Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Preserve Your Memories, They're All That's Left You

I have entered that age when days turn into months turn into years, and suddenly the person you meant to call or visit is 5 years older and you wonder where the time went. You know where it went--into meaningless hours at work or watching TV or writing email. Or maybe it went into meaningful things, like visits with family and great adventures and new challenges and new friends. We all discover at some point that we cannot and will not do all the things we want to do or talk about doing.

Such was a conversation I had a few years back with my oldest, best friend from high school, Pat Walters. She had moved to Alabama, then Georgia. I had moved all over the Chicagoland area. Somehow we found each other again, and exchanged several letters and one phone call. She still had her joyful country twang and told me all about her new life and her daughter. I remember being so excited and nervous talking to her after all the years, that I think I didn't express sufficient happiness for her life, especially her daughter. It all registered later, after I had time to digest what had just happened. We ended the call with promises to speak again, for me to take a road trip to Alabama to see her and her parents. It all sounded so good, so possible. It sounded as promising as every dream we ever expressed to each other when we were 16 and our whole lives stood ahead of us.

Of course, you know what happened--years slipped by, as they are wont to do, when left unattended. We didn't write or call or stay in touch. And then Facebook came along and I found her again. Her profile picture showed her much as I remembered her, but her daughter was older, quickly leaving toddlerhood. I sent her a "friend request", which seemed an odd thing to have to do, but did it nonetheless. And then I waited. And waited. She didn't accept it and didn't respond. I began to wonder if I had somehow offended her in our phone call. Did I say or do something wrong? I waited several months, and finally withdrew the request. I felt sad, hurt, maybe even a little angry at the apparent rejection. And then one day, I decided to look on FB again and couldn't find her listed. I assumed she was never very active, and had cancelled her account, as some will do.

Months passed. My life went into a huge upheaval that claimed all of my waking hours attention for months. When things finally settled down, I started looking for her again, with no luck. And then finally, recently, I stumbled upon a blog post that had her married name in it: Pat Walters McCuiston. And there it was--the words I couldn't even imagine being associated with her name. She had died. She had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and died 5 weeks after her diagnosis. The following picture was attached to the post:

I cannot express adequately in words how deeply I grieve the loss of my friend. She was the epitome of hope and joy and she housed so many of my hopes and dreams for so many special years. To imagine that we will never sit on a porch somewhere on a warm Alabama summer day and reminisce about our youth is inconceivable to me. It was always going to be that way. We were always going to be there for each other even if we didn't talk for years. And yet, in the end, I feel I failed her. I was not there for her and I cannot undo that. How do you say good-bye to someone who is already gone? What do you do with all the memories shared, the secrets never told, the private moments known only by two?

"Time it was and what a time it was. It was a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago it must be, I have a photograph. Preserve your memories. They're all that's left you."

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