Got it! Oh, wait it's in the brain! Whack! Got it! Oh... now... it's in the bladder! Whack! Got it!" and so the sick game goes.

It is traveling.

And she is fighting. An amazing spirit, she told my girlfriend, "I have too much to do! It's not my time."

I'm left in awe of another tremendous woman fighting.

I'm left praying... for a woman I know.

Posted by Boudicca at May 29, 2009 07:04 PM

Oh, that's horrible. I'll pray for 'Kathy' and her family.


I know what you mean about names, though. I'm terrible with names as well.

Posted by: Pam at May 29, 2009 08:11 PM

Next I see her, I need to tell her I'm sorry. I'm just trying to figure out how to say I didn't recognize her without it sounding as completely awful as it is. And how does one say, "I didn't know it was YOU that had cancer as I never remembered your name?"

Yeah, no good can come out of any of it. Really. Not that anything I can say can make it any worse than having metastatic cancer... but surely I don't need to add anything to the situation. "You look so awful and you are so insignificant not only did I not recognize you but I never remembered your name."

Yeah, not so much...

Posted by: Bou at May 29, 2009 08:16 PM

Prayers for Kathy from here, too.

I always ask people to tell me their name again, and apologetically explain that while my memory for names sucks, the distinct discomfort of humbly asking again helps to cement their name into my brain. It usually works.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at May 29, 2009 08:21 PM

.... beautifully said and felt....... and wonderfully written....... your friend is in our thoughts.......

Posted by: Eric at May 29, 2009 08:38 PM

I too suffer from the name thing. I can recall all sorts of things about a person, but the name not so much.

Bou, I must say that your writing of this woman was well done. For what it is worth, you made me care about this woman who I have never met. You do have a gift to bring us readers into your world, and those you care about. So maybe you had forgotten her name, but you did remember your time together years ago. That is quite something.

Posted by: jck at May 29, 2009 08:39 PM

Joan- I need to kind of hear it a few times. I'm just... dense I guess. Sometimes I take solace in the fact I remember so much about someone... I do care and do listen, but the name... good grief. A disaster. This is the first time it has bugged me. Normally I could not care less.

Eric- Thank you, Eric. I need to go back and proof it as I wrote this from my heart and I think there are typos. I just hit "POST!" and when I just scanned it I saw some punctuation errors. But this is what was in my heart... first draft.

JCK- And thank you for saying that. It is so kind. I wonder sometimes if blogging will be obsolete now with facebook (I don't do facebook), and I wonder if I'll just truly write for me. But I'm glad you feel part of it. If you're going to take the time to read, it makes me happy that you feel like you're there and know the people.

Posted by: Bou at May 29, 2009 08:49 PM

that is so sad

Posted by: wRitErsbLock at May 30, 2009 08:29 AM

FWIW - you don't have to tell her you forgot. When you do have a chance to see her again and it's appropriate, you can say, "I had heard you're battling cancer and I've been praying for you."

Or something along those lines. That should be good. You are thinking about the non-rememberance because it's in your head. She has no idea. For her it would be wonderful to know that people care enough to pray for her well being.

A reason for not mentioning it earlier - the time is not always right.

BTW - I am on facebook - nominally - I just can't seem to participate the way most everyone else does. I don't mind doing the status updates and leaving comments, but I don't have the persistence to spend too much time there. I prefer blogs. I guess I would now be considered a dinosaur. Heh.

Posted by: Teresa at May 30, 2009 11:56 AM