A few years ago, I made a resolution to reconnect. Reconnect with people who molded and influenced me, made me laugh, saved me from jail, lent an ear to my drama queen moments, or were bumpers in my pinball journey through life.
I promised myself I would be selective – that I would reach out to the people that I really missed and wondering where their adventures had taken them. So not everybody.
No offense, Susan Watts, but you stole my Popsicle money in elementary school and I’m still pissed. We will not be visiting.
Everyone has a handful of people whose orbits have veered away from ours, whose fates intrigue us, making them hover on our map of stars, just a short distance away. We might exchange Christmas cards, or even text messages, which always end with “let’s get together soon!”
Show of hands: how many people have actually follow through?
It’s hard. We’ve all got schedules, work, kids, families, and obligations that pull us in different directions. Sometimes it seems impossible to make time for another lunch or an impromptu road trip.
Nothing is impossible.
I’m here to tell you to make the time. Make. The. Time.
I will soon celebrate what I’m referring to as my Beatles birthday – 64 – and what I’m about to say usually applies to those of us with a shorter balance on our dance card.
Make the time. When someone says, “let’s do lunch” or “gee, it would be great to see you,” be the person who answers “OK, when? Let’s make a date. Now.”
Because nobody knows who is going to be around if you put it off and regret is sometimes more painful than loss.
When I first made that resolution, I had two main targets for immediate reconnects – my best friends from school; Vicki, who became my ride-or-die in second grade and Margaret, who I was partnered with when she joined our sixth grade class as a recent emigrant from Canada. We were assigned to be buddies; my job was to show her around and help her get comfortable in her new home. Little did those teachers know that our relationship would get stronger and we would be joined at the hip as we moved through junior high and high school.
We were even christened “Kochaltoosh” – a mashup of our last names, long preceding Brangelina, by one of our civics teachers because when there was one in the room, the other was not far away.
Both Vicki and Margaret lived in Central California, and I love road trips. It had been at least 28 years since our family of five visited Vicki and her husband, Preston, and the last time I saw Margaret, it was at a baby shower my family threw for me in the Bay Area. Her appearance was a surprise and I was even more surprised that she was pregnant too. Our daughters were born one day apart – 37 years ago.
In the spring of 2016, I drove up to Tracy to visit Vicki. Her brilliant smile hadn’t dimmed and her firecracker spirit was undaunted, despite some health challenges. From the first hug at the curb, I was awash with gratitude that we were able to pick up from where we’d left off. The next two days were spent talking, learning about each other’s subsequent lives, laughing and catching up. I did feel the mantle of responsibility she shouldered, as her husband had recently gone to an assisted living facility because of his dementia, but she soldiered on because … well, life. Gotta keep going.
It was timely that we discovered that our yin and yang, discovered so many years before, was stronger than ever.
The next day, we both headed for Manteca to visit with Margaret and her husband, Roland. They lived in a beautiful little house that was the perfect setting for their happy existence and occasional party-throwing (something Margie excelled at, I learned). Seeing her, I physically felt my past come back, remembering the years we spent growing and learning about life together. She looked the same, albeit a tiny bit grayer, but still excited that we were together. We looked at yearbooks, wedding pictures, talked about friends past; she whipped up a delicious lunch and the three of us spent the afternoon doing a lot more laughing. When we finally had to part, the connections had been strengthened; the determination to stay a little closer cemented and all of our hearts happy. I drove the next leg of my trip, up to Sacramento to pick up my daughter (the one that’s one day younger than Margaret’s) and we headed back to Southern California to surprise her sister.
A few months later, I got a text from Margaret, telling me she was being treated for myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood cancer. She was optimistic and said that so far, the chemo was not too bad. She was scheduled to receive a bone marrow transplant in June, and when I checked in on her, she said the transplant went well, sending a picture of her and Roland enjoying missles (frozen treats), proudly displaying her “chrome dome.” Doctors were pleased with her progress and I started thinking about bringing up a stack of LPs she would enjoy.
In the meantime, Vicki’s husband was moved to another facility. She came down to visit and we went to LACMA and a few wineries near my daughter’s house, so she could see the countryside and meet my granddaughter. I cooked dinner every night and we were happy and content to just enjoy each other’s company. When she returned home, we started texting more. I sent texts to Margaret, but didn’t hear back, but I figured she must just be busy.
Then, as we celebrated my granddaughter’s birthday, I got a panicked phone call from Vicki. Preston had died. I dropped everything and drove up to her new home (she now lives with her daughter on a farm) for the funeral. I put the LPs in the car, intending to make a quick trip up to see Margaret and drop them off before I headed home. I texted her that I was in Northern California, but still no answer. I left the stack with Vicki.
A month later, I saw a posting on Facebook that she had died – on the day I had arrived in Tracy for Preston’s funeral.
Vicki and Margaret weren’t the only friends from my past that I had reconnected with. About 10 years ago, I found Olivia, a friend who showed me the ropes of Southern California when I was a newbie and working for LAPD, on Facebook and we started corresponding. She visited a couple of times when she came home to Santa Paula to check on family and we spent a lot of time on Memory Lane, remembering parties, dates and escapades that went back more than 40 years. She had moved across the country and we had both changed careers, but we could still talk for hours about everything.
Last week, she went in for surgery to take care of a small growth in her abdomen. She goofy-posted while she was coming out of anesthesia (if you’d ever met Olivia, you wouldn’t try to take her phone away for any reason), then made us all feel better when she was coherent and grammatical the next day. Everything had gone well … until 24 hours later, when she threw a blood clot and suddenly died.
I love social media, except for when I get news flashes like these. The posts seem unreal and we hurriedly scroll through and jump from page to page looking for verification and feeling our hearts sink when we find it. While we hate the messenger temporarily, we seem to draw comfort from the worldwide community of our friends in common – one of them even likened it to “an online funeral” because people from all over could share their memories and sorrow and start our collective healing.
I didn’t write this post to start a flood of “sorry for your loss” messages, although I deeply appreciate those I received when Preston and Margaret and Olivia shuffled off this mortal coil. Vicki is fine and I am considering protecting her with bubble wrap so we can celebrate our 100th birthdays together (she will be free from harm and have something to do at the same time. Good thing both of us are easily entertained).
While my heart hurts for their passing, I am eternally grateful for having taken the time, making the drive, sending and answering texts and being present.
We blow off too many people because of time, politics, and inflexibility. If someone means or meant something to you, take a moment. Gas up the car. Make the reservations. Hit the road.
Trust me, the feeling is better than you can ever imagine.
Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”
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