My friend Laurie spent last Sunday with her friend Kimberly, who is dying any day from leukemia, despite having survived breast cancer and a stem cell replacement, despite working in the non-profit sector and having a 10-year-old son. So I took Laurie’s daughter Hermoine and Franny to the Farmer’s Market while Laurie sat at Kimberly’s bedside and made arrangements for the chef from her favorite restaurant to deliver food to her house so she can have one last great meal with her husband and son.
Hermoine is one of Franny’s BFFs. She is a fundamentally sweet kid, a sunshine-on-a-cloudy-day kind of kid, so I was all too happy to take her. She’s starting to feel like another child of mine, partly because she and Franny spend so much time at each other’s houses, and partly because she brightens up the shadow in my life where Luca used to be.
The other reason I feel like Hermoine is family is because her mother is one of my all-time favorite people. Laurie is incapable of not being funny, which is remarkable when you consider that everyone in her family-of-origin has died dramatically from cancer or mental illness. Laurie is on the short list of friends who I call when I’m up to the gills with panic and desperation and grief over Luca. She’s survived so much loss that I know she can handle hearing about mine. And somehow she always makes me laugh, even in the face of what feels like no-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel-darkness.
I parked on a residential street near the Farmer’s Market, which is in a tony, slightly preppy part of town, where no one appears to be out of work or heading towards foreclosure or having a problem they can’t buy their way out of. I like going there so I can breathe in the illusion that I am impervious to reality. The million-dollar bungalows are swankily maintained, the lawns are landscaped with bursts of lavender and fountain grass, and the cats wander onto the sidewalk to greet you. Smores, a Tortoise Shell fluffball, is Franny’s favorite, and she and Hermoine had to stop and rub her stomach for awhile.
The girls and I ate brunch at the crepe stand, then picked out some asparagus, peaches, and limes. We didn’t get Laurie any lettuce because the lettuce vendors informed Hermoine it wasn’t organic and Laurie won’t touch anything that’s been within a hundred miles of a pesticide.
We crossed the street and walked past the overpriced cupcake shop, the overpriced kids’ clothing store, and the overpriced beauty supply. Then we came upon a young, apple-cheeked fortune teller who had set up a table on the sidewalk and was offering a deal: a $45 tarot card reading slashed to $15.
I sent Franny and Hermoine to sit outside the overpriced bookstore, within eyesight, and I plunked myself in front of the fortune teller. She asked me to make a wish. I told her I was worried about Luca and that I wished he would find his way out of his struggles.
She flipped over some cards and confirmed that Luca was indeed struggling and that part of his problem was that my heart chakra was clogged because there was a man in my life who was trying to hurt me (wonder who?). My other chakras were working overtime because my heart chakra couldn’t do its job and because of this I couldn’t provide enough strength and stability to Luca. She said she would really, really like to help me clean out my heart chakra, that this would involve some crystals, some foot massage, and an indeterminate amount of chakra-cleaning sessions.
I thanked her for her time and told her I would consider getting my chakra detailed at a later date. Franny and Hermoine asked me what the fortune teller said, and I replied that I needed a tune-up, but that everything would be just fine. Then I said yes to two books at the bookstore, but no to five Persian kittens the animal rescue lady was trying to find homes for so they wouldn’t have to go the shelter.
“But, Mom!” said Franny, looking at me with hopeful saucer eyes. “What if they get put to sleep?”
“We have three cats,” I sighed. “One more and we’re the crazy cat family. We just can’t rescue every cat we see.”
So we walked past the kittens back to the car. We walked past well-heeled young couples pushing their well-heeled babies in strollers, past 20somethings emerging with yoga mats from just-waxed Priuses, past teenaged boys sipping Jamba Juice on their skateboards.
And I wondered, as we walked, why some kids got childhoods full of good grades, breezy friendships, and soccer trophies, while others watched years of endless visits to therapists and psychiatrists drift by, years marked by medication trials and school flame-outs and uncontrollable moods.
I wondered why cancer takes young mothers away from their children yet passes over people who have had every conceivable adavantage but feel absolutely no civic duty. I wondered why powermongers who are determined to make gay people straight or deny health care to the middle-class or squeeze school budgets and social services to a pulp, why these people will spend their golden, hip-replaced years on golf courses and Mediterranean cruises, oblivious to those they’ve trampled into the dust.
There are no answers to these questions, of course, at least not any answers that make sense. Soon Kimberly will die. Some kittens will find homes and others will be euthanized. Luca will decide that wilderness camp has something to teach him, or he won’t, regardless of the condition of my heart chakra.
Tender green shoots of goodness, hope, strength and BFFs will occasionally burst through the senselessness and blow the winds of cruel whimsy away.