Thursday, July 2, 2009

Suicide's Not Painless. Thank God for Fireworks.

Nearly twenty years ago - oh, my, that couldn't possibly be correct; but it is - I received an extraordinary "cold call" from an extraordinarily warm woman. I was working, at the time, as a counselor; doing my damnedest to help families overcome infertility. And, unfortunately, to live with it when necessary. Occasionally, the stress proved insurmountable; and families disintegrated into heaps of guilt, blame and misery.

Tina, a family mediator, had personal experience with infertility. She knew firsthand that terminal stage of marriage; and thought, perhaps, mediation might offer relief. And, as she was building a private client base, she thought someone in my position could be a source of referral. I heard her out, and agreed to meet with her for half an hour the following week.

Our initial meeting lasted 5 hours. Yeah, we talked business. We also talked about growing up in Pennsylvania (which we both did), cats (I had a herd, she had One-Eyed Calvin The Wonder Cat, adopted because he was FIV positive, and no one else would take him), politics (she was as far to the left as you can go without coming around the other way; I have issues with big government), snow (she loved it, I despise it), and Dunkin' Donuts. Because, by the time we wound down the conversation, we were both starving. Let the record show that I did not bring up the donut issue.

We swapped business cards, agreed to host workshops together, and hugged. As all good Pennsylvanians transplanted to Atlanta, Georgia learn to do. And, as I closed the door behind her, I was just a little in love; like women are when they know they've met someone who will become a very good friend.

I had mentioned my adult dance classes to Tina, and I mentioned Tina - because she was so much fun - to the folks in the classes...harboring a fantasy that one day they all could meet. And, I'm not exactly sure how that, in fact, happened. Suffice it to say, in very short order, Tina was on board with Dancin' Dynamics. And we we so happy she was there!

She quickly usurped my position as the leader of the class. When I talked, they talked. When Tina talked, however, it was like Charles Schwab and God were holding court at the same time. People listened. Tina always had a story, a barb, a self-deprecating anecdote. And we laughed so hard we worked our abs just fine, thank you, without curl ups.

Fortunately, Tina had her loyalties straight. When she, in one of her Pied Piper performances, led the crowd too far astray, I merely had to look pitiful and she would bellow, "Quiet! Back to your places!" Problem solved. They called her "The Henchperson". I grew to rely on that bellowing, since it has never been one of my skills.

Unfortunately, Tina was also very opinionated. One particular song, a crowd fave, always got her proverbial goat. She hated "Barbecue" by Mumbo Jumbo. Not because she didn't like the music. Because it was too long, and it - how dare it - made her sweat in exercise class. She tried mightily to lead a revolution against "Barbecue". It didn't work, so she resorted to bringing bags of freeze-dried apple chips to class, and opting out; crunching as we danced.

You are probably wondering about the point of this essay. Well, what we didn't know at first blush was that Tina - brilliant, funny, life-of-the-party Tina - was battling bi-polar disorder. As was her soul-mate husband. Probably not such a great combination.

Once Tina realized she was a part of a very special group of women, who have shared everything from birth to death and traveled the world together in the process, she let us into her world. We talked a lot about being bi-polar. We stood by her and prayed through several of her hospitalizations. We watched her try every treatment available. Some that worked, some that did not. And we knew...

It was a matter of time.

Almost 3 years ago, on the eve of my 50th birthday, Tina lost her battle. Our love, the love of her children, her precious grand children...none of us had the ammunition to overcome her disease.

But her humor lives on. She sent a letter, posthumously, to the minister who conducted her memorial service. Warning her that if she played any music, the Dancin' Dynamic contingent would burst out in spontaneous Macarenas. She willed her favorite art to me. As an artist, I adore it. As a friend, I mourn her passing every time I see it.

And, I should mention, Tina's birthday is the 4th of July. I always thought that was a strange day for Miss-Super-Left-Wing-Liberal to be born. Especially one who hated heat. But she loved snow. And, really, those silvery-white fireworks look an awful lot like snowflakes.

If you see a white "snowflake" on the 4th of July; please, think of Tina.

(Snowflake photo is courtesy of - a gorgeously fascinating site.)


P said...

Just perfect. Brought back our Tina's smile and quick humor with a bang. Thanks.

Kathy said...

Nancy -- this is a beautiful story about our amazing and quirky frienc, Tina. I had forgotten that her birthday was July 4. I miss her . . .