I met an old friend today.
Of course, she is not old as in numerically. However, she is, as am I, no spring chicken either!
At any rate, what I mean is a friend whom I have known for many years, decades even. Anyhow, let’s call her Jane.
I met Jane for coffee today at my favorite escape oasis. When I need refuge, I retreat to Burkes family cafe on the corner. A haven in which to hide when life’s troubles build. The moment I turn the corner and catch my first glimpse releases an involuntarily extended exhalation of relief.
Today was no different. In fact, I would suggest the deep sign of relief was even more prolonged. ( It has been a long summer) Anticipation, for me, exudes excitement on this occasion.
I recall it is approximately eight years since Jane and I had the luxury of uninterrupted coffee together. The fact that she had to relocate to another province for work had not helped. Both busy working Moms to six children between us, I was the bearer of four.
Don’t get me wrong. My children are the absolute love of my life. I would throw myself under a passing train to save them, literally- I would.
However, one does need to escape the madness at times.
Finding the place with the perfect combination of ambiance, serenity, and the ideal company has taken me years to perfect. Today would be that day.
Yes, indeed, the whole two hours free of activity runs and wiping noses, no more preparing a la cart meals or playing the domestic goddess for me today.
As I approached Burkes, the sun was beginning to set. The sky resembled a stunning collage of the most majestic entanglement of orange, purple, and yellow colors. There was a peaceful stillness as the rush hour traffic ceased.
There were a couple of plump, floral wicker seats occupied. However, I was pleased to see my favorite spot was free. It may seem immature, but yes, I had my favorite chair. Securing the seat next to the window filled me with an almost devious sense of accomplishment. ‘ I’ll bet everyone that walks in wants this seat,’ I heard my inner voice whisper. However, with a smirk of satisfaction, I was the chosen one that secured it on this occasion.
I will admit, as one progresses in age, life’s significant accomplishments may appear inconsequential. The competitive younger generations may be puzzled by such success. ‘Oh, but you just wait,’ I observe myself snigger.
I was approximately five minutes waiting when Jane arrived. Oh, to see her bright beaming smile, her arms outstretched towards me was lovely. Her genuine gratitude and joy at being here are palpable. Jane, too exhaled an extended sigh of relief on arrival. No words are needed. Ah, the unspoken understanding between close friends…
Her embrace felt so warm and comforting. It lasted a mere millisecond, but it was enough. That millisecond resulted in a feeling of calm euphoria within me. Had it been that long since I had felt a warm touch from a loved one? On reflection, yes, it has.
The forced social distancing regime in place recently has led to such. I am a fully committed career woman ( not by choice, I must add). I reside alone. My penthouse apartment exudes modern-day luxury, situated on the tenth floor overlooking the city bay. At night in my private terrace hot tub, I sip my chardonnay. Oh yes, I know luxury. Well, at least the material opulence.
Simultaneously, at times I feel starved of authentic human connection. One would suggest, from the outside, looking in; I have a vast social circle. However, on closer inspection, perhaps not. Sure, I have many work colleagues and business associates. Nonetheless, I miss deeply formed, long-lasting close relations. More specifically, friendships. I say friends as not all of my connections I can relate to in any meaningful way.
Of late, I wonder if such relations are a luxury of that of youth. I mean, in my younger years, my phone book( and it was an actual book, not an app ) contained endless friends I could call on. Now, in my mid-years, I am lucky to have even one. OK, listen, it is not that bad. ( perhaps I am exaggerating). But what I mean is say I text ( yes, I still do text) ten friends on the rare occasion I have a morning free. At least five will be at work. If not at work, they will be at the dentist/doctor’s appointment. God forbid they are at a funeral. ( if they are, I am probably there also). Anyhow, you get my point.
So as I waited for Jane, I thought what a miracle it is that we can even meet today. We have attempted to meet many times but could not get to the finish line. I mean, considering we have so many tiny humans entirely relying on us to keep their lives flowing in order. Oh, do not start on the not-so-little humans who also depend on us to keep their schedule running smoothly- that is another (not so ) short story.
Unless (God forbid) there was a life-threatening emergency, coffee today with Jane would happen. So finally, here we are. I feel like a teenager on a first date. I am so excited. Although in our mid-years, Jane still looks like a teenager to me. That is how I have always seen her. She exuded confidence, optimism, and fun for as long as I have known her. She could cheer up an entire room with her glowing entrance. I cannot recall ever seeing her anything but cheerful.
Following our initial embrace, we get comfortable in our sumptuous seating. Almost immediately, I needed to do a double-take on Jane’s expression. Although smiling, on closer inspection, I noticed something different in Jane. I could not quite put my finger on it. However, something was different.
I said nothing. I knew Jane well enough to not. Jane divulged information only if and when the time was right for her. I respected her for that. It was a matter of fact, to the point that the characteristics I admired in a friend. Indeed, one will always get the truth ( even when we may not want it).
We chatted and exchanged up-to-date information on our families and careers. Everything appeared good with Jane, yet I could not shake off that niggling feeling rumbling in my tummy. (I certainly was not hungering as we had each devoured an entire red velvet (extra large) lump of red valved cake with cream, and yes, ice cream.) As my friend, Cathy, always says, ‘girls have another treat; when you’re out, you’re out. Today Jane and I are both certainly out. See, that’s another strange thing. Jane never eats cake. Her perfect size eight figure reflects that. She has got to be the most disciplined eater I know, usually—however, not today. I was even stunned when she ordered double whipped cream in her latte. The shock of it!
However, for the moment, I continued to make small talk with Jane. How big the children were getting and their specific interests and abilities. ( the proud Mom in me could not resist). Jane also told me that they were exploring the option of downsizing their beautiful chateau-style house. The idea of Jane selling her house rang further warning bells in my mind. Jane had always loved her unique home. She had lived on a meager amount for years while saving for the deposit to build it. She was so proud of the finished look, designed as she envisaged.
OK, that was it. I could not hold myself back for one more second. ‘Out with it Jane, What on earth is going on with you?’ I queried. There was a half-hearted attempt to deny any understanding of what I meant. Jane, for a brief moment, began to defend herself, but suddenly she burst into tears. Oh no, this is not what I was trying to do. Panic set in. The usually composed Jane was emotionally crumbling before my eyes. I was speechless. ‘What do I do now’ I asked myself while I tried to focus on my breath. ‘In for four- out for four, that’s what I remember from my yoga class, or was it out for five? Aw, who cares’ I heard myself saying. This is a crisis point. ‘Jane, whatever is the matter?. ‘I am so sorry, my intent was never to upset you,’ I said.
I handed Jane a tissue from one of my emergency stocks ( every Mom needs one, a designer bag or not). Jane blew her nose and sniffled loudly. Then followed the avalanche of words. I needed to concentrate and found my brain could not absorb the overload of confusing information. Some of the terms, however, stood out. Words like …tumor… brain.. tests…Such comments were impossible to ignore. I needed to intervene. ‘Stop, Jane; I can not understand, please. Take a breath and tell me again, slowly,’ I urged. (I think it was more for me to take a breath in aid of self-composure). At my core, I was hoping that I had misheard the information. ‘Yes, indeed that was it, I told myself. However, on hearing the news the second time, I lost optimism. Now I was the one losing control of my breath. I recall feeling stunned.
Jane had been feeling unwell recently and had gone to the doctor. He sent her to the hospital for tests. The hospital confirmed she had a brain tumor that needed surgery as soon as possible. There has only been one other occasion in my life where I felt as I did then. That occasion was on the news of my father’s death. The feeling that someone had punched me, hard, in my stomach. The spinning head and loss of spatial awareness. The dry mouth and inability to get my words out. It is a surreal experience.