Friday, January 04, 2008

Harriet's sweater

Harriet is my best friend. She and I met last year when we both volunteered at our children's school. We found soulmates in each other: two women with the same sick sense of humor, the same politics, the same basic beliefs. She and I often joke that we should be married to each other, we are THAT much on the same page.

She is 43, roughly six years younger than me, give or take a month. She is 6'2, tall for a woman. I am 5'1, small for a woman. She is thin as a rail. I'm not as fat as a pig but a few more bowls of stuffin' and I would be on my way. She has chin length red hair, a smile that is wide and generous and a laugh that is truly wicked. She reminds me of Carly Simon.

Harriet and her husband, Cash, have two children. Pete is 6 and Greta is 5. Harriet has a sister, Glyn. Glyn is 44. They are kind of close, kind of not. Glyn is conservative republican to Harriet's liberal democrat. They both hate each other's husbands. Both taught 4th grade until they had children. Glyn went back to teaching when her two children, now aged 7 and 10, started school full time.

Glyn is currently in a hospice, dying of stomach and liver cancer. Her tumors were found in July, after she spent a month thinking she had the stomach flu. She didn't even try chemo, it was too late for that.

Harriet has spent nearly every waking second with her sister for the last week. Glyn sleeps most of the time, wakes intermittently to ask why someone hasn't cleaned all the cobwebs out of the room (there are none) and sometimes she talks to her father who died before she was married.

I saw Cash at school this morning, dropping their kids off. I hadn't talked to Harriet in over a week, asked how she was. His face was sad.

"She's just...quiet. She is afraid to leave the hospice, afraid that Glyn will die alone. That worthless husband of hers is never there and her kids have been with their grandmother for over a month now. I'm sure she'd love to see you, Maria," he finished, checking his watch and then running for the car.

So I called her.

We talked about Glyn for awhile. I found out that she and Cash are preparing to adopt Glyn's kids after she dies. Glyn's husband said he couldn't deal with single fatherhood.

"Fucking asshole," she muttered. "Guess what he said when he found out that Glyn's life insurance policy was 200 thousand bucks? He said that he would finally be able to get that cherry red monster truck that he's always wanted. He has been NO help at ALL, he doesn't even come to the hospice very much and he hasn't seen his kids in weeks. He says that he can't do the Dad thing alone Like he EVER did?"

I agreed that he was absolutely an asshole.

I asked her if I could come see her, if she thought she wanted company. She very quickly said yes. And um...could I do her a favor?

Anything, I told her. Anything.

"Could you bring me one of your sweaters?"

I thought she was kidding or misspoke or something. I asked her if she wanted me to go by her house and pick up a sweater. She said no. In a quiet, quavery voice she said, "I want one of yours. I know that sounds crazy. I just...want one of yours to wear. Do you understand?"

No, I thought.

"Yes," I said. "I understand. I'll find something...."

I went through my drawers and closet. What would fit her? I mean, what fits a 5'1 woman does not usually fit a 6'2 one...

I pulled out my longest, roomiest sweaters. I finally found the perfect one. It was a black cashmere one that hung past my hips and just might work. I called to ask her if the color black was going to freak her out. She said no, just....come.

I came.

I pulled up to the hospice with the sweater still in it's dry cleaner plastic. I found Glyn's room, peeked in. Harriet was swabbing out her sister's mouth with what looked like a popsicle stick with cotton in it.

"She can't swallow anymore," Harriet said.

We hugged. We sat down together, holding hands. Her thumb gently played over mine, her eyes so tired and ringed with black that they look bruised.

We talked about easy things. I told her that Liv's favorite Christmas present so far was the cigar box filled with all kinds of colored pencils that Harriet had given her.

"Kids always like colored pencils more than crayons when they get to be about 7 or 8," Harriet mused. "I knew she would get good use out of them. They were from my college days and just sitting around the house. Neither of my kids is artistic that way, they are math lab rats like their dad. I'm so glad she liked them..."

And Harriet had remembered to sharpen them each to a sharp point. Liv loved that the most.

I told Harriet that we had taken Liv to hear Obama and Clinton speeches in Iowa. We discussed the caucus. Harriet, a total Clinton supporter wondered what Liv thought.

I laughed. "You aren't interested in the adult opinions, just the eight year olds?"

"Liv sees things that others miss."

I smiled, loved her for knowing Liv so well and for saying something that I knew, but I didn't know if others did.

I told her that Liv thought that Hillary was smarter than Obama, but that Obama seemed friendlier.

"She said that Hillary comes off like a strict teacher while Obama seemed more like someone who would be really fun to have dinner with. She liked the young hipness of the Obama crowd, she fed off it really. Hillary had impeccably dressed aides who escorted us to seats. Obama had what looked to be a bunch of college kids all dancing to the music and looking like they just LOVED it that we had come. Liv commented that Hillary's eyes looked scared but she hid it well and that Obama was more relaxed, looked like he wanted us all to order a pizza and sit around and talk. But, she also said that if she was in trouble, like a bully at school was being mean to her, she would trust that Hillary could handle it better than Obama."

"See? Your little girl already has it figured out. Clinton is the smarter of the two, but she comes across as snotty. Obama is less seasoned, but more charismatic."

Yes, I agreed, she did have them figured out. We talked some more, mostly Harriet trying to get me to commit to Clinton. I believe she called me a "fence sitter" at one time....

I handed her the sweater. Harriet went into the bathroom and came out wearing it.

Holy shit. It worked. She looked gorgeous in it, far better than I ever did. It was not tight, but fit snugly, accenting her slenderness. The arms didn't quite reach her wrists and so she rolled them up a bit.

"You look beautiful," I told her.

"No," she said. "I will never be anywhere near as pretty as you...."

We both went silent. This is so not the way we talk to each other. We don't get all sweetie. Ever. We are more the casual insult type, the arm punching duo.

"It smells like you," she told me.

"It fucking better not smell like me!" I said. "I just got that back from the cleaners!"

"It does. And that is what I needed," she said simply.

Her eyes filled with tears and she plopped down next to me and cried on my shoulder until the hospice nurse came in to rub some lotion on Glyn's legs. Glyn hadn't moved or showed any sign of life, except for her steady breathing the whole time we had talked.

I went out while the nurse and Harriet rubbed lotion into Glyn's legs. I went into the hospice kitchen and made Harriet some cinnamon toast and poured her some orange juice. When I came back in, the nurse had left and Harriet was sitting in the chair looking vacantly out the window.

I handed her the plate. "Eat," I ordered her.

She ate. She took a long slurp of her juice and some spilled out on my sweater.

"Oh, great, klutzy bitch..." I said. "Way to go, dude."

She smiled. This was more like it.

"Well," she said, "I thought to myself, what would Maria do? And then, it came to me...that's right. That bitch can't eat without wearing her food, so I had to do it....Oh, and hey, hag. Just because I said you were pretty, don't get some lesbo idea about kissing me..."

I snorted. "You just keep dreaming your little dreams, Harriet..."

We were back on track, more comfortable now. We talked some more. Harriet talked about how weird it was going to be to raise Glyn's kids.

"Cash is a little freaked. I mean, he didn't even want to have two kids and I had to talk him into it and now we will have four. And you know how fat Glyn's kids are. I am not kidding. I need to start them both in some sort of sports. She and that asshole husband let them sit in front of the TV and eat caramel corn all the time."

I looked guiltily over at Glyn, who hadn't moved a muscle. Harriet sighed.

"I don't know if she can hear me or not. But, if she can, she knows I love her kids and will raise them right. And she knows that her husband is an asshole. I mean, good hell, he didn't even know how to run the dishwasher! I had to go over to their house and show him! And now he won't even man up and raise their own kids! He says it will be too hard without Glyn. I told him that I'm her fucking SISTER, for god sakes and this isn't easy for me either....but just have to step up, you know? He just turned the TV channel to some stupid wrestling thing. Useless. Useless..."

"Come here," I told her. "Let me brush your hair, it's all sticky uppy in the back."

I brushed and brushed until her hair gleamed over my hand like silky red ribbon. And then I gently kissed the top of her head. We looked at each other in the mirror over the dresser. And smiled.

I told her that I had to go. She walked me to the door. I asked her if she wanted me to pick up her kids at school today. She said no, that Cash was going to take off work early and pick them up and take them for an early dinner and then to see The Golden Compass.

We hugged, looking comical, I'm sure. She is more than a foot taller than me. But still. I felt her small bird bones sticking out of her back.

"You need to keep eating, Harriet," I said. "I know, I know, you want to be able to blow away in the wind...but you are needed here. You can't go."

"Neither can you," she said, not looking at me.

"I'm always here, bitch," I told her. "I'm like a bad date. I won't stop talking and I won't just say goodnight already."

"Bye, Maria..." she said.

"Bye, Harriet," I said and we waved as I walked out the door.

I pulled up my coat collar and practically ran to my car. Damn, it is fucking freezing out.

When I got to my car, I peered up for a second at Glyn's window. There was Harriet, standing at the window, giving me the bird and sticking her tongue out.

I shook my head and turned around and shook my ass hard, surprising a few people walking by.

I got into my car and drove away, knowing that Harriet had pulled the covers more snugly around her sister, probably put some vaseline on her lips and then quietly sat down in the chair next to her, waiting. Waiting to have to say goodbye.

Love you, bitch.


CDJ said...

What a difficult situation for Harriet. I'm so sorry to hear about that. But it sounds like you are just the person she needs to help her through it.

dive said...

God damn, men can be assholes.
This made me cry, Maria.

Dear Prudence said...

Maria, although we have our differences I can see what a speacial person you are and your soul is beautiful. Harriet is fortunate to have you for a friend. I knew exactly what she meant when she asked you for one of your sweaters. Now she has your comfort and support wrapped warmly around her all the time What a comfort that must be for her.

amusings_bnl said...

i truly feel for harriet. and i must say that even though their differences of opinion about politics and life over time have obviously been overshadowed by the best bond ever.

you can marry someone who 100% agrees with you politically, but when it comes down to it, your sister who is on another planet compared to you will be the one putting salve on your lips and holding your hand as you die.

and that.
that's just more amazing than anything.

and a lesson learned -- no one should let anything sever completely the ties of blood. i think in reading you for the past several months that you know this and believe it and own it with your sisters too.

i'll be praying for harriet and glyn,and especially for the children.

as for that husband? well. he'll get his.

Menopauseprincess said...

Oh Maria,

I'm trying not to cry because SO is sitting here and I don't want to have to explain.

I too, have a friend who's dying...of cancer, so sad, so involved, so completely without sufficient words.

I'll probably write a post about it and link to this. More people should read you Maria.

Jade said...

It doesn't matter what you write about, I always end up crying!

Lots of positive thoughts going out to Harriet and her family.

moonrat said...

but see, how wonderful is it that you and harriet found each other? for these times AND others.

i have a friend soulmate, too. i believe friendship is the most important relationship in the world.

Gypsy said...

Dammit you made me cry again. Even when it's not a sad story like this one you manage to make me cry with your beautiful way with words.

You are a tiny little thing aren't you? I'm 5'3" and I thought that was short!

Thank goodness Glyn and the kids have Harriet and Cash and and thank God Harriet has YOU.

Hahn at Home said...

That's why she's your best friend and you are hers. I'm sorry for your friend's impending loss and glad she has you. Damn, girl.

JYankee said...

yes.. why is it that you write so beautifully? blood is thicker than water as they say.. the sob husband will get his in the end... i'll be thinking of all of them.

Val said...

Very sad, but extremely touching the relationship you have with Harriet - special. She needs you now more than ever.

simonsays said...

My thoughts are with your best friend and my admiration is with you, as always.

Mme Benaut said...

You did wonderfully well, Maria. Harriet will treasure this memory for all her life. Warm thoughts of you will be mixed with sad memories of her sister's death but all of that will be overshadowed by the day to day humdrum of raising 4 children. And she will need your help with that along the way too.
You may never get that sweater back by the way.

zirelda said...

I'm glad you gave her your sweater. It's lending her your strength which she probably really needs right now.

You are a wonderful woman. I think Harriet probably is too.

Good thouhts going to Nebraska.

Elizabeth Penmark said...

Harriet is a woman after my own heart. I totally get the sweater thing. I would have asked for it as well. I long for such a friendship.

sister AE said...

You are a good friend, Maria.

I totally "get" the sweater thing. It's like a hug whenever you need it.

And I hate that too many men are too scared to do the caring thing, especially when it comes to caring for the sick and dying.

Lulubelle B said...

Maria -

This is so sad. Glyn's children are going to lose both their parents.

Harriet is lucky to have you as a friend

About Glyn's husband, was he a jerk before her illness? It's possible that he's in denial and shock. He may not know how to deal with the strong emotions brought on by the impending death of his wife and the mother of his children

Have Glyn's family and Harriet's sought counseling? There are specialists who work with cancer patients, their families, friends and caregivers.

If there are no such programs where you live, you might want to look into Cancer Care. Our family has supported this organization for more than 40 years. They're based in NY City and offer online support groups and individual counseling by phone. For more info see or call 1-800-813-4673.

- Lulu

Lachlan said...

Everyone should have a friendship like yours and Harriet's. What an honest, true thing to behold.

My heart goes out to Glyn and Harriet and the children especially. I can't even begin to contemplate what her husband is thinking.

And I never would've guessed you are shorter than me and barely taller than Bayou. :)

Hang in there, Maria. Harriet is going to need you again before this is over.

eleKtrofly said...

isn't it amazing the sort of insight that children command.

i like obama and his "crowd" a lot too.

on a lighter note-- that no-account usband sounds like a jackass. but not all men are assholes, dive-- when shah jahan's wife died, he spent her life insurance policy to build the taj mahal as a monument to his beloved which would live throughout all time.

and yes, jade, i agree, maria can draw a tear from my eye writing about macaroni and cheese.

<3 <3

Judd Corizan said...

Hi Maria-

Congratulations! Your post from December 31, 2007 “If Loving Linens is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right” has been selected as our Post of the Day on “The Rising Blogger”. Since we award posts, not blogs, you have won again! We will email your winning badge to post in your sidebar and all our info, if you contact us with your email address. To encourage your readers to comment on your award, it helps if you make the first comment on our post about your blog, yourself. We ask winners to nominate a post favorite of a fellow blogger. Call it “paying it forward”. Neither is a requirement. You have won this award because we truly feel you deserve it. To reach “The Rising Blogger” site:

Have a great week!
Judd Corizan
The Rising Blogger

Gypsy said...

I just read the wonderful news that you won a Rising Blogger Award for the 2nd time and it couldn't go to anyone more deserving. Funnily enough I was going to nominate your bedsheet post for that very award but as I have been unwell I didn't get round to it. So glad someone else did. You deserve every accolade the reviewer bestowed on you Maria. You should be published so a wider audience can enjoy your beautiful words and I mean that sincerely.

Angelissima said...

Its difficult to make such a close friend later in life. What a blessing. Did it surprise you that she loved you so much?

fairydogmother said...

This was a beautiful post Maria.

When my own sister died it was friends like you who helped me get through the days when time stood still. Friends who showed up when others disappeared, who somehow got me to eat, and made me laugh when I was sick of crying and couldn't deal with my family for one more second.

We all need the kind of friends who will bring us one of their sweaters, call us names, and shake their ass in the middle of a parking lot.

Pen and the Sword said...

few words can express how powerful this post is. Thanks for sharing it.

Kate said...

You know, I have lots of fun women friends, but I don't really have a BFF like Harriet. You're so lucky to have someone who needs you like that.

Nickol said...

Once again I am crying while reading your blog. I am so sorry about Harriet's sister. The best thing for those kids is Harriet.

Old Crone said...

What a beautiful post. It made me cry. You and your friend have a wonderful friendship.

Old Crone said...

I agree with you totally, the older I get, the easier it gets in some ways.

Chelle said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Harriet's situation (not the right words, but it's late and I can't think anymore). It's good that she has a friend like you who offers both sympathy and a good healthy dose of wise-ass reality.

I can't even begin to describe how angry it makes me that Glyn's husband is just going to sit idly by (or idling in his monster truck) while someone else raises his children.

All will be in our thoughts.

greymatters said...

I got back from Iowa yesterday -- what a time, eh?

Anyway, I love hearing that someone else uses the word "bitch" as a term of endearment not given lightly. Bless Glyn and Harriet. Damn.

SassyFemme said...

Everyone should be so lucky as to have a friend like you.

Liv's insightfulness amazes me.

kristi said...

It is friends like you that make life worthwhile.