“‘Grow up and be strong,’ I told her! ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do!’” Loolie slumped in her chair, one hand on her heart, mocking herself. “‘You are just as capable of living on your own as anyone!’
“Oh, honestly,” she said to us. “What the hell was I thinking????”
We were halfway home to Loolie’s from Cleveland where we had just, with great fanfare, optimism, and confident smiles, with many hugs, fist bumps, and happy hoo-rahs, set Loolie’s daughter Kerri up in her own little off-campus apartment. Kerri got her bachelor’s degree in education in May, and she’ll be studying for her master’s for the next two years. Cleveland’s not so far from Loolie’s that Kerri can’t be home within two and a half hours, and, since that child was a toddler and her physical disabilities were being discovered, Loolie has been preparing her for independence.
But now, the time for independence had come, and Loolie wasn’t liking it so well at all.
We polished off our fries and sandwiches, and, like a phalanx, we surrounded Loolie,–TJ, Jeanne, Peggy, and I,–and marched off to the two cars we had brought. In addition to Kerri’s, they had been loaded to impossible depths, loaded like those clown cars on old TV shows that kept disgorging people and stuff. Now the stuff was all neatly packed away on Kerri’s shelves and in her closets, the one ‘people’ Loolie was worried about was 100 miles behind, and those cars seemed impossibly empty.
In the Hyundai, zooming through the black night on I90, I recited a litany of goodness to Loolie. Good school–great graduate program, progressive and exciting. She nodded. Good kid, Kerri–smart, savvy, and mature. She grunted. Good parenting, I added; she had done a wonderful job of getting that girl ready for the rigors of grad school and handling her own apartment.
That’s when Loolie started to cry, quietly and deeply. She cried all the way to her house.
TJ and Jeanne met Peggy, Loolie, and me in Loolie’s driveway. TJ, smart girl, had two bottles of wine under her arm, and we did our military escort drill again. We marched our girl into her house, to that table we’d sat around hundreds of times; we poured wine, and we sat with our friend during a huge and incredible life change. Loolie had gone from “My daughter Kerri, who lives with me,” to, “Oh, I hope that child calls tonight” in the course of one short day.
We didn’t say much; there wasn’t, really, too much to say.
After an hour or so, Loolie said, “Okay, my friends. You have to leave me to begin this new life.” She hunched forward, listening to the silent house. “I’m going to take a long bath and wallow in self-pity. Then,” she picked up the wine bottle that still had maybe a glass left in it. “Then,” she said, “I’ll finish my business with this guy and put myself to bed.”
We did not want to leave, but Loolie insisted. We finally, reluctantly, went, but we were all back the next morning, dragging the Loolmeister out for a hearty breakfast.
Oh, it was hard for Loolie to let that steel-and-gossamer web stretch to include separate housing/different city for her baby girl. She had been the perfect mother for Kerri, who, in addition to needing a wheelchair for mobility, was quiet, thoughtful, and just a little bit shy. Loolie taught her daughter to examine things critically and to make up her own mind. She taught Kerri to be her own judge of what she could and couldn’t do, and not to let other people dictate the limits to her. Loolie had bulldozed past bullies, school systems that were slow to cooperate, and even family members who wanted to insulate Kerri with cotton batten to keep her safe.
Loolie had taught Kerri to think for herself, and in those first weeks of Kerri’s grad school, she kicked herself for it.
Not that Kerri knew. She would call and say, “Mom!” and share some revelation the day had brought and Loolie would celebrate with her, in just the right tone, and for just the right length of time. Then, she’d send her daughter off to whatever–studying, laundry, a meeting with friends at a pub. She’d hang up with a cheerful, “Miss you, baby girl, but I’m proud of you to the moon and back!”
And then, Loolie told me, she would cry.
Whether Kerri was also putting a good face on for her mama, I don’t know, but of course passing time has a way of abrading even the roughest edges. Kerri was soon absorbed into the rigor of her program, and Loolie had work and projects and people to manage. When I talked to her, she told me the waking-hours tears had dried up. During the day, she showed people cell phone pictures of Kerri cooking a spaghetti meal for new friends and expounded on the great program she was in, the wonderful grant money her brilliant daughter had received from the awesome college she was attending, the heady way she’d plunged into an exciting new life.
And during the day, said Loolie, she believed it, too. So she went to bed around 11, fell soundly asleep, and bolted awake at 2 AM. And then there was no going back. She paced. She cried. She wrote long despairing letters to Kerri which she immediately ripped up. Finally, around 5, she’d fall asleep again for an hour, and then she’d start the day on four hours of interrupted sleep.
“Call me,” I said firmly, and a couple of times, in those dreary dark hours, she did, and we talked through the emptiness.
“I need to see a doctor,” she admitted, “maybe even a therapist.”
The doctor gave her a sleep aid, which left her groggy all day and gave her vicious dreams. She flushed those.
The therapist was wonderful; she helped Loolie to put it all in perspective, to build on her overwhelming pride in her daughter.
But still. She was awake, every night, at 2 AM.
We worried, the four of us did, helplessly looking on, anxious to support and comfort our friend, and we visited as often as we could, and talked almost every day.
Then a week came that we didn’t hear from Loolie for three days,–none of us did; but when she called, finally, she sounded better than she’d sounded since Kerri moved.
Had she gotten her sleep rhythm back? I asked her, and Loolie said no.
“But you know,” she told me, “a lot of women our age have sleep issues.” So, instead of stewing about not sleeping, she had decided to use the quiet night time.
“Remember that blog link you sent me?” she asked. “Jodi’s? With all the wonderful homemade goodies and handmade cards?”
“Of course,” I said.
Jodi’s blog, Life Inbetween, (http://lifeinbetween.me/2015/08/23/lovely-as-a-tree/ ) is amazing.
“Well,” said Loolie, “I’ve taken inspiration. I’m making my own greeting cards.”
But, she added, she was using all recycled materials, saving magazine pages and ribbons and doodads. She’d made a lot of cards to send to Kerri; she was sending one a week. She had a little stockpile, she confided, just in case the card-making slowed down any time soon.
“How big,” I asked, “is a ‘little’ stockpile?”
“Oh, you know,” dead-panned Loolie nonchalantly, her comic timing perfect. “Maybe three, four hundred cards.”
We snickered at first, then let it build until we were full-on helpless with laughter. We were both in tears when we got off the phone. I was picturing Loolie next to a tilting tower of cards that said things like ‘Hi, Honey!’ and ‘How’s my baby girl?’
Two days later, a handmade card arrived in my mail. The outside cover said simply ‘Thank you.’ (It was a green parchment-y card; Loolie had coordinated an upside down pizza ad for a background,and somehow, oddly, it looks great.) There was a bold red heart cut from construction paper on the front too.
Inside the message was simple: I made it through this because I have the best of friends.
TJ, Jeanne, and Peggy got cards too. Loolie didn’t have to thank us, but of course she knew that, just as we all knew that Loolie would hit her grief and loss and fear head on, let herself feel its full impact, then–as she typically and always does–come roaring back. We know, too, that when any one of us has to take the rugged path to letting go, the Loolmeister will be there to walk it with us.
That, as Loolie said gruffly at our latest spaghetti feast, is, after all, what friends are for. Then she cranked up the Grateful Dead; ‘Touch of Gray’ throbbed and we put down our silverware. It was time for the Old Girls Singalong, and we belted out these words with their pointed, particular meaning:
I will get by I will get by
I will get by I will survive