"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Broken Heart

In the spring that I turned eleven years old, my older brother died under unfortunate circumstances that brought not only misery, but the desire for my family to leave the place of his death and begin a fresh start. So it was that in the summer months following, while still grappling with grief and the shock that comes with the first real exposure to death, my family sold our house in the bayou country in south east Texas, near the Louisiana border with its rice fields and oil fields and resettled in the rolling, wooded hills just east of Oklahoma City.

We left behind all our friends in a neighborhood that was filled with chums, a local swimming pool, and quiet residential streets with little enough traffic that we could ride our bicycles for miles and miles without worry. Where we had lived it rained so much that the ditches were tunneled out deeper than my head when I was standing, and they sprayed for mosquitoes in the summer months to hold down disease. In contrast, it was dryer in Oklahoma, with no alligators or giant yellow and black swamp spiders but plenty of horned toads and armadillos.

A small tornado blew thru the area within a week of our arrival and slammed open the front door in the middle of the night. The vent over the stove roared from the wind and the whole family stood in the dark, for we had lost electricity, and wondered if we were all going to be swept away. We were terrified. Looking back, I suspect the door had been left ajar because it was certainly no big twister. But we didn't know what to expect, other than that it was like another world. And sudden death was so real to me at the time that it came as no shock that it might revisit us again so soon.

A few days later, a kind neighbor invited me to go swimming with some neighborhood kids. I had fun but it was a little awkward and weird. I was glad that at least I would know a couple of faces when I had to climb onto the school bus which would start arriving within days for the start of school. And two days later, a young neighbor girl, who had been at the swimming pool, called to invite me to come over to play at the urging of her stepmother. I trudged over to her house, not really anticipating finding a new friend, but still young and obedient enough that if I was told to go, I went.

I was two months older than Mimi and weary with the loss of my brother and everything else familiar to me. She was shy and didn't really want to invite me but, like me, did as she was told. To the surprise of both of us, we discovered that we liked each other. We both loved horses and dogs and the woods and reading. She was naturally shy and I was "the new girl" so we took refuge in each other. But more important than all that, was that Mimi understood death and grief. She'd lost her mother nearly two years before and had gone to live with her father and stepmother. Here was someone who had been dealt a sucker punch at least as great as mine, frankly greater, and who, at an even younger age, had struggled to pick up the pieces with a new school, new friends, new home, just like I was doing - only she did it on her own.

Over the years, we remained the best of friends - much more like sisters. We both had family problems and she spent a lot of time at my home when she needed a place out from underfoot. Her parents had divorced, years before, so she understood what it was like to be a child from a "broken home" back in the day when most kids weren't. She was brilliant and loving and loyal and hard working and independent and I trusted her with all my secrets - and she never, ever, let me down. She was there for me when my sister died in a car accident. I was there when her father passed away while she was still in her teens. She was there when I had my son at age 17. Her daughter arrived six months later. When I went to law school, she cheered me on. When her marriage broke up in her mid thirties, I wanted to pistol whip her no good husband - but she just smiled and forgave him for not being perfect. Our kids grew up.  I became a lawyer, divorced and remarried and moved back east.  She built the life she and I had always dreamed about as children - having our own ranch.

She worked cattle, welded fences, planted crops, burned fields, ran the tractor - just amazing.  My children became lawyers; she raised a medical doctor and a PhD.

One of the most wonderful things about coming home to Oklahoma was that I could see Mimi who I consider family. She quit her part time job, in part, to have more time to spend with me. We used to plan to live together when we were old widow ladies in our nineties, although I suspect that as neat and tidy as she is, I would drive her bonkers. It is easy for me to see Mimi as a little old lady in her nineties, although I don't expect to last that long.

So last weekend, I opened up Face Book and read an entry by one of her daughters that she had admitted her mother to the ICU the previous evening for congestive heart failure. I just about had my own heart attack. I called Mimi's boyfriend and he told me where she was and that her cell phone was on. I immediately called her, with my heart in my throat but she sounded like the same old Mimi. I wanted to come see her and she said that was fine, but to call when I got there so she could give me the code so they would let me in. I took a quick shower and broke a number of speed limits to get there - the hospital was about an hour and fifteen minutes away. When I arrived in the parking lot, I called her and told her I needed the code. She told me that it was too far to drive and that she didn't want me to go to the trouble.

"I am here," I told her.

So I went upstairs and there she was, looking pretty as a peach in the ICU. I never was so relieved in my life to see her smile.  After a few hours, they moved her to a regular room and the aide asked her if she had an advance directive. I should have been horrified but gallows humor struck me broadside and I was rolling out of my chair behind the aide's back. Mimi kept a straight face while glaring at me under the aide's arm. After the aide left, I sobered up and asked her if it wouldn't be a good idea to have an advance directive and she looked at me with steel in her eyes and said, "HEROIC MEASURES! I am fifty-one years old and I want HEROIC MEASURES!"

So in the past week, she has been released from the hospital and off and on has drummed up a fairly awful attitude about the whole situation. It is very serious and she is quite pissed off about the whole thing. She worked about 1300 cattle just the week before this happened and for her to suddenly be told she can't walk up a hill strikes her as absurd. They need more information to determine how best to treat her condition but she seems to be responding well to the medication. She has always been my hero and continues to be. And that is the reason I have fairly dropped off the planet for the past couple of weeks.

But I did decide to work on a more traditional quilt to try to get my quilting mojo back. I picked out a bunch of reds and golds for a lap quilt made of nine inch blocks and tried to recreate a design I saw online.
Part of the design calls for hourglass blocks. When I make hourglass blocks, I put the two colors, right sides together, and stitch up two opposite sides.
After that, I cut them diagonally, press them open and then sew them together to create squares.
I try to make them slightly larger than I need so I can trim them down square.
Here is the first, very imperfect block but I am still happy with it.

It has been an unsettling week but I have complete faith that my friend will bring the same will and determination to deal with this illness that she has brought to everything else she has faced in her life.  I joked with her that if they needed to do a transplant, that she couldn't have my heart.  But that is silly, really, because she already does. 
Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl


Sherry said...

I imagine your laughing jag raised your friend's spirits by leaps and bounds!

Hang in there!!

elsie123 said...

What a good friend you are. I know Mimi is one more reason you're glad to be home in Oklahoma, and she's thankful too.

Glad your mojo is back!

BilboWaggins said...

Friends like Mimi are so very special - maybe even closer than family; you don't have to stay together because you're related, you stay together because you want to.

Sending you both all my love and best wishes.

(and that is a beautiful quilt block!)

Elaine said...

I kept checking your site and thought something has happened because she is not blogging. So sorry to hear about your friend. Hope she continues to get well.

Hope to see you blogging more soon.

((hugs)) Elaine

Stephanie D. said...

What a beautiful friendship story! How fortunate you two were to find each other in this great big world.

Suzanne Kistler said...

Sounds like you and Mimi have been through it all. She is blessed to have a friend like you, and vice versa. My prayers are for healing and long life for you both. Glad to hear she's on the mend.

Florida Farm Girl said...

Oh Penny! Like Elaine, I was wondering why you hadn't been online lately. I was afraid FIL had had a backset. Glad that's not the case, but hate to hear about Mimi. I know the shock you felt from an incident with dear brother a few weeks back. Won't go into it, but we nearly lost him too, and totally out of the blue! Glad to hear Mimi is home. Hope she continues to get better every day. Enjoy your friend. They are precious gems.

Anonymous said...

You are both in my prayers.


OklaTwister said...

Sending best wishes for a good recovery to Mimi and FIL. You got back home to Okla just at the right time. Seems like you have had quite a roller coaster ride since you moved back.

Nancy said...

Penny, I'm sorry to hear of your dear friend's illness. I hope she continues to do well on medication. And I know your presence and sense of humor will be equally beneficial. I'm hoping you came safely through the tornadoes yesterday in OK.

Kathy said...

Just checking to see if all is ok in your area from the tornados passing through. The pictures are just awlful. Never had to experience one.

That said, so nice to have a friendship as you a mimi have. Hope she is feeling better and she is safe too.

Anonymous said...

We all need a Mimi in our lives.
I worried about you all last night...what part of OK are you in??

tisme said...

prayers for your friend.

Thearica said...

I have been thinking about you and Karen a lot lately...It always frightens me to hear about the tornadoes being so agrssive out there!

I am sending lots of hugs for you and Mimi...Sounds like she is a fighter so she will be just fine! Life doesnt hand us too many friends as she is to you so we cherish them like nothing else!