As you can see below, my old friend Tee lost her battle with cancer. I want to share a few memories and thoughts about her.
Tee came into my life somewhere around May 1976. She had started attending our church . I saw her on the school playground, and I can remember her outfit even now. It was a mint-green short set, with a tank top that said, "Butterflies Are Free" (and had the little butterfly on it). Sometime over the summer, she moved next door to me, and we were friends from then on. There were always us three: Tee, me, and my long-time best friend, Em.
When we wrote "LYLAS" in our yearbooks, we meant it. There were times when we had our fusses and our melodramas, and our good times and bad. She and Em were boy-crazy a little earlier than me, and were into cheerleading and other things that didn't necessarily interest me. But that was okay too. There were times I was closer to Tee than I was to Em and times they were closer to each other than either was to me. That's life when you have a trio of best friends. We were friends all the way up through high school and even into my college days. I had gone to school across the state, over 200 miles away, and we still stayed in touch.
We walked each other through our silly young-girl crushes and our first serious loves. There were engagements (some broken, some fulfilled) and weddings. I was in Em's wedding as her singer. I didn't go to Tee's. I had already set up a job interview out of town for the same weekend. The interview was set before the wedding date was. Being young and dumb and full of myself -- and also considering I wasn't terribly wild about her choice of groom (he has redeemed himself to me, however) -- I went to the interview. I got the job, but then it fell apart a few months later. I honestly regret not telling them to reschedule the interview and going to the wedding. I should have.
Then there were children. Em had her daughter first, and then Tee's wedding was that summer. Tee had her first a year later. And suddenly jobs and families and everything possible separated us. It's hard to be the lone singleton, and by that time, I had other friends who had become just as dear, and who had seen the grown-up (okay, growing-up) me and seemed to understand me in ways that Em and Tee couldn't. They were mothers and wives -- I was still the single career gal wanting to live it up.
And we drifted further apart. Phone calls stopped and seeing each other in the store took its place. Life has a funny way of doing that. I became totally wrapped up in my work life and my church life and my college and post-college friendships. Another regret -- because as a Girl Scout, hadn't I learned to ...
Make new friends, but keep the old
One is silver and the other gold.
Then came the times I might only see them in the stores every few months -- time to play catchup. I genuinely enjoyed hearing news -- both good and bad. And it seemed that for Tee, her health became the bad news. I ran into Tee' s mom at the grocery store one day. Tee had started having back problems, and hip problems, and could not even work full-time anymore. And with two very active kids to keep up with, it was all she could do. Em was now a nurse, also with two active kids. And I was still the career girl. One day this spring, my mother had gone to the grocery store. She ran into Tee's aunt who relayed the news that Tee was battling breast cancer.
Breast cancer? NO! Thirty-six-year-olds are supposed to be in prime of their lives, not the fight of their lives. I got angry. I got sorrowful. I got guilty. Because I was too damn busy with my own life to do anything besides pray. I didn't know what to do, what to say, how to even broach the subject. I mean, it wasn't as if I could just pop over and say, "Hey Tee, your aunt told my mama that you have this, and it sucks, and I hate it and I want to do something, and I know we haven't really been all that close in years...." All I knew to do was pray.
Two days ago, I got the e-mail y'all saw below, and then the news today. And I am still angry. Angry at myself for having been such a dadgum schlub. Angry at a disease that is robbing a family of their daughter, sister, wife, mother. Really angry at myself again, for being a putz extraordinaire. The sad lesson is that life really is too short. I should have done something in spite of my awkwardness. And I didn't. Except pray.
I do believe in the power of prayer. In some strange way, my prayers were answered. Tee was healed -- healed of the pain and sorrow and struggle of this life, the ultimate healing and that she is at peace and at rest. But I sure would have preferred the other kind. The kind that would keep her here for her daughter's sweet sixteen in a couple of years. The kind that would have her watch her children graduate high school and maybe college. The one that would have allowed her to live life to its absolute complete fullest and then go into that good night at a ripe old age, not way too soon.
The really odd thing is that quite a number of years ago, I was working on a roman a clef kind of story about the three of us: Em, Tee and myself. I mean, I started this story in 1990. And in the story, we were in our mid-30s, and the character I created for the real-life Tee died. Do you know how completed effed up that feels to me right at this moment? To think that I wrote about it years ago (although it wasn't due to cancer) .... and that it actually happened is just freaking me out. I had planned someday to have a collection of short stories -- and I can promise you this particular one will never be published. It's now way too personal.
And forgive myself? Not for a while. Not for quite a while.
God bless you, Tee. I will miss you.
Forever your sister,