The day that Mary died, I ate a cheese Danish, a square of pecan pie, an entire bag of Lays and two vanilla cokes. Real cokes, not diet ones. She would understand this. If that horrifies you, read no further.
In her honor, I also watched 3 episodes of the first season of Star Trek that were made when she and I were just nine years old, and lived almost a thousand miles apart.
Even with that distance, our lives were so similar that we could have been two facing sides in a Rorschach inkblot. We were both smart, and we loved to read more than anything else on the planet. (Except maybe to eat while we were reading, especially if the character was chewing on something delicious we could replicate.)
Mary and I were both the babies of our families, and our older sibs thought we were pretty spoiled. But we talked about that and agreed they didn’t know what they were talking about. We were just really wonderful as kids.
Were we ‘pugnacious,’ as John has stated? We didn’t think so, because that was just one facet of our personalities. It helped us to defend ourselves from brothers locking us in closets and later came in handy fighting for our kids and helping the underdogs we liked to represent.
We were also about the same age when our parents divorced; something that was really, really hard for us. There was stigma back then when you had a broken family, and we both felt as if we needed to defend their actions to others by denying our own broken hearts.
Mary was my husband John's first wife, and we met in December of 2010, when she and my stepson Jack came to my house for Christmas Eve. John and I had just started dating. I always have an open house on Christmas Eve, and wanted to invite Jack, but not make him choose which parent he'd spend the holiday with. That meant inviting Mary too, so I did.
Mary and I ended up spending the entire night in my kitchen, laughing hysterically. We shared the same sense of humor (typically the things teenage boys find funny) and had so much in common it was almost shocking.
I guess it’s no wonder we ended up with the same husband (thankfully not at the same time). We did have fun with that though. When I was Mary’s guest at the shooting range, I filled out the relationship line with “Sister Wife.” We hooted over that, and used that phrase a lot down the road, taking great pleasure in our nontraditional relationship.
So Mary and I developed our own sisterhood – one independent of John, independent of family dinners and kids. We became the closest of friends, sharing confidences, hopes and fears. We ate cream puffs at the Big E, went on a road trip to Pensacola (fighting only a little) and looked out for each other. It extended our families in the most beautiful way.
We celebrated all holidays, birthdays, and special occasions together, succeeding in putting our own broken families together again. We folded each other’s laundry, cooked, helped the kids and sometimes snapped at each other – just like anyone else in a family.
We lent each other a sympathetic ear, sometimes about her former and my present husband. She’d say “Oh, that’s just John being John,” punctuated with an evil grin, adding, “And I don’t have to be married to him, because you are, ha, ha!” Can you imagine what a gift it was when I got to see them profess real love for each other at the end?
I was by Mary’s side at two of the most painful moments of her life – when the Dr. told her she had leukemia, and just weeks later when she told her son that she couldn’t go on fighting, and he’d have to let her go. My heart breaks at those memories, yet I am so grateful that she loved and trusted me enough to have me there at those unbelievably vulnerable times.
But back to Star Trek, 48 years after it began, and the bag of Lays washed down with a way-too-sweet drink. In episode 5, under the influence of a virus that simulated drunkenness, Mr. Spock cries, and later tells Captain Kirk, “My mother… I could never tell her I loved her. An earth woman… living on a planet where love, emotion… was bad taste.”
During Mary’s hospital stay, I had the honor of seeing Jack tell his mom he loved her, too many times to count. They were beyond close. She put every single drop of love she could into bringing him up. Not perfectly, because there is no such thing as a perfect parent, only people without kids giving advice they themselves couldn’t follow. Once, when someone online intimated that Mary was a bad mother, I had to be physically restrained. They were very, very wrong.
Being with Mary over the last seven weeks was so painful, yet not without its gifts. I got to see that there were hundreds of people who loved her. I got to meet and bond with her sister Karen, who I now love as my own. I watched as women who have known and loved her for years tenderly looked out for her, and united, we all held hands and supported her to the end. They are now my friends as well.
Mary was the most authentic woman I have ever known, and I loved her and all that she stood for. She was brilliant, kind, adventurous, irreverent and intellectual. She was also a woman who laughed at fart jokes. At the end, everything but the love just falls away.