Marie and I met in eighth grade when we were among the last 5 contestants in an academic decathlon for girls a a local high school. She had the audacity to beat me. I was highly frustrated when I learned that she and I would be attending the same preparatory school; I imagined her as my nemesis for the next four years. As I was leaving the auditorium that morning with my dad, I groused about this new person who was going to enter my life. "She's going to become your best friend," he said to me calmly and in a very uncharacteristicly clairvoyant way.
On the first day of school I happily noted that Marie was not in my home room nor in any of my classes. About a month into the school year I went to Glee Club auditions and there she was. I was warming up with "I am 16 Going on 17" from The Sound of Music. "That is nauseating," Marie said from her chair. I gave her a stare. But then she explained herself. She liked my voice. My icy walls began to melt and over the next few weeks my own little personal Ice Age was over. Before our first semester of high school ended, Marie and I were inseparable. Sure I would always resent that she would get a higher grade on the essay she wrote in homeroom than I would receive for the one I spent days toiling over, but she was the sister I never had and I loved her from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. And I still do.
The day after Marie arrived here in NC we sat out on my patio and shared openly about the life decisions facing each of us: which was the path to happiness and acceptance of ourselves? We helped each other slash through the Catholic guilt, mental machetes in hand and we wrestled the whips out of each other's hands. We talked about the biblical passage on the proprietor who gives his works various sums to invest in his absence and how that passage had affected us both. We had each been given so many talents and felt so impelled to use them fully. I reminded her about Sister Michaelann, the nun who had been our Student Council moderator thought our four years of high school.
"Marie, if she was here with us what would she say? She'd be so proud of us. She'd make us see everything we accomplished and reassure us that we have nothing left to prove. She'd make us see that here we are still together -- the best of friends -- after all these years."
I longed for Sister Michaelann in that moment because she was amazingly intelligent with profound insight and an extraordinary eloquence. She would know what to say. She would tell us that we had already used our talents wisely and amply. She would take those whips away. But Sister Michaelann died years ago so Marie and I would have to do it for each other.
In Marie's presence, my whip has been put away, I have rediscovered laughter, and I feel like I am sitting in the lap of love.
The day before Marie arrived I decided to take a walk. I had denied myself this daily joy because I didn't feel like I could afford the caloric output. I lassoed up the younger puppy because I cannot handle both dogs. They spend the entire walk dragging me all over the place leaving and sending dog messages in the bushes and grass and, together, they outweigh me by 50 lbs. We moseyed (and I do mean moseyed) around the neighborhood. It felt so good that I did it again on Sunday, caloric expenditure be damned. On Monday night we were all eating dinner when I informed Bill and the kids they needed to go get some water shoes at Target, "I am going for a walk." Then I started singing the Brady Bunch song, the one from when they are in the singing contest, "I think I'll go for a walk outside now. The summer sun's calling my name ...." Much to my surprise I knew all the words (if only I could use all the brain space devoted to 70s songs to something a tad more useful). Marie chimed in and we did hand motions at the table. Aidan left the table in sheer embarrassment, and Amelia laughed at us. Thirteen years into his life with me (and Marie, we are a two for one deal), Bill no longer even considers such behavior as anything but normal.
And that was the magical thing ... it was my normal -- my old normal, the old me -- not the petrified, paralyzed me that I have been for the last 4 months. And I walked Monday and Tuesday in a slow and steady but thoroughly enjoyable fashion. I went to Target yesterday and I pushed the damned cart myself with occasional relief from Marie. I bought the supplies and favors for Amelia's ninth birthday party. Then I picked up the kids from camp, took Amelia to get her hair cut, and took both kids to the dentist. I have been doing these things off and on for the past few months but today was different. Today felt like I was doing it with a full heart and an able body. I was tired at the end of the day and I woke at 3 am absolutely ravenous. I ate a 500 calorie serving of coconut flan and went back to sleep. Maybe I just need to eat in the middle of the night too.
So now the trick is to do this again today, and the next day and the next day, ad nauseum. And to keep doing it, even when Marie is not here walking by my side. Because the only antidote to dying is to live. And I am tired of the slow march towards death. I'm ready to turn around and rejoin the land of the living. Feet, and more importantly mind and heart, do NOT fail me now.