On the Way

We’d become friends back in elementary school,
she and I waiting for our dads to pick us up,
we’d sit on the Metcalf Street railing,
joking, laughing, sometimes singing,
sometimes eating French fries from Wise Burger,
with lots of ketchup and salt.

I sat there sick and stunned, held her hand,
asked her to let me know, were she able,
if I was holding it too tight, was hurting her.
She looked up at me, eyes sparkling with recognition,
but she could no longer speak.

She’d transferred after intermediate school,
and I’d not seen her again until college, at UH,
where she’d sit studying in Sinclair Library
with her high school friends, her newer friends.
We never talked, just smiled hello at each other.

After that conference, we started calling each other,
I think she calling me first, although she’d given me her business card.
She talked about her PT business, exercise and clientele needs,
her marriage difficulties.
She’d bought a first generation Kindle and raved about it,
how she loved electronic books, being able to enlarge the print to old guy size.
Already an avid reader, she became phenomenally more so.
We’d suggest titles we enjoyed, discuss them at length.

I teared up recalling for her those days hanging out waiting for our dads,
how we were always the last two sitting there,
perched on the railing,
darkness coming on, knowing our rides were on the way,
but complaining and wondering when would they arrive.
If my dad were first, we’d wait with her until hers arrived,
driving his faded blue Volvo I can still see pulling up to the curb.

I told her how much she’d meant to me,
how she had always been one of my favorite people,
and I told her that it had nearly killed me when she transferred schools,
a poor choice of words but exactly how I’d felt.
She looked at me all the time I was talking, her eyes gleaming with life.
When I’d run out of everything I could think to say,
and because the line of people there to see her was growing long,
I stood, still holding onto her hand, squeezed it gently, and exited into the living room.
Her aunt asked me if I’d like something to eat.
There was a table crammed with foods of all kinds.
I asked if someone were reading to her, no, no one,
but I didn’t volunteer to do it, some friend.
And this and the idea of eating made me more sick.

I left, and the next thing I heard she’d passed away.
I found out later, that after the stroke, she’d chosen to stop eating.
She did not want to face the existence that was predicted for her,
a best medical guess, one foreseeing her life diminished considerably.
I wondered if she would have still been able to read.

She’d willed herself to starve to death.
I couldn’t fathom this strength of resolve.
I wanted with all my heart for her not to give up
even though she was already gone.

I wanted so badly for her to live,
discuss literature with me,
be her smart, upbeat, good humored self,
and not leave me,
even though I was already alone.

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