And Suddenly, She was Gone

Posted on Tuesday 19 June 2007

Summer is a funny time in my city. On the one hand, for the next two-and-a-half months, at some desk in some office in every glass-and-concrete box in my city, someone is frantic to get “it” all done before their five-day vacation, even though they will bring a BlackBerry, cell phone, and laptop stowed in a carryon that barely meets TSA regs. Ask any European. Ask any American. We work more, relax less, and vacation hardly at all. It sucks.

This means, on the other hand, that someone else is already savoring the very brief interlude that today’s American vacation affords. The archetypal American vacationee will attempt to cram a month’s worth of down time into a single afternoon at the beach, usually on day four, when she/he gives in and doesn’t open the lap top, leaves the cell phone uncharged back at the timeshare, and contemplates a great-sounding lie in order to stay another two days in this very spot.

This means, for just a moment, that my own office phone does not ring off the hook, and my email is manageable. This means, for just a moment, I have what almost feels like a normal job. This means, just for one unfamiliar moment, I can take a moment to ask our reservationist if I can read her paper while I take a lunch break at the bar. That’s right, a real lunch break–all 20 minutes of it.

“Sure,” she says. “Just leave it up there. I’ll be right behind you.”

I haven’t read a paper in months. Months. I get my news-junkie fix at all hours of the night–at 4 a.m. on a bad night, when I am willing myself to go back to sleep, or at 5:30 a.m., when I have given up on sleep and only want to hear a weather forecast that will determine a morning or afternoon walk to/from work. Much beyond that, I don’t care.

Thus, it was with a borrowed newspaper in hand that I perched this day at the closed back bar that only opens on weekends, a double order of fries with a strawberry shortcake–hold-the-biscuit-please–dessert chaser just mouthwatering moments away. I only read the headlines and first paragraphs of the stories in the front section of the paper. Blah, blah, blah. I can get that on the TV news. (I know, I am a current-events moron. It wasn’t always this way, I promise.)

I focused, instead, on the Metro section, because it is here that I can glean the local spin on the local news. A break-in here, a fire there. Multiple stories about how to make it all better, everywhere, if only….

Which led me to the back of the Metro section, to the obituaries. A photo of a beautiful young woman graced the left top side of the right fold–the “notice this” spot in any paper. Oh, I noticed her, alright. I know her. And because I know her, I assumed this was not an obituary. Besides, she is a local celeb of sorts. She must have known someone who died. Exactly.

She is the mom of a boy my boy was great friends with throughout elementary and middle school. Our boys spent many a day together, playing video games, playing golf, and just hanging out. They parted ways in high school, when they went to different schools. But now and then, I ran into this very accomplished mom who is a few years older than I am, but who always looked a decade or so younger than her age, as if that matters. We never shared much in a personal way. But we were always extremely personable to one another, in our ways.

The last time I saw her, she looked great, as always. She was walking into the fine-dining spot I briefly worked in, with several investors. She was a VIP that night. And I was helping the hosts in all my authority as a clueless assistant manager.

She knew me right away. I instantly knew her, too. And she laughed as she clasped my hand in hers and asked, “Are you waiting for a table, too?” Because it had been four years since I had seen her for more than a quick hello in an aisle of a suburban grocery store I no longer lived close to. And she thought I was still a writer, and that the life I lived was still a bed of luxurious roses, and that we must have this common bond of waiting for a table over which to re-connect.

Except we didn’t. I was the connection to her table, for sure, but only to get her seated on time. And when I told her, “No, I am not waiting for a table. Actually, I work here,” she was shocked, then recovered, and smiled her best wishes, the way highly successful people do, when puzzlement borders on pity because they don’t know you anymore.

And on this day, I looked again at her photo on the upper left side of the right side of the fold. And I read the story that followed, only to realize that, indeed, this was an obituary. Hers. Just like that, suddenly, she was gone.

And I couldn’t believe it. So, I read the obit three times to make sure. And then I was sure.

Shit.

Just shit.

And as I face the biggest transition of my adult life, a transition I never, ever thought would be my reality, I cry for this mom I only knew on the periphery. Did she ever wonder about her life, where she was at, where her future would lead? Did she ever wonder what it would be like to be on her own, just for a while, to regain herself? Or, did she die happy in the knowledge that she and her boys and her husband were the pictures of success?

In the end, knowing she is suddenly gone, I cry for her family. Then I cry some more, for me.

11 Comments for 'And Suddenly, She was Gone'

  1.  
    June 19, 2007 | 11:22 pm
     

    Alright RG, you’ve got me feeling a bit uneasy, a smidge anxious. Are you being cryptic on purpose? I’m hoping its just a small stress-induced flip-out (Lord knows I had plenty in Restaurantland).

    Hoping for the Best,
    Bill

  2.  
    June 19, 2007 | 11:25 pm
     

    P.S. Thanks for the kind comment on my blog. I’m not worthy, O Queen!

  3.  
    Julie
    June 20, 2007 | 9:29 am
     

    It’s difficult to find out someone that you knew, someone around your own age, is suddenly gone.

    I can’t imagine how it was for my mom’s high school friend. They had coffee and caught up with each other one Saturday morning and my mom died that afternoon. (She had a heart attack.) I’m sure it hit close to home for her friend, especially since she’s a nurse. My mom just didn’t mention any symptoms to her; she didn’t think it was a big deal. I’m just thankful that my mom had a wonderful morning with a good friend.

    I’m glad that your last interaction with the other boy’s mother was pleasant if a bit awkward.

  4.  
    June 20, 2007 | 11:09 am
     

    I had a conversational friendship of sorts with a beautiful lady who worked on another floor in my building.
    A couple of weeks ago, I learned that she died – alone, at home.
    I miss her although I don’t even know her name.

    “…And she thought I was still a writer…” She was absolutely right. You ARE a writer.

  5.  
    June 20, 2007 | 4:23 pm
     

    Oh, the transition to reading the obits to find the names of aquaintences rather than the front page of the metro, or those listed under ‘arrested for intoxication’.

  6.  
    Mary
    June 21, 2007 | 9:44 am
     

    “And as I face the biggest transition of my adult life, a transition I never, ever thought would be my reality, I cry for this mom I only knew on the periphery”

    I’m worried. What does this mean?? I read your blog religiously. I’ve dropped reading many because they just don’t touch me – you always do. I think we’re about the same age, and have similar views on life in many ways. When I read that line, it stopped me short. I’m anxiously waiting for your next entry, and hopefully all is still well with Restaurant Gal and her family.

    So sorry to hear about your acquaintance. Definitely brings reality of life home. In those situations, I always find myself wondering, “Will people feel this way about me when I die? I know my family will mourn, but what about the periphery?”

  7.  
    June 21, 2007 | 11:27 am
     

    Okay, officially no more reading your blog when I get to work. *sniffle*

  8.  
    Tina M
    June 21, 2007 | 1:21 pm
     

    Geez RG, that makes me want to pick up my old phone book and call everyone I haven’t talked to in ages just to know they are okay.
    So what does, “And as I face the biggest transition of my adult life, a transition I never, ever thought would be my reality.” , mean? You’ve got a lot of us worried. Keep up the good work; you are a fabulous writer.

  9.  
    June 21, 2007 | 4:03 pm
     

    Disconcerting.

    I have no kids or dependents, and am lucky enough to get plenty of relaxation time. Entries like this remind me to enjoy them.

  10.  
    Gina
    June 21, 2007 | 11:48 pm
     

    Ouch, that hurts.

    Been there, done that, and it does hit close to home.

    As another blogger I read says, the Unexpected Visitor can come at any time. And there is no arguing. You just need to go.

    End of story.

    I’m thinking your mom you knew just a bit went just fine. And she’s still there, watching over her family. Those that are gone from this earth are never far away.

    Just think of them and they will be around.

    My 2 bits for what it’s worth anyway.

    Hope you are okay, Gal.

  11.  
    L
    July 6, 2007 | 11:47 pm
     

    Just Beautiful, in it’s sadness and reality. And reminded me of seeing my mother’s obit in the paper and the photo submitted was from the late 1950’s – she was a knock out. I really thought “who is this woman, is this my mother??” …not ever expecting the obit to look that way, with the information written up by a small town copy clerk, who made the jumble of information given by my sisters, into paragraphs that my mother would have liked. So…your’s was a perfect short-short story … and certainly what could be the first chapter of “something.”

    L.

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