Thursday, April 4, 2013

To Betty

"As the years went by, we drifted apart
When I heard that you were gone
I felt a shadow cross my heart

But he's nobody's hero
Saves a drowning child
Cures a wasting disease
Hero...lands the crippled airplane
Solved great mysteries
Hero...not the handsome actor
Who plays a hero's role
Hero...not the glamour girl
Who'd love to sell her soul
If anybody's buying
Nobody's hero


- Nobody's Hero, Rush

The other day I was trying to think how long I'd known you and I never came up with a firm date.  But, I can tell you that the bronze cat adorning my bookshelf that you gave me for my birthday once is now entering his 27th year, so it's safe to assume we were going on three full decades.  Yet, I'm not sure I really knew you at all.  When we first met, I was young and flighty - I had an intelligence to me, I might grant you, but not any wisdom, so it was easy to see what attracted me to you, but I'll never know what it was that you saw in me.  Maybe some raw potential, who knows.  But, for my side of the equation, you were a decade older with a lifetime of exotic travels and experience.  A microbiologist who had formerly worked for the World Health Organization and traveled extensively.  It seemed so romantic to my naive eyes, even taking into account that the field you were in and the work you were doing made you witness to things that are so not pretty.  And maybe that's why you didn't do it anymore.  You know, I realize I don't even know really.   But, by the time I met you, you were settled in Austin running your own company, doing lab work for doctors offices and vet clinics, and that's how we met.  You did the lab work for the doctor my future mother-in-law worked for.  So, I've at least known you longer than I've been a married woman, and that's a long old time.

Really, we didn't have a lot in common.  We connected on our love for animals, but you were a cat person and I favor dogs.  We both loved movies, but didn't particularly agree on them.  One of my favorite memories was a spirited debate you, Greg and I had over the merits of The Natural one night at his parent's house.  Your argument was that it actually didn't have any for a long list of well thought out and articulated reasons, but I have a soft spot for baseball movies oddly enough (since I don't really follow the sport) and loved the symbolism of baseball as a purifying force, so I defended it vigorously.  For years it was a running joke that if you were coming over to watch a movie we'd be sure to pop in The Natural for you because we knew how much you loved it.

One thing you did truly love was a good glass of red wine, and you knew a lot about it.  If I know anything about it today, it was because of you, but since it's rare to see anyone sitting around a football stadium drinking wine, even that connection faded with time.  As far as I know that is the only vice you ever had, and you exercised it with the caution and discretion you did everything else.

I think the things people will remember about you the most is your voice - like dark tea flavored with honey, it was warm and flowing.  And of course your laugh, which people have commented on already when I posted the news on Facebook that you were gone.  You had a deep, genuine laugh that came from  deep within you.  You laughed easily and often, but I think that it masked deeper secrets.  Secrets that you kept to yourself because you were just on the cusp of the time when women could express themselves freely about who they truly were and whom they truly loved.  The funny thing is, as self-absorbed as I was, I always knew and accepted certain things about you, even if you never said them out loud.  But, I never told you that.  I wish that I had, but I'm not sure, even if I had, you would have felt like you could open up to me.  I hope you had someone out there with whom you could, but I don't actually know.  I think that you had kept some things so tightly held close to the vest for so long that it was second nature to you.  You know that I never went to your house?  Our common memories were at Greg's parent's house mainly.  Warm summer nights of good conversation fueled by wine you had brought.  But, it was easier to keep certain boundaries in a neutral location, isn't it?  We were very different that way as well - you shrouded in mystery and me just willing to shout my secrets to the heavens.  What an odd couple we were.  I'm not even sure I could scare up a picture of you - I know I've got a few here and there, but you were deeply private, so I hope that you don't mind this post actually.

I got word a few days ago that you were in hospice care and it wouldn't be long now.  I puzzled over what I could send you (I toyed with sending a copy of The Natural - and would have done it too if I was sure you'd remember the joke), but I hadn't settled on anything yet.  I had already been booked to come to Dallas for a day on business and considered holding over and coming down to Austin to try and see you.  To Greg's infinite credit, he encouraged me to do it, but I was too worried about work to miss the time.  I could completely kick myself now.  I'm not sure I'll ever learn the lesson Life keeps trying to teach me that we work to live not the other way around.  Seriously, is that a final lesson you leave me with?  God, I hope I heed it this time.  But, here's what I wanted to say to you:  the last time I saw you was the night of the art auction we did for AFED featuring Kelsey's art, just over three years ago now if you can believe it.  You came, accompanied by a woman I'd never met, but she waited patiently while you sat and talked to me for a long while, that warm, comforting voice flowing over me, your clear, all-seeing eyes looking into mine.  I don't remember what all you talked about, it wasn't important.  What I knew you realized was how complicated that night was - both an affirmation of Kelsey's life and talent, but painful because she wasn't there to see it.  You could never know how much that meant to me.  I love my bronze cat - I've carried it from one place to another and now all across the country - but that night was the greatest gift you could ever give me.  I wanted to thank you for that.  I pray to God that you hear me now and know how much I loved you for all your complicated wisdom, hard won as I am sure it was.  I pray that you are peace now - in every way.  I won't be there for your funeral, but I will mourn your passing like you just can't imagine.

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