A Glimmer of Hope
Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting out of a little water.
~Antoine de Rivarol
I met Kimmie when we were in high school. She was a freshman; I was a junior. I was known to be a math whizz and someone recommended me to tutor her in Geometry. Afternoons after school Kimmie would come to my house to study. We’d sit at the kitchen counter, share snacks, and some of the time, actually do some math.
When the school year ended, she passed Geometry and she kept coming over. I was the youngest of five and she was like the little sister I’d always wanted.
My new best friend was like a member of the family. While hanging out at the house, Kimmie naturally got to know my older brother James. He was charming, funny, handsome and kind. It was no secret she had a huge crush on him. She fell for him and he for her. They dated for a several years before he asked her to marry him. It was the happiest day of her life.
Several weeks later, over a pitcher of margaritas for courage, I urged her not to marry him. For her sake, not his. James was schizophrenic, and although his mental illness was managed with medications, it was unpredictable and chronic. It was not going to go away. Life wouldn’t be easy. Kimmie took no offense. She said she understood, and that she loved him as he was. Of course, she would marry him.
Their marriage was rocky for sure, but they loved each other. They were one of those couples that wore matching costumes on Halloween. They had friends over for barbecues in the summer. They laughed lots. He’d been James to us his whole life, but we even starting referring to them as Jimmy and Kimmie. They had a son and named him after his dad.
James’ mental illness was difficult to keep in check. It was predictably unpredictable and he periodically ended up hospitalized. Eventually the stress of marriage become too much for both of them and they divorced.
Kimmie was the best single mother ever. She was always on the side of the field for her son’s soccer games. The neighborhood kids gathered at their house for snacks after school like we had done as teenagers. All the kids called her Mom.
We were devastated when Kimmie developed an aggressive, rapid-growing, almost universally fatal cancer. She was fortunate to get enrolled in a clinical trial and after two years of extensive treatments, Kimmie was one of only a few left standing from their original clinical tribe of sixteen.
Chemotherapy and radiation protocols saved her life but not without a cost. For the rest of her life, she was in constant pain from numerous complications and required continuous medical interventions. But no one would ever have known.
She took her son surfing and skiing, and taught him to cook gourmet meals. She lived to see him graduate from high school, then college. Before she died, she made sure he knew her Italian grandmother’s secret recipe for lasagna. She provided a level of stability and unconditional love that helped him to become the outstanding man he is today.
I followed my boyfriend, the man of my dreams, to another city. That relationship ended badly. I felt like a failure and I returned home lost and brokenhearted, sharing my grief with Kimmie, the one person on the planet I knew I could turn to.
As I lay on the couch crying, she said, “Jude, we all do stupid stuff and always will. We’re human and it’s okay. You shouldn’t regret what you do for love.” She told me to wallow for as long as I had to, but this pain wouldn’t last forever and my life would get back on track.
Although she didn’t say it, I knew she was referring to that night years ago when I urged her to not marry my brother. She got to marry her childhood sweetheart and raise a son she loved beyond measure. She had no regrets. She hoped I could live as fully as well.
As I tried my best to absorb her words, she said one more thing. “When you finally give in to your feelings, and you cry, really cry, like you’re doing right now, it means you’re on the verge of a solution. While you’re sobbing, somewhere in the back of your mind you’re working on the cure. Trust me. I know.”
As for letting go of regrets, I haven’t quite mastered that. One I definitely have—that Kimmie and I didn’t have more time together. My best friend, whose sage advice I never forget, wife and mother extraordinaire. The most unconditionally loving and non-judgmental woman I’ve ever known and the sister I never had.
And, whenever I get down, I remember Kimmie’s words. Her advice has served me, continued to give me comfort. When I have a problem and I cry, really cry, I always have a glimmer of hope, and trust, that a solution is on its way.
In the summer of 1964, at the age of fourteen, I landed a job as a waitress at a Dairy Queen. I wore a white polyester dress, and at night I’d shower in it, then hang it up to dry.
The restaurant had a few booths and a counter with four stools. I’d take orders to the dank back room, where my boss stood over a greasy grill with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a drink always close by.
He had a friend, a grizzled old guy, who would visit from time to time. The two of them would hang out at the counter. One day, when my boss wasn’t around, I asked the friend if I could take his order.
“Sure,” he said “Gimmie a waitress to go with nothing on.”
I didn’t know if he meant to be funny. I just stood there in my white polyester dress, pen and pad in hand. At the time I had no idea I’d remember that moment for the rest of my life.
MY BEST FRIEND in high school told me that you could tell the size of a boy’s penis by his fingers. I didn’t believe her, but since I’d never seen one in the flesh, it was fun to imagine it as true. I’d picture Robbie’s long, pencil-thin one and Don’s short, fat, stubby one.
By the time I was finally of an age to test my friend’s theory, I had forgotten it. By then I had my own ideas about hands. Hands were more erotic than anything I could imagine. Dating usually meant spending hours in restaurants, and hands were all we could touch as we ate and drank, a kind of public foreplay in preparation for the evening’s grand finale.
Married now, with a couple of kids and never enough money for fancy restaurants, I no longer gaze across a linen tablecloth and eroticize. But the other night, as we sat on the couch together, I held my husband’s hands in mine and looked longingly, erotically, at his fingers, at the veins that stand up like soft, blue pillows on the backs of his hands. And then at my own hands.
"Liver spots!” I screamed. “Are these things liver spots?”
“Yup,” he said, as he took off his glasses to get a closer look. “Liver spots.”