Isn't it funny how all the things you thought were important turn out NOT to be so much when you learn that someone you have known almost your entire life is sick. And not just kind of sick but REALLY quite ill?
Two months ago I found out that the mother of one of my long-time childhood friends was diagnosed with cancer and not first or second stage either. This "thing" took up almost one entire lung. Even without the final test results in, it appeared she would need to undergo radiation and/or chemo just to shrink the cancer to a size where it could be CUT out. With her condition seemingly rapidly deteriorating, my friend's mother was pretty adamant about NOT wanting to fight this. Her body was already breaking down, wracked with pain and no treatments had even begun yet. "And for what?" she asked me, half in English, half in Portuguese, when I spoke to her back in mid-July, a week following the diagnosis. "So I can live half a life afterwards IF my body survives the radiation treatments? No, I have lived a long time (aside: she was 71, same age as my mother), a good life. If it is my time, then well, I am ready to go. The only thing I wished is that I could spend more time with my Jude. At least til he was five." Jude is my friend's bundle of joy that she gave birth to 4 years ago. Did I mention he was diagnosed with autism within the last year or so? She had two other "grown" grandchildren, my friend's son and daughter from a previous marriage. With all the things she could have wished for, one more year with her youngest grandchild, to see him "grow up" more was all that she asked. What a simple request...
A little bit about this woman who so influenced my formative years--as much if not more than my own mother in a lot of ways because I was ALWAYS at their house when I wasn't sleeping at mine (or at the local library). One of my oldest friends in the universe comes from a multicultural background. Her dad is Colombian and her mother is (was *sigh*) Brazilian. With a child who was kind of a misfit--an outcast of sorts, in grade school (her last name is synonymous for a slang word for Mexican gangster--so between that, the shyness and the eventual braces that would soon follow) my friend got teased LOT. So as her daughter's occasional protector on the playground, part-time math tutor and full-time best friend, she welcomed me into their home with all the enthusiasm and love of a new parent bringing home an adopted child for the first time. I became a member of their family readily and by extension, a member of the small but close-knit Brazilian community that had sprung up in this part of Orange County in southern California. It was as foreign to me as it was exciting--I didn't speak a lick of Portuguese but I'll be goddamned if all the Spanish I had been picking up as child and eventually went on to study in high school wasn't paying off. Additionally, as a black child growing up in white Orange County, where we were (and continue to be) less than 2% of the population, it was as if a whole new world had been opened up to me--LITERALLY. I had never SEEN so many mixed racial backgrounds--Japanese, Hispanic, Indio, Caucasian, African--all eating the same food (YUM) and speaking the same language which united them. Mrs. Cholo was the first person, EVER to tell me on regular basis how pretty I was and she thanked me constantly for befriending and looking out for her daughter. She introduced me to this most rich and diverse culture where my skin was treasured, something to be admired. Consequently, I had never felt more accepted, alive or beautiful which, as you know, is almost an impossible feat during one's adolescent years under the BEST of circumstances. The approval and acceptance I found within that enclave helped to shape my view of the world, my willingness to be open to "the other", my verve for life, in fact, and to revel in being my most unique self--lessons and love which I have never forgotten and for which I will be forever grateful. Because of my early childhood experiences, this woman, along with her daughter, helped to give me the gift of well, ME.
So now that I am dealing with this most recent loss along with the rest of the crap I continue to try and manage, some days better than others, I have entered yet another period of mourning which has resulted in this overwhelming urge to make peace with many key areas of my life--my dissatisfaction with my career, ongoing financial challenges, my imperfections--both inside and out, the break-up of my 15-year relationship, my new solitude...None of these things are really THAT important in the BIG, overarching scheme of things. This is IT folks--LIFE--the good, the bad and the god-awful. Look, I'm not saying I've had this big ol' epiphany necessarily because I could no more stop being a sarcastic, smart-a$$ed cynic (not that anyone would know what to do with me ANYway if I had)--it's as much a part of my charm as the rest of my effervescent and sparkling personality.
However, what I AM saying is that life really IS too EFFing short to sweat the small sh*t.
Now excuse me but I gotta go find something else to b*tch about.
P.S. Thirty-four years later, even now that she's gone, I can STILL hear her sweet, Portuguese-laden accent saying my name "Shauntayzinha". Obrigado para tudo Senora. Cholo. Adeus. (Thank you for everything Mrs. Cholo. Good-bye.)
(Zinho/Zinha: an ending originally from Brazilian Portuguese added on to names to make nicknames. In Portuguese, it describes something as being small, or shows a certain degree of affection towards it, similar to the word "cutie.")