Friday, March 25, 2011
Rest in Peace, Laura
Two weeks ago today, my friend Laura died. You know when you hear people say, "oh, I've known them forever"? Well, for Laura and me that was pretty much true. We met when we were in kindergarten. Her house was my second home, and her mother was my second Mom. Through cross country moves and changing life situations, we maintained a friendship for 30 years.
There's a formal obituary here if you want the basic deets, but I've always found those to be so dry. They don't really tell you anything about the person. So I'm going to write my own obituary and tell you about my friend, Laura.
As I said before, Laura and I met when we were in kindergarten. Our dads had just started working at the same company, and so we both moved to Iowa at the same time. We were both from the east coast-- her family was from Delaware and we came from Pennsylvania-- so there was some common ground right away. We had even more common ground when we realized that we'd both spent our summers, or as much of it as we could manage, in the same beach town-- Ocean City, NJ. Ocean City remained important to Laura for the rest of her life, and as an adult she went back as often as possible, even though she lived only a half a day's drive from the Gulf.
We didn't actually meet in class, though. We lived out in the boonies (in Iowa even the boonies have boonies), and I was in the AM class with all the other bus riders. Laura lived within walking distance of school, so she was in the PM class. This was excellent scheduling, because Laura didn't do mornings. (This never changed.)
We actually met through a baby sitting co-op. Our mothers, both being new in town and not really knowing anyone, signed up, and we ended up at each other's houses. You'd be hard pressed to find two less-alike 5 year old girls. Laura was always the girly one. Everything with her was always pink and flowery. I was the tom boy. But the two of us got on like a house afire. When we played Star Wars (hey, it was the early 80s), she was always Princess Leia, and I played everyone else. But we could go at it hammer and tongs, too. I was the hair puller; Laura was a biter.
In many ways she was more like a sister to me than a friend. When we told my brother last week, he said, "More than any of your friends, Laura was like another big sister to me." And then he tacked on, "You both treated me like dirt." Laura would have laughed as hard as I did at that. And then she would have laughed some more when I responded with, "Aw, poor baby." She would have laughed even harder when his wife chimed in with, "Well, that's how you're *supposed* to treat little brothers!"
Laura had a sense of humor, and she loved to laugh. She also liked to tease and play pranks. She once convinced me that there was a stranger with a gun in her closet. Scared the crap out of me. It was the middle of a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon. She was a very good actress.
Her first love was music. She loved classical music and hated country. She played the piano beautifully as a child, but I never heard her play as an adult. Laura was the one who introduced me to the music of the mega star of our junior high years-- Madonna. She also liked acting, and for a while she took voice classes and even had a manager for voice over work. Once she got a small role in a between bout skit at a big, televised wrestling thing in Austin. Smackdown, Raw, one of those things. I laughed for days at the idea of my girly friend at an event like that, let alone in the ring in front of all those people. But apparently she had a ball.
Laura (and her mom) gave THE BEST slumber parties. We always had a ton of fun. And that is where we discovered the iconic movie of our junior high years, Girls Just Want to Have Fun. We LOVED this movie. I'm pretty sure we could both recite whole sections of the movie, including song lyrics, if asked.
My family moved away the summer before high school, and although we didn't lose touch completely, we weren't as close in those years. But after college, with me settled in Houston and Laura in the Austin area, we were able to reconnect. She'd come down every year to go to the beach house, and various things would take me up to Austin for a visit, including two hurricanes. I stayed with Laura and her husband, Greg, for almost 3 weeks during the aftermath of Ike.
In some ways, Laura was a very 1950s kind of gal. Her goal was always to marry and be a housewife. She met her goal 5 years ago when she married Greg. (In fact, their 5 year anniversary is coming up in about 6 weeks.) I was a bridesmaid in the wedding. My parents came down for it, and Mom still talks about how beautiful and gracious the wedding was. Back to that 1950s thing, the planning was all about how to make her guests feel comfortable and welcome, not about being the diva or the center of attention. That wasn't Laura at all. She didn't mind hamming it up-- she liked to act and perform, after all. But she'd rather look after others than make herself the center of attention.
Her mother's childhood pet name for her was Laura Lady Bug, and I always addressed my emails to her that way. Sometimes she called me Beckers.
In the last few years, things weren't quite so rosy for Laura. She started having pelvic problems. It was diagnosed as one thing, and they tried every available treatment option, including surgery, with no success. They consulted doctors all over the country, and even explored international options. Last fall a new specialist decided that she'd been misdiagnosed all along, and they moved off into a new treatment plan. All this time she was in pain. Years of pain. Sitting was misery for her. Can you imagine not being able to sit through a movie or a long dinner out with friends? We talked about this stuff frankly, I think because with my own health problems I could relate. But she never complained. We'd crack toilet paper jokes and then move on to more interesting topics, like what books we'd been reading lately and favorite TV shows, like Ugly Betty or True Blood. (I was staying with them for Ike when True Blood premiered, and after that it kind of became our thing. Or you know, another one of our things. She devoured the books, and we were both devoted Eric fans.)
In the end, it was her disease that killed her. Whatever that disease was. As of her last email to me, they still weren't 100% sure what the problem was. A few weeks back she felt a tearing sensation in her abdomen, followed by intense pain. They had to put her on heavy duty pain medication, and she moved back in with her parents during the week, because she couldn't be on her own while her husband was at work. On March 11th, her mother left her peacefully sleeping at the house while she went to the grocery store. When she returned it was to a yard full of paramedics. Laura passed in her sleep.
I'm trying really hard to remember my Laura. The one who used to make up dance routines with me to perform in front of her ever patient and interested mother. The one who loved pink and ruffles and all that crap. The one who looked for every opportunity to gush with me over our favorite hot actors.
But it's getting harder and harder to forget that she suffered for a very long time. There was something very wrong with her body. Her doctors knew it, but they didn't do such a good job of figuring out why. Was all that suffering necessary? Could they have treated the problem more effectively? Maybe even cured her? Might she be alive right now if one of those dozens of doctors had taken her more seriously?
Those are questions I'm going to have to learn to work through and release over the coming weeks and months. They aren't helpful questions, unless they in some way help another person going through what she did. Mostly they're like an inquisitive tongue, constantly poking at a sore tooth. I need to learn this new landscape and then let the unproductive poking go.
In the meantime, I'm going to think about ponytails. I'm going to think about the way she would use every little molecule of a tissue before throwing it out. I'm going to remember how she smelled. I'm going to remember how beautiful and serene she was on her wedding day. I'm going to remember my friend, Laura.