Yesterday was supposed to be a happy day. My son was due to come home from London to spend a week with us before flying to Paris to spend New Year’s Eve with friends. His flight was due in a little after 6 PM and we were going to pick him up. We had offered, via email, to take him out for dinner on the way home, but he thought he might be too tired after 16 hours in the air so we bought cold cuts and made potato salad for a fast fix dinner once we got home.
I have finally become used to how little time I get to spend with my son on his visits here. Even when he’s staying with us, he stays up late, sleeps late, and goes to visit friends, his step-siblings families, and of course, his dad and stepmother. We pencil in a few lunches and/or dinners and wave at him as he goes by.
Yesterday morning John’s former boss called looking for a ride to a memorial service. One of John’s former coworkers, the former boss’s secretary, Jane*, had died. The memorial service was in Baker, not far from the airport, actually, at 3PM. The airport is on the opposite end of town from us. We could easily make it to the service, but then we’d have just enough time to bring former boss home, turn around, and head back to the airport. Either that, or former boss could come hang out at the airport with us. He decided to find his own ride.
This has been a very strange December. In addition to John’s uncle and coworker dying within a week of each other, the father of his sister’s oldest friend also died. We spent one Friday a week ago at his funeral in New Orleans. All three of these people had lived long lives. Jane, as the youngest, was about to turn 80. The tragedy in Jane’s story was that her younger daughter Kelly* had died just a few weeks before, of a drug overdose, after a life punctuated by trips to rehab and jail. Jane, who was already doing poorly, quit eating and refused a feeding tube.
I never met Jane, but I felt as if I knew her. For at least a year, maybe longer, not a day went by without a Jane story from John. Jane was a character. She filled people’s lives with laughter, however unwittingly.
At the memorial service, I heard of another side to Jane. There was the younger Jane riding a horse, getting a music degree, and posing for a “beauty shot” in her bathing suit. There was the Jane who worked hard to support her daughters when she was left on her own. There was the Jane who made sure her grandchildren had hot meals while their mother, as her husband put it, “was away”. There was the Jane who always wanted to look good - and that led to a typical Jane story. One day she called a coworker to see if her could figure out what was wrong with her pencil sharpener. “Miss Jane, what is all this gunk?” he asked. “My eyeliner,” she replied.
Looking at pictures of all these Janes, I was surprised to see that she actually looked the way I expected. “Are you sure I never met her?” I asked John.
After the service, we made it to the airport with time to spare. Neal’s plane actually arrived a little early, in contrast to the flights coming in from the east which were badly delayed by storms. “Do you guys still want to go out to dinner?” he asked. It turned out he had run into some old friends in Dallas who were taking a different plane to Baton Rouge but were going to be at a local campus hangout, the Chimes, later in the evening. If we stopped there for dinner, we could then leave him with his friends and he’d grab a ride home later.
Okay, the cold cuts will keep. We had a nice leisurely dinner. Neal admired a ring I was wearing. “I’m glad you like it,” I said. “I’m leaving it to you in my will.”
“I’d rather have you. Can I swap it for you?”
After dinner, Neal found his friends and we headed home with his luggage. On the way home, I had to laugh.
“This has to be a new record,” I told John. “He didn’t even make it home before leaving with his friends.”
Then I think of Jane and Kelly. My son is not on drugs, in and out of prison and rehab. He loves his family, all of his family. We’re lucky, all of us.
Life goes by so fast. There’s no time for keeping score.
*not her real name