While the earth breaks the soft horizon
eastward, we study how to deserve
what has already been given us.
William Stafford, “Love in the Country,” from Stories that Could Be True
Sugared Maple was, without question, the right shade of lipstick. The Clinique lady in her white lab coat shook her head at Twilight Nude, the color Amy had been wearing for years. “I would never recommend that for you,” she said with a frown bordering on disdain.
Amy wears very little makeup. But we had time to fill before the memorial service, and she needed a new lipstick. I was in Chicago for the day. She was there for three, to pay her respects and begin to mourn Irene, her second mother, the beloved nanny who had raised her from the age of six months.
What was I doing there? I didn’t know Irene. Frankly, I hardly knew she existed. Over the years, Amy had mentioned a live-in nanny, but we met when we were already mothers ourselves. Our own childhood was a topic we visited infrequently. I was there because Amy is as dear to me as a sister. I was there because no one should have to mourn alone.
We are given the friends we need. We take care of each other as best we can. And if we are lucky enough to know them for a long time, we learn more and more about one another. When my children were born, my friends unloaded my dishwasher without being asked. They brought the laundry upstairs and made me soup. Today we give each other gift certificates for massages and commiserate about childrearing and dirty dishes. We are flying forward through our lives on parallel courses; we have to intentionally reach out if we want to stay connected.
That day in Chicago I saw photos of my friend smiling in a swimming pool, posing with Irene’s family before her sister’s wedding, opening birthday gifts. I caught a glimpse of the people and places that shaped her. The day was a gift. A long and exhausting gift. A day that began with a drive to the airport before dawn and ended with a trip home after midnight. A day that included a painfully chatty woman sitting behind me on the airplane both ways (!) and a Romanian cabdriver who was going to hear Lang Lang perform at the Lyric Opera and who would graduate that week with an IT degree and no student debt. A day that included instant oatmeal, a rewarmed slice of barbecued seitan and a mango smoothie.
Oh yeah. And a trip to the cosmetics counter at Macy’s. Gotta love that Sugared Maple.