Friday, February 29, 2008

The Empty Stroller

Yes, I know it's Friday and yes, I had a very pointed, witty discussion of this year's election campaign and how foolish it makes us look as individuals as well as a country. But, honestly, I just can't post it. I'm sick of the poisoned politics of America 2008.

And I'm missing some friends.

Let me explain.

Thursday and today I had some work in the town of Lake Oswego. For those of you who don't know Portland, Lake O is the Beverly Hills or Palos Verdes Estates to our Los Angeles; the Grosse Point or Scarsdale to our New's the "good" part of town, where a better class of people live (than alongside us up here in University Park, anyway...). Sadly, the Portland knickname for the place is "Lake No-negroes", which says something about Lake O and probably more about Portland.

Before my divorce pre-Mommy and I had some pretty good friends whole lived in Lake O. Karen was a co-worker of my ex's and Greg and I both enjoyed baseball and hockey and were old enough, similar enough and shared enough of a sense of humor to get along pretty well. It's not like we were BFFs, but we were both childless couples, enjoyed similar entertainments, saw each other several times a year and enjoyed it when we did.

After the divorce Greg and Karen were good friends, scrupulously fair to both my ex and I, and after Mojo and I became a couple we became friends and continued to socialize, less often but fairly regularly. In the past several years, however, two issues began to get between us: our child and Greg's Parkinson's.

Obviously, we love the Peeper. But even the most doting parents will admit that it's fiendishly hard to find things that appeal reasonably equally to two- and fifty-two-year-olds. One of the first real casualties of our parenting has been our childless friends. We have all the usual difficulties getting kidless (lack of babysitters, nuclear tantrums...) to do adult things, and they have childless-couple lives totally divorced from our reality of Bob the Builder and naps and playgrounds and Winco expeditions. We find ourselves on the far side of a vast canyon carved to impassable depths with sandbox buxkets and plastic baby spoons...

Karen and Greg were no exception. Only in their case, the differences were exascerbated by the creeping advance of Greg's medical condition, which made it increasingly difficult for him to do many of the things we'd enjoyed, things as demanding as cycling to as simple as going to a ballgame. Greg and Karen, who had found each other later in life, refused to allow their love to be cut short by the disease without a fight. Greg tried several experimental Parkinson's treatments, including a complex experimental shunt directly into his brain. They put a tremendous amount of time, effort and money into their Lake Oswego home, in part to create a living place that Greg could enjoy as the Parkinson's reduced his mobility, but also because it WAS their home, a place they crafted of love and partnership as much as plywood cladding. Almost every time we visited they had something new and splendid to show off, usually quietly proud and pleased with their home and the way its burnish reflected their lives together. Good people. Good, bright, loving people.

So it was almost a shock to think of them this past Christmas, wonder about missing a Christmas card from them - the second year in a row - and realize that with one thing or another we hadn't seen them for over two years ! I was embarrased; how could we have let two of our friends just drift out of our lives? Children, among all the other excuses, didn't justify our thoughtlessness. So I thought I'd take the opportunity of my work nearby to drop in, say hi, have a look at all the changes in their home they'd made in the past year or so. Or, if no one was home, leave a note and invite them to call or visit.

So I finished my work across the main street in the busy, prosperous lakeside portion of the town and crossed over "A Avenue" into their quiet, tidy tree-shaded rectangular street grid.

I rolled to a slow stop in front of the house. Killed the engine. Spent a moment leaning on the truck door enjoying the calm lines of their house set in the narrow street, listening to the wind and the distant traffic noise and thinking of how to re-introduce myself.

When I noticed the stroller sitting empty on the porch.

Bright red. Big knobby tires, almost the duplicate of the one sitting at that moment in our basement beside the framed redtail print and the box of too-small baby clothes Mojo loves too much to discard. A jogging stroller. For a older baby or toddler.

Greg is the father of a grown son, and Karen was happily childless and past the desire for any.

The stroller meant that my old friends were gone.

Someone else is living in their house.

They loved that house - they loved their life together in that house - so dearly that the only way I can imagine them leaving was if one or the other was to die. Or become so ill or injured that they required full-time medical care. And the only way I can imagine that happening is that Greg's Parkinson's worsened; badly, rapidly.

So while Mojo and I weren't paying attention, our friends probably endured a terrible spiral of weakening days and painful, sleepless nights that ended, soon or later, with a vigil outside the ICU room. Parkinson's doesn't kill you quickly or easily. We will probably never know, but I cannot imagine what happened was easy or happy or good. We weren't there when they needed us most.So tonight I'm feeling pretty low. My friend may be dead, or so incapacitated that he is no longer recognizable as my friend. And I, his "friend", whom he helped through the death of my infant daughter six years ago almost to this very day, was not and is not there to hold a candle for him in the dark.

Friendship should be better than this. I should be better than this.

I was not.

I'm sorry, Karen. I'm sorry, Greg. I miss you.

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora uectus
aduenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam alloquerer cinerem.


1 comment:

chris said...

kids do change our trajectory in a way that is unpredictable. i'm sorry for the loss of bryn and the empty spaces that missing friends leave.