Have you ever gone to the grocery store and been that lucky winner who chose the squeaky wheeled shopping cart? It’s the dilapidated soul with the one bunged up wheel that wobbles and jiggles from side to side, like a drunkard on a 3 day bender trying to read an eye chart. And you think to yourself “Just My Luck. I WOULD have to get this one!”
I got one of these the other day as I headed to the grocery store. At first I had this same reaction, trying to make the damn cart go in some sense of a forward motion, but the wobble wheel was rebelling like a brooding teenager during a family car trip. I had to laugh. Because I laughed at the absurdity of my predicament, I wanted to share that odd little thought with the person I most often shared my odd little thoughts with; my best friend Kat.
I dialed her number, and immediately got her voicemail.
“Hi this is Kat. I’m sorry I’m not able to come to the phone right now, but I’m terribly busy turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. Please leave a message and I will return your call at my earliest convenience. Have a great day!” I knew immediately why she wouldn’t answer. She died this summer.
On an average day, my shopping trips take me about 45 minutes, No fuss, no muss, get in, get out, and “No, You can’t have chocolate flavored Pop Tarts!” Shopping is just a natural extension of breathing, and when I became a parent, I doubled my shopping and seemed to triple the trips. There is always something we are out of, and no family member is going to tell me we are out of something until I open the cupboard door and see the empty box of Mac-N.Cheese singles sitting there, sans Mac N Cheese.
My shopping trips usually took me about 2 hours when I talked to Kat, which was generally about every couple weeks. This was my “pleasure cruise” shopping day. As soon as I walked into the store, I would get on my phone and dial her number. We talked while I wandered up and down the aisles, laughing into the bok choy, and chortling in front of the cheddar cheese. We would go on such tangents, that quickly I would lose track of my grocery list entirely, and have to back track to several items throughout the store. I never minded, because time spent with Kat was always time well spent.
Kat was my crazy kind of Best friend who stood out from the crowd in her own “Burt Bacharach Meets Crazy Inappropriate Cat Lady” way. I knew from the moment we met, working at the same Cajun and Creole restaurant 5 opening shifts a week, we would be Best Friends. I needed this kind of off the rails “squeaky wheel” in my life.
Kat was famous for her outrageous 60’s outfits, her love for animals, and the ability to say the most inappropriate statements that had me gasping for air, from laughing so hard! My favorite “Kat-ism” is still “Better Late than Pregnant!” and wearing a t-shirt that said “Foxy Grandma!” when she was about 31. We shared a deep love of the magazine called “BUST” and vowed to visit New York one day to meet all the fabulous people in the magazine.
For over 12 years, we saw each other through the lumps, bumps, veering off course, herky jerky disasters called life, our 30’s, and bad hangovers called marriage. We celebrated divorce, Coming Out, and wedding, (all mine) Graduation, (Hers) Birth, (mine again) and dancing down the aisle of a convenience store just for the hell of it. We somehow managed to celebrate 4 Thanksgiving Holidays together,(One in matching Mumu’s) and at least One New Years Eve.
Once, she had me laughing so hard over the phone, in the dressing room of a K-Mart while trying on swimsuits; I nearly missed the leg hole and fell sideways onto the floor! Another time, she called me in panic stricken desperation when she realized at work that she had bug bombed her house while her orange cat was still inside. I had to climb up on the shoulders of my ex to shimmy up to the second story patio, break into her apartment, and find her cat who had lodged himself into the pots and pans cupboard. (As an aside, If I go through poisonous gas for you, then consider our friendship sealed.)
We saw each other through the rough times, although I couldn’t have predicted her roughest time. Kat had a lot of anxiety and depression but hid most of it from the outside world. Never wanting to “burden” anyone with her own issues, it would often take weeks to months (and sometimes years) for her secrets to come out. Even as one of her Best friends, I thought she would have revealed everything to me, but she held her shame tightly guarded, as if there were no way anyone could possibly accept or love her if they knew she was a squeaky wobbly wheel, barely loping along her life, like the rest of us. She was the epitome of compassionate to others, but couldn’t give this gift to herself.
In February she broke down and said she was having a rough time. In March she started sending me wedding gifts that she meant to give me 8 months previous. In April, she sent my daughter a birthday present and some “gifts”. In June, she took her own life and left me a hefty portion of her belongings. Besides her husband, she felt I and another long-time friend were her only family. I spoke to her the last time, 3 days before she ended her life. She was having such trouble speaking without crying unless we got off the topic of herself. I begged to come up to see her. She wouldn’t have it. I asked if she wanted to come see and stay with us. She wouldn’t budge. Her course had been settled on and I would only get in the way. For all the obvious signs I see now, I did not realize this was a path she would take. I wish I had.
I have been on auto-pilot since. I struggle to understand suicide, and wonder about the reality of “prevention” when it was so clear that this was one course she was hell bent she wouldn’t veer from. “If Only…” has become my mantra. I can never ever be mad at her one single minute, I struggle with all those years ahead of me that I will live without her friendship, her laughter, her constant support.
We are all squeaky wheeled carts, in our own way. We have been knocked around by life, side-swiped by circumstance, rammed into by the careless, and left out in the rain to rust by the neglectful. We are each looking for that friend or companion who agrees to take us on “As Is” and as we veer off course, help us to move forward through life. While we may steer clear of the bungled buggies, I feel it’s a reminder of our humanity. We are not perfect. It is in our imperfections that make us beautiful, and powerful, and push us to move through life while learning our most important lessons in life. I miss my dear friend every single day, but I am so thankful for the gift of friendship I had with this incredible woman.
My gift to her is to keep living, loving, keep laughing at the absurd quirks in life, and to keep sharing all her good stories. I love you Kat, I hope they have plenty of kitty litter in Crazy Cat Lady Heaven!
** If you or a loved one has had thoughts about suicide, please contact
- http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx (Online 24 hour chat line for suicide prevention)
- http://www.thetrevorproject.org/ (The Trevor Project for LGBT and Questioning Teens)
- http://bit.ly/1mw6Y90 (SAVE: Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)If it seems imminent, call 911. Reach out and ask for help. Reach out and offer help. Take EVERY cry for help seriously.