It’s happened again. Someone I loved, who I thought of all the time, whose dearth of Facebook communication I attributed to age, is gone and I’m just finding out about it almost two years later.
I’m not ashamed to say that I’m usually the friend who stays in touch with others. I keep calling, or nowadays emailing or texting. I’ve given up feeling embarrassed when I leave a heartfelt message on an answering machine that isn’t returned. The last time I did so, (Ginny, you know I’m talking about you.) I said not to worry about getting back. I just wanted to say hi. She did not call back.
With Dora, it was the same thing, but I understood why she didn’t stay in touch. She still worked in the Operating Room long after retirement age because she loved it. She was a fireball of energy and an amazing nurse. Dora and I worked nights at Hahnemann Hospital in Philadelphia almost forty years ago. Dora was the Registered Nurse, I was the Operating Room Technician. I’d graduate from nursing school ten years later, with her blessing.
I need to explain this environment so you’ll get the full impact of what it was like for us to be together. Back in those days, Hahnemann was the Level 1 Trauma Center in Center City. The bulk of gunshot wounds, motor vehicle accidents, stabbings and other brutality that human beings do to each other came to us. Patients with insurance went straight to another hospital; although I’m sure they had their share of awfulness.
On the night shift, Dora and I worked together doing horrendous cases. She taught me so much about being a nurse, especially how to persist through eight hours of standing in pools of blood and not falling asleep, holding my bladder, keeping my cool when our patients died, and not threatening to wring my manager’s neck at seven in the morning when my relief should come in but is going to be late. I believe I first heard the expression deep cleansing breath from Dora.
But our time together wasn’t all about life and death. On those rare nights when it was quiet, after we were done with our chores, we’d have time to talk. Dora was from Honduras, brought to the US with a group of Honduran nurses during one of many nursing shortages in American nursing history. She was a single parent. There aren’t many who work as hard as Dora did. For years, she worked two nursing jobs, both demanding. I did it for a short time and it had a lasting detrimental effect on me, yet she seemed to thrive on it.
Working in that stressful milieu, it was inevitable that we’d bond. For years after I left the job, first moving to California for Jim’s job in the mid eighties and then when we returned to New Jersey with me going back to school, Dora and I talked often.
About twenty years ago, I saw her at her retirement party, and then one other time, and she looked exactly the same. I can see her now; back in those days, (sorry I keep saying that,) we wore dresses in the OR, believe it or not. Yep, 1980, OR nurses still wore dresses. But we were allowed to wear scrub pants underneath. Less than five feet tall, Nora wore clogs with heels and that gave her the illusion of height. I remember a doctor once looking down at her and saying, “You’re so short.” Her response, a flip, “So?”
My concern that she wasn’t answering my messages on Facebook were confirmed when her daughter got in touch to tell about her death.
Twice since then women who were important to me for a short time in my life have died. Kathy was a beloved childhood friend. As often happens, our lives took different paths and we didn’t stay in touch as adults. I tried several times, but she wasn’t interested. One day I thought of her out of the blue and googled her name and shockingly, her obituary showed up. I cried, heartbroken. She’ll never know how she inspired me to write a book I won’t name for privacy reasons. Kathy was amazing in so many ways.
Vashti lived next door when we moved from the mid-west to Philadelphia in the late 70’s. She had a master’s degree in sociology, and spent her life helping people. We had so much in common, crafts, antiquing, junking, and I’m happy to say that we stayed in touch for all those years, long after I left Philadelphia. When her Christmas card didn’t show up this year, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was confirmed when I again googled and her obituary popped up.
Vashti was on my mind while I wrote my new book, Bittersweets-Terry and Alex, included in the new steamy romance boxed set Love on Fire. Bittersweets grew out of my love for Philadelphia. Terry Kovac lives in the house at the top of Mount Pleasant Avenue where I lived with my young family in the late seventies. The view of Alden Manor in the distance, the concert pianist practicing Rachmaninoff every morning, the young lovers having an after midnight argument on the way to the K bus, all true. The Acme grocery store around the corner, the used furniture stores, tea shop, bookstores on Germantown Avenue, my haunts almost forty years ago.
When I close my eyes, I can hear the train coming up the hill, stopping at the station. If I looked out the corner of the round window that was really in our bedroom and not Terry’s living room, I could see my husband trudging up that hill with his briefcase.
Our days there were short-lived; a year after we’d arrived, my husband was transferred to Manhattan, and we moved to New Jersey. But I never forgot that brief, glorious time. My wonderful next-door neighbor, who remained a friend until her death in August was my first African-American friend. After being raised in white Dearborn, Michigan, it was a privilege and an honor to know her. I cried when I wrote the stories about the Mount Airy neighborhood, the camaraderie unmatched. I longed to tell her, but it was too late.
To read an excerpt of Bittersweets – Terry and Alex click here.