The Story Is Dedicated To All Of My Cherubs

Every night when I am ready to go to bed. Before I sleep I always read at least one story from the book I bought the last time Terry was here. The book contain a lot of stories by different ordinary people but have done extra ordinary things. The other night I read a story about the two friends whose love and cared for each other is genuine even the other one’s condition was getting worst. Heres the story:

HOLDING ON

“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature

When I was a kid, I used to wake up, pull on jeans, and race down the street to Ann’s house.

Today, I take my time getting ready. I walked around our old neighborhood, noticing the crepe myrtle bush Ann and I used to plunder, the magnolia trees still gracing the lawns, the sewer grate where Ann and I sat and practiced cussing.

I take a breath and knock on the door of Ann’s house, where she’s visiting her parents. Her father answers.

“She’s in her room,” he says.

The hallway seems smaller than I remembered.

“Come in,” Ann says, to my timid knock. I look at the pictures lining the hall before I turn the knob – Ann with two missing front teeth, Ann wearing her graduation robe. In the years since we’ve seen each other, we’ve added careers, husband, children to our lives. In the past five years, Ann has struggled with cancer.

Ann looks fragile and beautiful, posed among the bed’s pillows. She wears a pink satin nightgown. A red scarf covers her head. A cigarette quivers in her right hand. When she was fourteen, Ann would wake up and strike a match against the wall to light her first cigarette of the day. I loved seeing the charcoal streaks sweep her wall, like oriental symbols. Decadent, I thought enviously. Ann could do whatever she wanted and her father never got mad.

Ann’s father comes into the room, bringing us cups of herbal tea.

“Do you need anything else?” he asks. Silver softens his once black hair.

Ann smiles and shakes her head. She pats the bed and I settle beside her, giving her a gentle hug. I hold her as if she is a secret infolding

“Guess what! I’m finally skinnier than you,” she says, laughing and displaying legs that look childlike in their spindiness.

The morphine Ann takes so she can sit up without pain has softened her speech. Still, her giggle is the same. The round sweetness of her face is the same as when we were four years old and just becoming friends.

“Want to be best friends?” Ann had asked me. We stood across from each other, with a hedge between us. We had each just moved into the neighborhood.

“Sure,” I said.

“Debbie, come in for dinner,” my mother called for the second time.

I watched Ann walk down the street to her house, stooping to capture the dandelions along the way. Then I skipped across the yard, the new grass nibbling my feet. I felt like a balloon at last released to the sky. Something important had happened: I was no longer dependent on my mother and father for love. I had a friend.

“Excuse me while I go to the bathroom ,” Ann says. She used to always beat me at relays. Now, she walks gingerly, as if she is holding eggs in her pocket.

I think of Ann and me as kids, cramming into the family bathroom, taking turns, one on the toilet, one perched on the side of the tub. Going to the bathroom was the same as playing jacks or dressing dolls. We saw no need to be separated.

Yet we have been separated for years, staying in touch when we need comfort and talk. Ann knows my daughters without having met them; I love her husband for the wondrous supportive way he nurtures her. I look around old bedroom and see the bookshelf with old copies of Little Women, The Royal Road to Romance, Catcher in the Rye, Atlas Shrugged- books that wove a path through our girlhood.

“Would you like to see my head ?” Ann asks, when she comes back into the room.

“Yes,” I say.

I hold my breath as Ann pulls off her scarf. She looks luminescent without the covering. The powerful curve of her skull is softened by a few wildflower wisps of hair.

I touch my hair, remembering the hours of agony I spent, rolling my hair on orange juice cans so I could have the same soft waves as Ann. Ann’s dark hair always curled under in just the right way, while mine was a frenetic mass of frizz.

“At first, I was scared to walk around without the wig. But it turns out my husband likes me like this. I catch him looking at me and smiling,” she says.

She slowly settles back in bed, and as we have done so many times, we talk. We used to talk about boys; now we discuss about men. We used to talk about school; now we talk about work. We talked about who we wanted to be and the differences we yearned to make: We still do. Our history links us together, like charms on a silver bracelet.

Ann tells me about her year of terrifying pain, of not being able to eat, of wondering if she’d even be healthy enough to complete her chemotheraphy. I am silenced by her courage, awed by her strength.

“Tell me about you,” she insists. “Tell me about your daughters.”

As I begin, I notice her eyes fluttering closed.

I too close my eyes. As girls we slept together in many different places: the backseat of our father’s cars, her play-house near the crabapple tree, my double bed, a blanket spread on the front lawn.

I wake up to feel a blanket being draped over me. Ann’s dad is tucking me in. Ann is already covered with a soft maroon quilt.

“You were sleeping so peacefully,” he whispers. “It reminded me of when you were girls.”

I feel cozy and cared for. I watch my friend sleeping, her face a familiar song.

She opens her eyes and smiles at me.

“I wouldn’t sleep fall asleep in front of jut anyone,” she says.

“Me neither,” I tell her

I scoot closer and touch her wrist. I remember playing games of Red Rover, clasping hands and holding fast while kids tried to break through our grasp.

“Red Rover, Red Rover, can Billy come over,” we chanted.
Billy bombarded our clasped hands, running fast, hurling himself hard at us. Somehow, we hung onto each other and did not let go.

Ann takes my hand. Pain tightens her face. I curl my fingers between hers and hold on tight.

Deborah Shouse

Source : Chicken Soup For The Woman’s Soul

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