“Hey, Gloria! Are you going to the High School Reunion, too? I just bought my plane tickets!”
“Tommy! How wonderful to hear from you! I didn’t even know we were having one! When and where is it?”
“On October 14th right there, back on Staten Island.”
“OMG! How I’d love to go! Funny thing happened, though; by then, I’ll be in the middle of chemo and radiation.”
“Can you talk for a few minutes?”
The phone rings and my mind seizes on this sweet little 5 year old blond boy, thin as a rail, an animated live wire who talked a blue streak. A real Mr. Personality, he was as charismatic as a 5 year old could possibly have the right to be.
My first conscious memory of Tommy is the two of us walking in a double line together with our first grade class alongside Our Lady Queen of Peace Church. Because we were partners that day, we had to hold hands, which I thought was kind of cool since I’ve always liked holding hands with cute guys, even back then.
Across the street, I saw the funeral parlor that would be, years later, the place where I’d get my last desperate look at my parents’ faces.
I pointed to Hanley’s Funeral Home and said, “They have dead people there, right?”
“Yeah,” he said, setting me up for a joke. “People are dying to get in there!”
I laughed, thinking he was probably the cleverest person I knew. “Did someone tell you that or did you make that up yourself?”
“No, I just dug it up!”
I’m not sure, but I think it was the first time I’d ever heard a pun. I thought he was brilliant!
The Grown-Up Tommy says, “So, Gloria! What’s going on?”
I tell him about climbing the mountains of China, getting short of breath, thinking I was having a heart attack, feeling sick the whole trip, coming back to the US, going to the emergency room, discovering pulmonary embolisms, and oh, yeah, by the way, there’s a mass on your left lung, and it’s malignant and you’ve got lung cancer, adenocarcinoma stage 3b, crossed the mediastinum. Huh! Never even knew I had a mediastinum to cross!
He tells me about his own battle with cancer and how it finally left him alone after wreaking so much devastation upon him. He negotiated a truce with cancer and all the good parts of his life are still his, and how every day he enjoys everything around him. He is a man of great faith and exudes this confidence that everything will be OK. I believe he knows what he’s talking about. And, of course, I’m inspired.
“I hope we keep in touch, Gloria. I’d like to help you get through this.”
I recount to him my memory of the two of us walking along the street and how he had made me laugh, and how I loved that he was holding my hand.
“And isn’t it so sweet, Tommy, that after all these years, you reach out to me…and you’re still holding my hand.”
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