My Friend

My friend tells me he is dying.

He jokes, “The doctor gives me four weeks if I don’t take the chemo treatment. (pause for effect) Four-and-a-half if I do.”

I am quiet. Even though I have seen his six-year struggle with cancer, I am caught off guard.

“I’m joking,” he says.

I realize how much I love this guy who has been an absent presence in my life for four decades. He came into it, the childhood friend of my late husband, as part of the package. He appeared on our doorstep on his vacations. Then he was gone, off to create special effects for Hollywood. Then back, on hiatus and living out of his van in my driveway. A familiar, quirky pal to me right from the beginning. Well, we like to call it quirky. Others sometimes see him as a bit eccentric, sarcastic, prickly, passionate and opinionated. An artist. He is all of that and we loved him quietly through the years, watching him meet up with women, briefly, then move on, ending up back in our driveway again.

He built a complicated speaker system with my husband, the two of them working well into the wee hours, creating the perfect parade speakers for our Cajun/Zydeco band. He came to performances and sat with our group. Sometimes. He disappeared for months to work on a movie, then back again in between and blending in with our twosome of a family life. He regaled friends and families (and still does) with stories, like the one about puppeteering the backend of Mighty Joe Young, a movie gorilla. — ”Someone has to be the butt, and it’s not as easy as you’d think!”

Three friendsNow, so many years later, I revisit those days, stepping back into that time. I smile. Those were good times, when I would go to bed listening to him and my husband laughing and bantering over the intricacies of PC vs MAC, of how to Photoshop a jpeg, the drone of the discussion humming well into the night.

Did I enjoy those moments enough? Did they?

I wonder.

To live in the moment, to fully embrace the joy in every speck of time – did I? Do I now? Do I reach that underlying joy that is the universe at play? Did he? Did they? – taste, feel, see, hear and touch it?

Did I? Did they?

When my husband died, I thought I would die, too. After almost five days when food turned to dust in my mouth and I found it impossible to eat, our friend appeared to take me out for a smoothie, to help me taste the world again. It tasted like a banana milk shake on a warm summer day with the smell of an ocean breeze and a vision of white clouds against a blue sky, seagulls squawking in the air.

I’m just joking,” he says. “It’s not four-and-a-half weeks.”

But the doctor advised him to get his final documents in order, to sign the DNR. And my friend did.

And, still, I thought I would have another chance to talk with him.