Last night’s book club for my recent release I’ll Be in the Car was the most educational to date. The women, in their late forties or perhaps slipping into their fifties gingerly, were not some high-brow group wanting to know more about the structure of my book nor were they fascinated because they knew me. They weren’t even seeking a spiritual lift. One member had simply acted a whim at the local hair salon, believed in a cause and passed it on to her dearest friends.
Bonnie Gulker twice had sat in the Eva Ribero’s stylist chair before asking Eva about the book prominently displayed on her workstation amidst Bedhead products Control Freak and After Party and other assorted names meant to imply something else!
Bonnie finally got up the nerve to ask about the book. “That’s my Annette,” Eva had likely replied. Eva had cut my hair through perm days, long and short. She had come to understand my bad hair days during Devin’s dying and appreciated my good hair days, the day I remarried Mark. I would put my hairstylist up against a bartender any day. I don’t need margaritas, but I need my fix of Eva to stay sane.
Eva explained to Bonnie why the book sat at her station and what our relationship had been over the years. Later, Eva called me at home. She never does this, despite the number of times we have promised to call for margaritas, red wine or both. Hours before, I had sat in the same chair as Bonnie while Eva worked her mojo. I must have forgotten something important or had forgotten to pay. But Eva called to tell me that Bonnie was interested in the book for her club and passed along her number.
During my phone call to Bonnie, I offered to make a dozen or so copies available because not only did I have access to my own stash in a warehouse in Kansas somewhere, but had access to the dozens or so sitting at my feet while I wrote, like a loyal puppies curled up at the foot, waiting for their next owner to buy them and read them lovingly.
I delivered these copies to Bonnie despite her offer to pick them up. Really, I had explained, they were doing me the favor, exchanging quality time with their husbands, which I later learned was OK, versus spending time engrossed in my book.
The evening of June 20th arrived and I was welcomed into the group with a Oregon Pinot Noir (I noticed the rest drank beer!) Once we chowed through Bonnie’s spread, chatter turned to discussion. Patty or Mary mentioned they had been caught up in reading about the transplant process in Seattle, living it with me. Yet, they remained fixated with reading the rest, knowing that Devin was going to die. For this, they had sacrificed their relaxation time.
Thus the talk turned to death. Susan mentioned the death of her father. She felt as if in bubble when speaking with the thoracic surgeon about her father’s condition. Everything was happening in slow motion. And the question arose, “Did you ever stop once to think, Devin may not make it?” But the breathless energy it took to be caregiver during that time seemed to convey otherwise and this was true. When in the midst of a system that prescribes every waking breath, failure was not option, unless all other remedies had been exhausted. Devin thought so too. And when each morning, we woke to the warm brown eyes of little Davis, I would say to myself, “No one dies today while I am taking care.”
It was not the healthiest of attitudes, but we had been in it long enough to rise up with determination, in particular during Devin’s good days. As time dragged on, the good became less and less so, and we struggled with staying focused on his life. In the end, as discussed, Hospice was an easy choice to make, to provide comfort and not remedy, to choose for Devin to die. Sometimes, I am in awe that Devin’s parents had allowed me to make this decision. Partly out of respect for Devin’s wishes, partly out of trusting me, but partly out of not wanting to be the one to make that choice. No one should ever have to make that choice.
Ideally, we would all like to die in our sleep. Susan recounted how the move to put her dad in hospice, while welcomed, was still not easy to accept. “I knew it was the right thing to do, but I thinking whoa, I don’t want this. No, I’d prefer if they kept him alive with some machine next to him, the rest of my life, in my house.” Susan said this with biting irony because there are no easy choices. It’s not lot like waltzing into Graeter’s and choosing between peanut butter chip or black raspberry chip or mango sorbet, depending on if you wanted to taste salt or sweet.
Our choices had not been dependent on taste, or even how Devin felt for the day, but over the long term, was there any hope for a reasonable shot at coaching Davis in basketball, ever making love again and producing offspring, celebrating his father’s 70th birthday?
The intimacy of Bonnie’s backyard lent to the mood of that evening. Friendships here had been cemented in deaths, cancer diagnoses, sons who were friends, kids attending the same school. In our neighborhood, school choice is mandatory, as if one has to pick somewhere different from two catholic schools, a few private Christian schools and an excellent rated public school, which leaves us all only a common a plot of land.
The pool offered a reflection for these women and me on life, on relationships. I thanked them for welcoming me into their circle. They wanted to know, “How do we stack up to the other book groups you’ve been to?” There was some casual joking about a “box of rocks”, but only casual. “I’ve never been to a book group that bought wine just for me, because it came from Oregon.” “I’ve never been to one where for three hours, we talked about my book for only thirty minutes and debated life the rest of the time.” No one suggested I should be on Oprah or that I should consider injecting a little more of Jesus Christ into the spiritual aspect of the story. Other than one group led by my girlfriend Kristi, no where had I walked away wishing I could have been friends with these women. Their circle was tight, but flexible and willing to open and extend an arm to welcome me.
Recently, I had received an e-mail from a reader in Dayton who wrote, “I will be 67 in August and just this past year have grown to where you already are.” She thanked me for putting my experience down in words and offered that she envied me for possessing such wisdom an early stage in my life, wisdom which she is just coming into. But like any child who skips a grade or has to grow up in a hurry, I missed out on playing with my friends while acquiring this wisdom.
Last night, this group of women laughed about how great their kids were in sports and school in the early years, but now, they are just thankful their kids were not in jail or on drugs. Bonnie or Susan suggested, “Its amazing how over time you lower your expectations of your kids, of your life.”
As I struggle through blending families and coping with the absence of my name on any best seller list, I am thankful for their lesson in lowering expectations to enjoy life. That’s what kids do best. I hugged each woman before Bonnie showed me the door then I hugged her once more saying thanks. “Omiogsh thank you for coming,” she blurted. But I hadn’t been thanking her for the invite to speak, but for the opportunity to learn. They had distinguished themselves from other book clubs through their willingness to put themselves in my shoes, to speak so frankly of heartache and erectile dysfunction and teenagers. It wasn’t just their intellect or their wine or their spirit, but the wisdom that comes from loving friendships which had separated them from the rest.