ground control to Major Tom

I went into the girls washroom and there she was. Super popular. Super skinny. Knock kneed in a way that made me jealous.

We hate you. And you are fat.

She scared me. I was only 8. And for the record, according to my grandmother, I had just the right amount to squeeze.

Later that year my best friend was inviting both of us to her birthday party. She told her if she was going to come she had to be nice to me.

It was a compelling start to a long friendship

She told me later, much later, when we were 50 and 51, while she was staying with me  in Toronto during chemo treatments, that when she was a little girl she would come home from school most days and find her mom drinking. One story that will always stick with me is how she had to clean her mom up to get her ready for her PT interviews. She helped dress her. She told her what to say. She got her a coffee. She was 9.

We had been best friends as teenagers. She taught me to love a cold beer on a warm dock. She had a spectacular metabolism (she could not teach me that!) Most days after school, as a warm up to dinner, she ate 2 eggs over easy, a tuna sandwich and a bowl of Alphabits (her favourite). She showed me how exciting and terrifying it could be to sit in a dark, damp rec room under a blanket watching horror movies. She slept in a room with 3 dozen candles all lit with no one saying whoa, hey this could start a fire. She loved James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Carly Simon and Joni Mitchell.  And David Bowie. She had already lived so much life when we got close that I felt like a newborn.

Her mom had died while we were living out of the country and her dad worked a lot. Most weekends when we moved back to Toronto, she was at my house. She knew where the secret key was. When she walked into our house she would go straight to the fridge and get a snack. Her Pjs were under the pillow in my other twin bed in my room. One day she came over not knowing  I was not there (nor were my brothers), walked in, grabbed a butter tart and headed for my room and saw my mom and dad kissing in front of the fireplace. On a Saturday afternoon! She slipped out quietly, without being seen, and ran all the way home. I pretended to be embarrassed when she told me. But I was happy. Yay, my parents love each other, I can remember thinking.

She was brave and independent and funny. She loved Mother Nature more than anyone I know and found beauty in everything. She woke many mornings at 5 to paddle across the lake. To see the mist rising.

When I was partying in residence in first year I got a call and ran to the phone booth on our floor. It was her. She was calling to tell me she was getting married. Our lives were going in  different directions.

She had a baby. I graduated. She became a fitness instructor and personal trainer. I went to France for a year to study and work.  She raised one truly incredible girl. She left her marriage. I got married. She became a nutritionist. I had two babies. She moved up north to her beloved Huntsville with a new man. I left my marriage.

We pretty much lost touch for 25 years.

6 months before I turned 50 she came back into my life. If I have to be honest it was cancer that brought us back together. She had left a difficult relationship, moved out in her brave and clear way, and was working towards a new life when she was rushed to the hospital unexpectedly.

A few months later, she was in Toronto, undergoing tests and subsequent treatment. She reached out. She was brave, brave in that way you write home about. Brave in that way you fear you would never be.  She became this beautiful example of how to be for me. I had been taking a flying leap at 50 with my dukes in the air- trying to tackle it to the ground from three years before. I renovated my home, built a new art studio, began staring down my fear of heights and public speaking, became a runner, cleared out as much as I could part with of the unuseful and unbeautiful in my life, but as 50 was now fast approaching, everything was not exactly where I had hoped it would be. The appearance of her back in my life was a slap across the face like that famous one in Moonstruck. Get over it.

We picked up like there had been no 25 year break. We laughed hysterically. We spoke in our old nonsensical language. Only this time there was no bullshit. I had given up pretending anything in life way back when I separated. She was still a toughie but she was articulate about her fears and hopes in a way that was also new. She was like an angel in my life.

We talked much of her dream of a little log home up north. A place she would design and build herself. Not grand. Just pretty and little and simple. I was trying to figure out how to help her with that. I encouraged her to keep a dream file, to sketch it, to imagine it.To keep hope alive. In my fantasy, I could find a way to make this happen. It would happen, I was sure. I would figure it out. There would be a way.

She died 12 days ago in that magic, surreal week between Christmas and New Years. Just like an angel but with the grit of a toughie. She held on for Christmas and pulled out of thin air 3.5 years, no doctor promised,  because the world needed that time to see her glorious example.


hamming it up

hamming it up in the late 70’s – me (L), the girl who had the grade 3 bday party (Middle)  and the angel (R).

This is Major Tom to Ground Control
I’m stepping through the door
And I’m floating in a most peculiar way
And the stars look very different today


18 thoughts on “ground control to Major Tom

    • Colleen thank you for reading and lets all remember forgiveness, compassion and how lucky we all are. This is the hard won gift of loss

    • Jen it is a privelege to write for and touch smart, good people like you. Thank you for giving me a place to put all of life’s bits.

  1. This is beautifully and sentimentally written and you should take pride in being there for her and helping her to dream. The journey to the end is very hard and not all can do it. You three old friends helped ease her leaving this world

  2. Lovely story and tribute to your dear friend. Without question she left her mark on earth by touching the lives of her many friends.

  3. A beautiful tribute Nancy, beautifully written. Thank you so much for recognizing Sally for the strong, brave and wonderful woman she was.

    • Sue, thank you for letting me do so. I have this image of you three sisters waking really early at your cottage, going down to the dock with each of your favourite teas or coffees, laughing, talking about the hard stuff of life and sitting in silence marvelling at how the morning comes so beautifully. xo

  4. This is beautiful Nance!! It is the very best friendships that can be picked up again after so many years as if a day hasn’t passed. Truly sorry for the loss of your dear friend. hugs

  5. Very touching tribute to strength of friendships. Sorry for the loss but so glad that you were there for her during this difficult time.

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