Tag Archives: Sadness

Circle of Life

For 25 years, I have been the Young Friend. What I mean is that I did not fit in especially well with most of my peers as a kid, so I gravitated toward the adults, who understood and appreciated my quirks.

In the back of my mind, I knew I was playing a dangerous game: If all your friends are 20+ years your senior, there will come a moment when you are left alone. When you reach that moment, you face a question: What do I do now?

I have a few friends my age. Some go way back; some are newer. The older I get, the more I find I have in common with my peers. Age is a great equalizer. But I have always cherished my older friends. And I have always known I couldn’t keep them forever.

Nearly five years ago, my friend Laurel died unexpectedly. I treasure the years I had with her. We had a host of things in common and delighted in discovering them, usually over sushi. She was nearly 30 years my senior, but we might as well have been sisters. I miss her.

In late November, while I was busy surviving COVID-19, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Anna, lost her battle with lung cancer. Anna was my sophomore English teacher. She was my parents’ sophomore English teacher. She was also one of my biggest cheerleaders. If not for this godforsaken virus, I would have headed back to Illinois to see her the minute she told me she was sick.

When I got word that she had slipped away, I wondered: What next? What do you do when you’re the Young Friend, and your Older Friends leave you?

The answer is: You become the Old Friend. I started grad school this semester (something Anna had long nudged me to do), and I soon befriended a young classmate. The book in this picture is a Christmas gift she sent me, along with a sweet note that sounded a lot like something I might have said to Anna or Laurel.

I still miss them. But I am not as lost as I thought I’d be. I understand my role now, and I honor them by fulfilling it. I have always loved circular plot lines, and Tiara’s gift completes a circle.

This new role is strange, yet oddly familiar and eminently comforting. I embrace it. As Sandy Denny said: “I do not fear the time.”

Drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra

As far as I can tell, Carrie Fisher was basically the spiritual heir to Dorothy Parker. I’ve never been a huge Star Wars fan, but through her writing and her scathing sense of humor, the actress who brought Princess Leia to life on the big screen became one of my greatest heroes. I wrote about her here last winter, and I’ll probably have more to say about her and about the seeming epidemic of celebrity deaths this year at some point in the future. In the meantime, I offer the obituary she wrote for herself in 2008:

carrie

Headcanon accepted, General Organa. May the Force be with you.

Emily

Loss

The world lost a good man this week.

I met Darian several years ago, when he was a round-faced sophomore serving as a quiet beacon of sanity in a class full of outrageous cutups. He was a sweet kid, unfailingly polite, and so quiet and unassuming that when I went through my archive of classroom photos in search of a photo of him doing something ridiculous to post on Facebook, I came up empty, because Darian wasn’t the kind of kid who craved attention. The only photos I have of him show a young man with a sort of bemused smile on his face, enjoying the antics of some of his more gonzo classmates during a group project at the conclusion of a unit on Hamlet.

Somehow those images, shot by one of his fourth-hour classmates, capture the essence of Darian as I knew him better than anything I could write about him. He was one of those kids every teacher looks forward to working with because he was so good-natured and reliable.

Sometime during Darian’s junior or senior year, he was diagnosed with cancer. He battled it — seemingly successfully for a while — graduated in spite of the distractions it dealt him, and last year, married another of my former students, a funny, confident young woman every bit as sweet and bright as he was. They seemed a perfect match, and smiling at their wedding pictures on Facebook, I fervently hoped they’d get their happily ever after.

Cancer doesn’t care what anybody hopes, and this week, it assigned Chelsey a title nobody her age should have to carry: widow.

The word sounds wrong when I think of her laughing in my classroom or beaming, radiant and beautiful, in her wedding pictures. It feels wrong. It weighs too much. It tastes strange in my mouth when I try to say it, remembering Darian grinning at whatever outrageous thing the class cutups were pulling this time.

Chelsey is a strong, compassionate woman. She’ll need that strength, and I pray that compassion will be returned to her — amplified exponentially — in the coming weeks and months and years. I suspect it will. I know Webster, and I know southwest Tulsa, and if there’s one thing kids who grew up together on the west side of the Arkansas River know how to do, it’s love and support each other through rough times. They’ve had to do it before — far too often — and I wish with all my heart I could stand between them and the world and absorb the blows so they’d never have to do it again.

If you can spare a prayer, a thought, or a good vibe for my kids — and especially Chelsey — I’d appreciate it.

Emily

Loss

One day about 14 years ago, the then-president of the Oklahoma Route 66 Association asked me to interview a fellow Route 66 enthusiast who had just moved from Darien, Connecticut, to Afton, Oklahoma, to restore an old D-X gas station and turn it into a sort of mini-museum and Route 66 visitors’ center.

During the interview, the station owner mentioned she’d procured the old condom machine that used to hang in the restroom at the late, great Buffalo Ranch in Afton, and she was contemplating whether to install it in the restroom at her gas-station-turned-Packard-and-postcard-museum.

I laughed, because at the time, I was in the middle of redecorating my bathroom in a gas-station theme, and among the many decorations I’d hung on the wall was a glow-in-the-dark-condom dispenser.

She was delighted and asked what else I’d put in there. I mentioned the dashboard-hula-girl shower curtain and the Texaco “Registered Rest Room” sign and told her I was planning to order a set of pink plastic Cadillac fins from Archie McPhee to install on the toilet tank.

“Oh, don’t buy those yet,” she said. “I think I’ve got a spare set in one of these boxes I haven’t unpacked yet.”

A spare set.

Not just a set. A SPARE set.

In that moment, I knew Laurel Kane and I would be friends forever.

Over the years, Laurel and I bonded over our shared fondness for good margaritas, bad kitsch and outrageously inappropriate jokes. Every time we got together, we found another strange little quirk we had in common.

We both loved sushi, papasan chairs, and mild spring evenings spent sitting on wide front porches with cold drinks in hand. She lived in a cute Craftsman bungalow in a quiet neighborhood a block off a busy street in Tulsa; when we left Tulsa, I wound up living in a cute Craftsman bungalow in a quiet neighborhood a block off a busy street in Cape. This house felt safe and familiar the minute I walked in — perhaps because, at some subconscious level, the wide front porch and hardwood floors reminded me of Laurel’s house.

Laurel and I have both been known to decorate with tumbleweeds collected from barbed-wire fences somewhere on Route 66. We’ve both tried our hand at vermicomposting and fungiculture at various points in our lives. We were both raised by Christian Scientists. And Laurel held the distinction of being one of the only three people Scout ever befriended at first sight.

We got word yesterday that Laurel had died a few hours earlier as the result of a fall. When Ron texted to tell me, the first thing that popped in my mind was an exuberant rat terrier barreling toward a golden gate, stubby tail wagging furiously, warbling an excited greeting to her old friend.

That thought has stuck with me all day.

I miss you already, Laurel. Save me a margarita, and don’t let Scout eat all the eel rolls before I catch up.

Love,
Emily

P.S.: The picture above was shot at Afton Station during the 2003 Hampton Inns Save-A-Landmark Caravan. The penguin is Tripper, a Route 66-themed entry in the Penguins on Parade fundraiser for the Tulsa Zoo, which Laurel ended up buying to use as a sort of mascot for Afton Station. Tripper is flanked by Laurel on the left and our friend Guy Randall on the right.