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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Life goes on. AKA in memory of Laurie

o the summer time is comin'
and the trees are sweetly bloomin'
and the wild mountain thyme
grows among the purple heather

there's a chokecherry tree in full bloom not 20 feet from my open window. the air is thick and sweet and intoxicating. it's like breathing sparkling wine. little green heads are butting their way through the earth in lovingly tended flowerbeds as i walk the city streets. on the walking trails along the creek, i smell the trees growing. hear the sunlight dripping like amber honey off their leaves, feel it mingle with the salt on my skin.

there are babies everywhere. puppies and kittens in the arms of children; lambs and calves in the new-green fields; acres of baby plants at the local greenhouse. the very air is pregnant, thick with plant hormones. life is beginning all around me.

i sit, with silent tears washing my cheeks, remembering a garden on the Sunshine Coast, and the gardener who will not return to it. ever. her partner has planted 3 new rose bushes in her memory. i'll plant some here, as well. and lavender. she loved roses and lavender.

Laurie and i met nearly 30 years ago, when she advertised in the local newspaper for female musicians to start an all-girl band. we jammed a bit, and things clicked. then we discovered that we'd both signed on for high school upgrading at the local college the coming fall. i was a single mum with 2 small kids, and she was tired of playing the bar circuit. we both needed to 'better ourselves'. so we were going back to school. though we continued to make music together for all those years, we never did pull the all-girl band together.

once school started that September, we spent almost every waking moment of the next 8 months together, studying our brains out. there weren't a lot of options available to upgrading students, so we had almost identical class schedules. i'd been a complete bomb as a student prior to this. in retrospect, i think as a child i was at least marginally ADHD. it didn't even 'exist' at that time, and it presents differently in girls than it does in boys, so i was just considered a 'troubled child', or 'difficult'. add a gluten intolerance (also unknown at the time) that makes me sleepy and depressed and unable to concentrate, and an extremely dysfunctional family background, and you have a kid all of the teachers pass just because they don't want to have to deal with her for another year. in that 8 months we spent completing high school upgrading, Laurie taught me how to study. i'd drive up to her house every morning in my huge, ancient Chrysler, and pick her up on my way to school, and drive off with her in the front seat, and mountains of school books in the back seat.

we studied. hard. and we both worked evenings as well. all my life i'd been told i was stupid and lazy. until then, i believed it. Laurie wouldn't believe it, so i tried harder than i'd ever tried before. there were times when our social studies teacher would show these filmstrips on history. ....with a recorded male voice droning endlessly on about socialism or communism, then a ping to tell the operator to go to the next frame. the room was a mini ampitheatre, with concentric semicircles of seating rising from a circular area at the bottom, where the screen was. Laurie and i would sit side by side in the front row where no one could look back at us, and set our notebooks on the table in front of us, open for taking notes. we'd each hold a pen in one hand, and we'd lean our heads and shoulders together for support, while we took a nap. we both had jobs to go to after school was out. and i had kids to take care of after that. when we'd been awarded top marks for the program, the social teacher told me, "i knew you two were sleeping up there, but i couldn't say anything, because you got the best marks in the class." we got top marks in every class. when i held that diploma, and that wad of awards in my hand, i thought. "i'm NOT stupid. the sky's the limit. i can do anything i set my mind to." and i signed up for the B. Mu program.

Laurie took us to our first live theatre performance. it was The Hobbit, and it was magical. i'd read the book to the kids. several times. we all loved it. My 4 year old daughter spent the whole time of the play in terrible fear that every time the lights went down or the curtain closed, it was over. she SO didn't want it to be over. i spent the whole time expecting someone to realize that we didn't belong there. waiting in shame for a tap on the shoulder, and an angry voice telling me we'd have to leave. but the tap on the shoulder never came, and this was the beginning of my love for theatre. Laurie was the first person to show me that where i came from is not who and what i am. since that first magical show, i've been in many, serving as musical director for several of them.

when i re-married, Laurie stayed with my kids while we went on a honeymoon, and when, years later, my husband left me, i went into a complete tailspin. Laurie sent me a plane ticket to the Sunshine Coast, where she and her partner had just bought their dream home. it was a total package, also including a detailed itinerary with a bus ticket to get me from the airport to the ferry, and a ferry ticket to get me to her side of the pond, where she picked me up, took me home, and mothered me back to something close to sanity.

after several years of unexplained illness, while she studied for her B. Ed. Laurie was diagnosed with Multiple Schlerosis. it took her 8 years to do the 4 year program. much of the time she was in hospital. at the end of her 6th year, she was in a wheelchair. they told her she'd never walk again. i think it was at this time that she was also diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, which causes joints to fuse, and is extremely painful.

but she didn't accept that. over the next 2 years, she progressed gradually from a wheelchair to a walker, to two canes, then one, still working her way through the B. Ed program, and when she graduated, Laurie was not only walking, she was cycling, x-country skiing and swimming. her gift to herself on graduation was a cycling trip through Europe. during that trip, she received a standing ovation from the patrons of a small roadside cafe in Greece, who watched her toil up the side of a mountain as they sipped their morning coffee. as she coasted down from the summit, and through their small town, they rose to their feet, clapping and cheering. they had no idea how much she deserved that, or how much it meant to her.

.... and those are only highlights.... i could write a book about this amazing woman, my dear friend Laurie.

i don't understand how spring can come without her. it should still be winter.