A long time ago, eight years to be exact, my co-worker gifted me with a handmade baby futon. It was sweet and small, with green edges and a Japanese fish print center. I had just come back to work after giving birth so it was a tough time. This gesture truly touched me especially since the woman gifting it to me had a bit of a reputation. She was a dogged fighter with a quick wit who could be intimidating if she tried. To me though, she was always like the local Auntie I never had. She was not a small woman and she always had a smile on her face and never failed to ask about my son. The kind of person you just want to hug.
When I left town for a while, to move back to NY, we fell out of touch. Surprising to me, I returned to my old job and but she was not someone who I had extensive work contact with so I really did not see her. Then I had heard she was ill. It was one of those things where she had taken a leave of absence and although I wanted to know, I didn’t want to pry or be nosy. So I never asked. I ran into her up on the executive floor at some point after that. Her speech was a bit slurred and maybe her gait a bit off. I assumed she had had a stroke. My dad had one so I was familiar with what that looked like. Unfortunately I was mistaken.
I had been meaning lately to ask someone. To see if my co-worker was OK. If she was better. If she was even still working. And then today in Safeway, in the dairy aisle, a woman rose from one of those little electric carts folks with mobility problems use and stood next to me and gently touched my arm. And there she was. My co-worker. My immediate reaction was, well, joy. Just happy to see her. I put my arm around her and asked her how she was doing. She told me that she wasn’t doing “too good”. She told me her diagnosis. I told her that I thought she looked great and in my heart, at that moment, it was absolutely true. She asked me about my son because she always does. I showed her a picture of him that I had taken this morning before school of him wearing his I heart NY shirt that I bought at JFK airport. She made a shocked look and pretended to be holding a baby. I told her I know and she said it would be all bout the girls soon. I said not yet but soon enough. Then she gestured to the gentleman who was with her. Husband? Maybe. I gave her a little squeeze and told her to take care of herself. When I left the aisle she said goodbye to me. Once I was out of view, it was all I could do to not burst into tears. This chance meeting. As I walked away, I just thought that I would like to somehow continue seeing her. I can’t imagine that a degenerative disease diagnosis is anything but isolating. And maybe I could, I don’t know, just talk a lot to her or something. Just be and connect.
Sitting here now, hours later. Looking back, in my heart, I know that my co-worker’s spunk is still there. She could have easily just let me walk on past her in that aisle. She could have pretended that she did not see me. Or she could have just called out to me from her cart. She didn’t do any of those things. She got up and walked over to where I was. Not far but probably far for her. Part of me thinks that I was too normal when we spoke. It was all I had at the time. But maybe, normal is what she is yearning for. And maybe I was able to provide that to her. For just a small bit of her day. A tiny slice of normal.