I was so preoccupied with grieving Tom that I have only now taken time to try to process the unexpected death of my friend, Annie. She was only 55. We met when our oldest kids became great friends in a Sunday school class at the Methodist church in Leland. I’m still not sure how that all came about since we don’t live there and they do, but it was back in the days when my girls’ dad had a job where he worked at home and on the weekends he wanted to get out of Dodge. He flew a small airplane so getting up north and back in a weekend was pretty do-able. I remember worrying that this travel schedule made it hard for Franny to have play dates or hang with friends at home on the weekends, but she was still in kindergarten and having an up north friend she really liked seemed a fair trade. The two little girls were both small and blond and freckled and I took to calling them Frick and Frack. They played happily together for HOURS and one time spent an entire day at the beach creating tiny fairy houses. They also wrote and illustrated stories which I still have somewhere.
Annie struck me as a hippie at heart. She was an artist and nature lover and ran the sort of lovingly disheveled house that looked like fun. She was a person of deep faith and after a while found that the Methodists were just not speaking to her. She went Christian Science on me and although I loved her still it was never really the same after losing the natural weekly connection of being together at church. And my daughter was pretty much done with Sunday School without her true-blue buddy. We continued to try to get the girls together but after a couple years their friendship faded. Annie’s daughter had plenty of local friends and mine didn’t. Being church friends had kept them on an even playing field but outside that setting it was just harder.
Franny did go for a sleepover once and came back with reports of a huge parental row. Annie even called me to apologize. I assured her that nothing short of flying crockery would even register on our stress-o-meter which I (naively) thought at the time was true. It turns out, of course, that my daughter had picked up on every single fault line in her parents’ marriage and I suspect Annie’s daughter did too. I could never put Annie together with her husband. It wasn’t just that I didn’t like him (always seemed shifty and withdrawn whereas she was open, warm and loving) but that he didn’t seem to appreciate—or even like—her. I couldn’t even feign surprise when she told me over coffee one day that he had left her for someone decades younger. I found the lowest blow to be that she discovered this only when he was forced to resign from the local school board as he and Boopsy were moving out of the district.
When Tom got sick Annie pressed a copy of Mary Baker Eddy into his hand and would occasionally send me something similarly Christian Science-y or say stuff about him actually being whole and perfect—even as I watched his body be ravaged. I still loved her, but needed to create some distance from her belief system. Maybe she was already sick during this time—it seems now that she must have been—and maybe all the CS platitudes were as much for her ears as mine. In any case, she never told me she was sick (I’m not entirely sure CS folks ever acknowledge illness) and the first I knew of her death was an email from a Leland friend, followed much later by a maddeningly vague newspaper story about her life with almost no information about her death. I was still trying to piece together the story when another article came out announcing a “celebration of life” which turned out to be her ex-husband selling off all the inventory from her tiny jewelry store under the guise of raising money for their children—one a college graduate and the other a high school senior who it seemed to me could be supported by his gainfully employed father. I went to the event, but because of my coming and goings from town Annie and I didn’t really have any mutual friends so there wasn’t anyone I could run up to and say, “WHAT!?!?! Annie would HATE this!!” The icky ex-husband playing the needy father of motherless children while literally sitting at the strong box where jewelry sale proceeds were being stored. I couldn’t leave fast enough.
There wasn’t anything I would have wanted to buy anyway. Tom had found a perfect Petoskey stone several years earlier, split it, polished it and drilled holes in it and taken it to Annie to make me a pair of earrings. Before I knew this I had told him that I didn’t always love her creations and admired some other local jewelry more. He didn’t seem bothered by this in the least. Maybe he just trusted his own great taste as he had told Annie exactly how he wanted the earrings designed— the half oval stones free to dangle in their setting and her signature silver swirl covering the holes as he felt he’d made them too big. She executed perfectly. With both the designer and artist now gone from my life I treasure these earrings more than I can say.
I loved Annie because she was real—all love and rainbows until a topic she felt passionate about (the environment, Republicans, her ex-husband) came up and then she could chew you a new one in seconds flat. Still the overall effect was radiance. When I first told her about meeting Tom and how completely gobsmacked smitten I was with this handsome carpenter she reached across the table, took my hands, looked into my eyes and said, “Mary, JESUS was a carpenter.” He and the girls and I had a few laughs about that over the years as he was not quite the perfect man, but pretty darn close!
So all I can really conclude about losing Annie is this: Don’t take friends for granted. Stay in touch and ask how they are. (Maybe if they have been diagnosed with breast cancer you’ll be able to persuade them to seek treatment, even if they ARE Christian Scientists!) Spend time with them when you have the chance. Stop making excuses for not reaching out—too busy, too tired, too hard to schedule, blah, blah, blah. The people you most hope to get close to, see lots of, plan fun outings with just as SOON as ______________ (fill in the blank—you retire? your kids are grown? you move closer?) just may not be there anymore. Seriously. Do it now while you can.