The Love That Had No Place To Go
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I didn't really know how to deal with the death of my mom's best friend.
Now that I'm grown up and a mom, when I look back on our relationship it brings me a fair amount of pain. My mom and dad divorced in 1979 and both remarried soon after; my stepmother used Cinderella as a training video, my new stepdad was a violent and abusive man. I remember sitting on the couch with my stepfather's brother - my soon to be uncle - on the night of their wedding when my stepdad stormed through the living room, knife in hand, to "end" a fight. That incident was a common scenario in our home for the year they were married.
She finally left him, but it left a big gap in her life, which she filled with Al-Anon meetings (stepdad and grandma were both drunks) and church single's groups. I'm pretty sure she was looking for a husband, but found Sharon and her other girlfriends instead. They were all teachers, but only my mom and one other lady had kids.
That began a time when, if I wasn't in school, I was home alone. My mom was close friends with the lady who lived across the parking lot of our crappy condo complex, but that relationship cooled after she met her church friends; at least she had a daughter my age and I liked her. She and I spent a lot of time together when our moms went out, mainly to bars.
Music played a big part in the church community, so, being a violinist, she and her friends performed in a lot of music programs at the church. My mom played in the orchestra; Sharon sang in the choir. They also went on singles retreats and bar hopping. My mom secured a spot playing electric violin in a bar band that kept her and her squad out most Friday and Saturday nights.
When I was a kid, Sharon's attitude toward me waffled between cold and oppressive. Even before I hit my angry teenage years, she and I never clicked. I look back now at the way she treated me and marvel at how she could have been a teacher for so long.
It never occurred to me, how strange it was that mom only had childless girlfriends. Outings with the group meant hours of me sitting off in a corner by myself, wishing I could just be alone at home. There were rarely kids my own age to talk to at any big event and I couldn't convince my friends to come with me; that is, I couldn't convince them when I wasn't too embarrassed to ask them.
Everyone in mom's friend squad eventually married, and Sharon was no different. She married a strange, clown-haired but wealthy man and moved back to Texas; they were married for many years before he made her a widow.
Everyone stayed in touch and they often vacationed together. I was living my life overseas, so didn't talk to Sharon at all for a few years. I was glad to be rid of people like her, all those people that made me so sad for so long.
Then I got pregnant and my husband and I came back to the States. Everyone was so excited about the new baby, even Sharon. My mom convinced her to sell her place in Texas and move back to Colorado, and she brought her elderly mother with her. She had a house built in the mountains with the money her husband left her, and she and her mother lived happily, for a while, in the house that Sharon built.
My relationship with Sharon had changed. She was no longer cold or controlling with me; I guess age mellowed us both. We could sit and talk about what was going on in our lives and at times, I think my mom was even a little jealous of our relationship. Sharon was still the same in many ways, but didn't seem to have the need to control our relationship, now that I was all grown up.
And then rough times hit.
My mom divorced my stepdad and moved away; Sharon had to put her mom in a nursing home and was lonely in her new mountain community, so she moved back to Denver. They would still meet time and again and do some traveling, but not like before. My mom sold her house with the intention of traveling full time, but found it to be pretty lonely and complicated.
During those years, Sharon also faced some serious health issues: She had a major heart attack after class one day; she fell and broke seven ribs on a trip she and my mom took to Alaska, which nearly killed her; and further heart problems that prompted the insertion of a pacemaker.
Sharon's friend, Jane, decided to move to Denver a few years later, because of Sharon's health problems. On the one hand, my mom didn't want to be Sharon's sole support, but on the other hand was jealous of Jane for her willingness to be that support. I often had to remind my mom that she shouldn't feel too bad about it; after all, she had me and three grandkids to worry about, too. Unfortunately, Jane is as about as overbearing, rigid, and controlling as they come (beware the Aquarius who has never been humbled!); she made it hard for my mom to have a stress-free relationship with Sharon, which understandably upset my mother.
I think my mom called me on Friday. Sharon had collapsed at work and was in the Intensive Care Unit. They didn't know if she would make it, but the moment I saw her, I knew that even though she was still breathing, she was already gone.
Jane and Sharon's other friends didn't want to let her go but it was clear that her brain would not recover from the lack of oxygen. Her pacemaker had, unfortunately, worked too well; it kept her body alive while her brain had died within the first 10 minutes after her heart attack. Sharon had no one but her friends, but her friends were her family. To remove life support, we had to find her Living Will, which wasn't on file at the hospital, so we went to her house to look for it.
It was strange to be in Sharon's house without her. After all, it had only been her and her sweet little fluffy white lhasa apso, Melody. There was no spouse or children. Melody was confused when she saw us but was as cheerful and loving as ever. We started searching for the will, and that is when I found them.
So many photos of Sharon as a young woman. Big, 8"x10", black and white professional photos. Her perfectly Dream Whipped hair stacked on top of a perfectly porcelain face. Impeccably tailored Jackie O style dresses. Big, flashing smiles, elbow bent in a perfect 90 degree angle, shaking hands in photo ops with Texas senators and heads of industry. A young, beautiful woman with everything ahead of her.
It surprised me. The Sharon I knew was fat and disagreeable; in these pictures she looked ready to conquer the world. Beauty queen gorgeous. Donald Trump confident.
"Why didn't she ever have kids?" I asked my mom. I was puzzled why a woman that beautiful and with her talents would have married so late in life and never have children. She easily charmed the men - even with all her extra weight - but couldn't seem to find true love.
As we sat on the bed in the guest bedroom, desperately searching through all of Sharon's most personal documents, my mom told me about the party with professional football players, a pregnancy and subsequent abortion, then heartache after heartache caused by bad and deceitful men, including a callous husband that resented her several miscarriages.
The news certainly didn't erase all those unpleasant years when I was a child, but the grown up me could better understand, the pain of having to look at your friend's child when you are robbed of that blessing.
The note read:
"My sister, Margaret, gave me this doll when I was about 10 years old. (Christmas)
"I gave it to Sharon on her 3rd birthday.
"Wrap was Mikky's."
I found it when I unwrapped the doll's blanket; it was folded neatly and slipped under her collar. Written by Sharon's mother, it was clearly meant to document this precious family heirloom. Only, there were no descendants that would ever read it.
Sharon passed early the next week, several hours after they removed her life support. Her mother was still alive in a local nursing home, but there was no point in telling her Sharon had passed; her dementia was quite advanced and it would have been difficult for her to understand. She joined Sharon just couple of months later.
Sharon had been well off and her house was filled with many valuables (like dozens of gold krugerrands). I suggested giving most items to charity without bothering with an estate sale, but Jane had trouble letting go and forged ahead with the sale. It did not bring in much money, as most valuables were excluded; they put mostly kitchen and furniture items up for sale, with predictably low profits.
Several months after her death, and after the disappointing estate sale, my family went to Sharon's to pack up a truck and donate the remaining items to charity. I was looking through the leftovers and discovered three old dolls in a small cardboard box, including this one. I use dolls in my art, so gleefully claimed the dolls for my collection.
It was only later that I discovered the note. When I read it, I broke down. There had been so much love and tenderness in that doll; so much hope of it going to a beloved grand daughter. But life had a different plan. Sharon and all her close family is gone, and there is no one that will love it like they did. A doll presented by a beloved sister; a doll presented by a loving mother to her only daughter. She couldn't possibly go to a child now; her joints are weary and her skin is chipping. Her eyes don't point in the same direction and her body is threadbare. I don't dare wash the delicate blanket, even by hand, lest it crumble between my fingers.
Above all, this doll is a reminder, a reminder that life is precious and short, and is, above all, unpredictable and finite.