Kristy

The-Pink-Ribbon-breast-cancer-awareness-372389_792_1056This one’s gonna hurt.

I wasn’t sure if I should write it or not, wondered if I had the right to put it into words and post it for the world to see.

You see, I didn’t know Kristy very well.  She wasn’t my best friend, although I would have been honored to have her call me that. But she was my friend, and I miss her; just knowing her at all was enough to make me want to be a better person.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she didn’t try to hide it.  But she didn’t milk the drama of the situation, either, as I probably would have done in her place.  She faced it with an honesty and bravery that still take my breath away.

Kristy wore fancy scarves and cute little hats that did more to emphasize her baldness than camouflage it.  When her dark, curly hair came back in stark white, she never tried to color it.  No, she got it cut into a sassy style that played up her big eyes and magnificent smile, and she wore those gorgeous white curls with pride.  She worked at a local bank, where everyone could see her and see every sign of her war against cancer, and she never attempted to hide her battle scars.

She was embarrassed when her friends held fundraisers in her honor.  Can drives, spaghetti dinners,  silent auctions.  It’s a small town, and it sometimes seemed as though everyone in town was a friend rather than a neighbor.   They donated auction items and bought bracelets with her name on them and took dinners to her family during her hospitalizations.

She had remissions and recurrences, but that smile never dimmed.  I’m sure she must have had bad days, but we never saw them.  She didn’t shy away from the camera during her illness; there are countless pictures of Kristy with her friends and family during good times and bad, with or without hair.

But always smiling.  Always.

When I was house-bound and whiny after my car accident, Kristy always found the time to send me little messages on Facebook.  Little one-liners and words of hope that always seemed to hit me just exactly when I needed them the most.  She wasn’t the only one looking out for me, but it still amazes me that she took the time to lift my spirits when her own battle was so much more desperate than mine.

A few months ago, Angelina  Jolie was in the news for her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.  She was praised for her bravery.    I’m not denying that it took courage for her to make that decision.  I’m sure her surgeries were painful and her recovery difficult.

But Ms. Jolie chose to undergo the procedure.   She said she did it so she could be around for her children, but she never had to worry about going to work in pain just to keep food on the table for those kids.  She didn’t have to worry about meeting co-pays and fighting with insurance companies.  She didn’t have to swallow her pride and accept charity from friends and neighbors.

Angelina Jolie had the luxury of keeping her struggles private until after the fact.  She had plastic surgeons and make-up artists and nannies to make sure that she was always stunning and well-rested, no matter what.

Kristy had no such luxury.  She sandwiched her chemotherapy in between her work days, and she went to her job with her jaunty caps and pale skin.  She went to school events and showed up at our small-town festivals with a kind of quiet grace and dignity that puts Angelina Jolie’s press conferences and self-serving public announcements to shame.

I wanted to write about breast cancer today.  I wanted to make a list of all of the women I have known who have fought against it, and maybe even turn this post into a statement about the need for more research or funding.

But Kristy was more than her breast cancer.  She was a mom, a daughter, a sister, a wife, a friend, a neighbor.  A woman.   A kind, funny, thoughtful, brave woman who made the world a better place during her short life.

I want to remember her and honor her, but also thank her for showing the rest of us what real bravery is.  Not the Hollywood/Angelina Jolie version of bravery, but the real thing.

I thought I was writing this for Kristy, but I was wrong.  It’s for all of the women who miss her every day, and always will.  It’s for Anne, Jordann, Joelle, DeAnn, Missy, and so many others.

Thank you, Kristy, for touching our lives.

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A Mouse Tale

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Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to?  What does it say to you?  Describe the experience.

There is a Lladro figurine named “Tuesday’s Child” that has spoken to me for years.  Since eleventh grade, in fact.

My aunts always collected figurines.  Hummels, Precious Moments, Royal Doultons, Andreas, and Norman Rockwells.  Especially Norman Rockwells. I couldn’t help but learn to recognize an artist’s work at a glance, although none of their figurines really struck me as being anything special.

Then I discovered Lladros.  Tall, with long flowing lines and graceful shapes, always in pastels and with a gentle simplicity that exudes a feeling a peace.  They are beautiful and delicate and they touch my soul in a way that no other piece of art has ever done.

The first one I saw, the one that drew me to the collection, was called “Tuesday’s Child”, and I saw it in the display case at a jewelry store at the mall.

As usual with me, there is a story.

I had a friend back then whose nickname was Mouse.  Mouse was a ballet dancer.  She was also what my aunts referred to as “a Toughie” because of a very rough start in life.  She looked so tiny and innocent, but she could swear like a sailor and she was certainly no stranger to drugs and alcohol at a young age.  She wore her hair spiked and multi-colored, totally embracing the fashion trends of the eighties.

We drifted apart in high school.  I’m ashamed to admit that I got wrapped up in the almost-almost-popular crowd, and Mouse had just gotten a little too offbeat for me.  She and her best friend talked tough and looked rougher, and she made out with her boyfriend in the hallways with so much gusto that some of us dubbed them “Kinko and Slinko.”

I heard that she gave up dancing, which was a shame, because I remember being moved to tears when she danced to her own choreography to “Anatevka” from Fiddler on the Roof.  She moved on the stage like some kind of mythical creature, something beyond human, something that defied gravity.  She took my breath away.

The last time I saw her, she was with her best friend at a festival in South Haven.  They were dressed like biker chicks, and Mouse regaled me with a tale of a recent fight that had left her with a fat lip.  I couldn’t get away from her fast enough.

She was only fifteen when she died a few weeks later in a fall at a party.  Rumors flew about drugs and alcohol and stupidity of the other partygoers who were too fried to call for help.  I never knew which parts of the stories were true or false, but I knew that Mouse was gone and that I had not been a good friend to her.

It was the first time we had lost a peer, and the reminder of our own mortality hit us all hard.  People who had snubbed her and mocked her suddenly portrayed themselves as her best friend, weeping dramatically in the halls.  Parents and teachers pounced on her death as a cautionary tale against drinking, and some of us were just quietly lost.

Then I saw “Tuesday’s Child” at the mall.  She was a delicate little ballerina, bent gracefully over to lace her pointe shoes.  There was something about the pose, and in the part-serious, part-amused expression on her face that just spoke to me of Mouse.  Looking at the beauty of that tiny figurine, I was reminded of Mouse’s grace and beauty in life, and I stopped focusing on the ugliness of her death; I could finally start forgiving myself for failing our friendship.

“Tuesday’s Child” helped me say goodbye to Mouse.

Of course, I have never been able to afford that specific figurine since it has long since been “retired”.   But I have managed to collect three genuine Lladros and a small handful of knockoffs made by NAO.  Someday . . . someday, I hope to own “Tuesday’s Child” but until then, I have my memories of a girl named Mouse.

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