Corrie’s Gift: Today is One of Our Last
I was reminded late one night via email from an old and dear friend that we mustn’t forget to live every minute we are granted on this old Blue Marble. We were so young when he and I met. He and I really were “Just Seventeen” when the Beatles were singing that song. Six decades ago. And we met at Junior College the fall of 1964.
Patrick was born in Ceylon, to very British parents, the #3 son in a family of 4 boys and one girl. Ceylon has since been re-named Sri Lanka – it changed back in 1972. Sri Lanka is kind of an abomination of the original name of Ceilao (which should have an ~ above the a) given by the Portuguese on settling there in 1505. The island’s history dates back possibly to pre-prehistoric time and one of it’s first written references appears in the Ramayana! Sorry, sometimes I’m compelled to go researching, and I have seen the Ramayana many times. Our son was infatuated by it in Indonesia. I’ve briefly spent some time in Sri Lanka, laid over for several hours and decided to explore a little, find a little memento for my kids. All I found were huge dead bugs in frames. Very big, ugly bugs. My 5 and 7 year old would not be impressed. And I got the creeps looking at them anyway. Could this be why Pat’s family decided to jump ship and eventually end up in God’s Country: Napa Valley?
Pat and I dated very briefly – I know there was one date. But we decided to become very, very close friends. I introduced him to my BFF Annie and he was in a word, a very Brit word at that, gobsmacked: for him it was love at first site! And, my BFF, being “just seventeen” also, stomped all over his heart. She still talks regretfully about being so heartless to him.
It did not interfere with our friendship though. Annie went on to annoy other guys and then married what she deserved for all her meanness! Life is ultimately just she says.
Patrick went on through a couple of girlfriends, but he never was really on the hunt: just let women pass through his life.
Then one day when he was in his mid thirties he left California and went to Amsterdam on a holiday and there he met his sweet, feisty, fascinating, enchanting (and very, very young) future wife, Corrie.
I don’t believe she ever left his side after meeting him. And he never came home from Holland, he took up residence in Rijswijk, near The Hague got a job, and settled in to a long and loving marriage with Corrie.
I harbor much envy over their relationship. I think it was she who brought that magical quality to him, engulfed him with easy, nurturing, fun love. I have never had that with a man in my life! Perhaps briefly: but it seems it was just initial courtship antics on my part as well as the husbands.
Pat and Corrie never had children. And over the years their vacations were always about working with international aid organizations in needy countries. I’ve wondered if Dutch people have developed a genetic propensity for productive endeavors, brave challenges, equality, and justice. They were the heroes in Dutch Resistance during WWII, then there is the century old Peace Palace at The Hague,the world symbol of Peace and Justice. The Dutch also have some of the best food in the world in my book: as former colonists of Indonesia, they have fabulous Indonesian restaurants throughout Holland.
Last year I received an email from Pat. Corrie has lung cancer. She has an 8.5 cm tumor. I called the following morning and caught them working out an appointment with her doctor to schedule surgery ASAP.
Corrie took the phone from Pat and laughed my name in greeting as she has always done. She wanted to know how I was! I said I was so sorry about the cancer. And Corrie laughed a little more,
“But you know how it goes, Mel; we are on alert now, looking for every beautiful minute of each day. We are hopeful! And, Mel, you too must start looking at Today as one of your last.”
So my Corrie cheered me up. I told her that the last time I “had” anything that was 8.5 cm big I got a bouncing baby boy out of it. She howled herself into a coughing fit, and I did not apologize.
This spring they found that Corrie’s lung cancer remained in remission, however they found two cancerous tumors in her brain. They were inoperable. Pat and Corrie decided they would go on her “Bucket List Holiday” as soon as she was on the remssion, which she made certain would happen.
They planned the trip, making certain that most of the time was spent in Pat’s home state, California. He wanted Corrie to see all the highlights of our rather fabulous state: Mountain/Ocean/Desert/Giant Sequoias, Wine Countries and (we hope endless) Farmland: They phoned me from a little outdoor bistro in Napa, sipping wine, Patrick enjoying the metamorphosis it has undergone over the past 40 plus years. He drove her past my old apartment which is now a gas station, and took her out to his family home. He even took her up to Calistoga to Annie’s old home, but he couldn’t find mine: it was torn down.
On 14 Jun they arrived to spend the afternoon and evening with us, stay over night and carry on the following morning.
They arrived in our town exactly on schedule. We had arranged a party, a reunion and barbeque: My ex-husband and his lady friend, my daughter and her family. The infamous brat Annie, drove up from San Diego! And my neighbor of 40 years popped in to say hi to everyone. It was a wonderful afternoon/evening and, as it goes in close and lengthy friendships, it was as if we’d just seen each other yesterday. We might even looked like teenagers again, I’m not sure.
Later in the night, Corrie and I had our private time, recalling April 1986, when the kids and I were evacuated from Khartoum wearing our year-round garb: summer clothing. Me, who hates to be cold had no coat was wearing sandals in the winter snow. Iquickly scrambled to get us outfitted in coats and boots and sweaters, etc.
The kids were excited to be in Holland. For years we had enjoyed annual visits with them on our way back to The Sudan. The KLM flights had an eight hour layover at Schiphol Airport. Pat and Corrie always visited us there when we arrived, usually with gifts for my kids. And I’d get one last legal drink before heading back to my Sunny Sharia Desert.
So it was logical Larry and I had agreed I would go to Holland to be with our friends. Our home was rented out. Besides, we thought it would just be between 3 days to a week before we would return to Khartoum. We were very wrong.
After the third week I enlisted the children in the American School. They desperately needed structure in their lives; needed to keep up on their schooling. I walked them the eight blocks to the school, and dropped both children off. Steven, in grade two was then bused to a secret “mobile” primary grade school. The American School had a “Scramble Program” in effect. This was a security plan of taking a busload of children to a school at a secret location, always using different roads – never the same path. It was creepy knowing Stevie was on a bus with strangers going “somewhere” and I was uneasy about it.
Rebecca stayed at the (armed-guard) American School, and she met Stevie’s bus each day and waited with him for me. That first week her third grade class had a bicycle tour scheduled of Texxel, an island in the North Sea. They were to be gone three days, and, amazingly, she really wanted to go! I rounded up all necessary equipment through Chevron Holland, Hotel employees, and Pat’s friends: sleeping bag, Wellies, gloves, flashlight, and off she went. I wondered at her sense of adventure! She had been such a shy child. Her class slept soundly in a rural hostel when the Cherynoble disaster of April 26th, 1986 hit, but the group was given no notice of the event. When she got back the radioactive cloud had passed over all of Holland and the other North European countries and England. Then the wind changed and blew the cloud back again. Everyone was exposed twice to radiation, her class more so as they were much closer to the accident site. The only change in our lives was the disappearance of fresh vegetables in the KurHause restaurant.
It was cooling off quickly, so Corrie and I separated from the group. The old time friends engaged Pat, so she and I sat in the living room. Her frail body sank deep into the over-cushioned unit we call a sofa, and I gave her a log knit sweater-coat to keep. She liked it because it was warm, covered here knees. I remembered how I used to freeze in Holland, while she scooted around without a sweater, robust, healthy and full of fun. Our roles were reversed now.
I showed her the photo taken of the three of us perched on the edge of a fountain in St. Omer France,she and I flanked Pat, and assumed crazy position, with our legs kicked high in the air, with “Jazz Hands” and she laughed that deep throaty laugh.
I will blow it up big once they get home and send it to them. It is a wonderful memory – we were all so energetic and so very, happy.
Our party was a festive celebration even though we knew we would not see her again. Perhaps it’s about being older and more comfortable with the black hole in the distance that awaits everyone: Corrie goes now, one of us will follow, then another. Death is the nature of Life: so let’s do Life now before it’s too late. Corrie shows us this in her voyage.
I knew they had an I pod with them, so I emailed them a brief note thanking them for putting us on their Map of California. And Corrie emailed me back, a brief note that they would catch up once they returned to Holland.
It’s been well over a month now, perhaps they are still in California? I don’t know. I would have heard if she’d made her transition on the bucket trip.
So, I like to think Pat has taken hereven further South, way down Baja California to Cabo! I imagine her lounging deep in warm sand, beneath the bright blue sky and looking out to Lovers Cove, maybe raising a Chi-Chi to her lips. In their own good time they will make contact.
As I write about our treasured friendship, I am mindful that it feels much like when I put on a warm sweater in freezing weather. Love is a physical emotion. I understand now that it is important to collect as many loving moments in one’s life as possible; and keep them handy for whatever the future holds.