I pushed the vacuum cleaner back and forth. The beads that had spilled from the stuffed bee-bear, one of my dog, Siddha’s toys, rattled up the tube. Sid nipped at the wheels of the vacuum, in between growling and yapping. I always laugh when she plays this game, although truthfully, I don’t know if she is playing or if she really is threatened by the noisy thing. Whichever, it doesn’t matter, because it gets her moving, getting her some exercise on this rainy day.
I imagined not being able to vacuum the floor myself. Not being able to play with my dog. And not being able to type this writing. It was a sadness that kept creeping over me, ever since Celestia had come into my office that afternoon.
I had never really known Celestia. Not like a friend, you know. Just small town stuff. I’d say the first I ever knew of her was back in the mid-eighties when she and I were both single moms out on the town, frequenting the same dance club. I didn’t really like her. She was so pretty, and so loud. And she got all the attention that I really wanted, but would never in my “average” looks and not so loud ways receive.
I remember seeing her at the local swimming pool. She and I were both there with our little ones, both sitting at the wading pool. But she was in a bikini with a dark luscious tan with her dark hair cut in the latest style and looking like a dream. Me, I was in my one piece, suitable to a young mom, with lily white legs and frizzy eighties hair pulled back in an attempt to control it. Again, I sat in envy.
The years passed, and I found myself in the same social circle a couple of times. I wanted to be her friend, but every time she and I tried to talk, I always found that there was no connection. It was always like those conversations that go nowhere. Like hitting the ball over the net at a tennis match, but there’s no one there to return it. We were each in our own match – on the same court, but not able to bring the games together.
Today, though, I saw her from my desk, coming up the steps to the building where I work. She seemed to be struggling, and I wondered if maybe she was wearing a cast. As she entered my office, I smiled brightly, then as she tried to speak, I realized something was wrong. I don’t know, because I could not see my own face, but after many years of being told I have a face like an open book, I cringe to think that my smile quickly fell into a bewildered – what the heck – look that I am sure she is getting quite used to seeing.
I ushered her to where she needed to go, then when she was in the next office, I turned to my boss and did what I am sure eveyrone is doing to her. I mouthed, “What is wrong with her?!”
My boss usually knows all the bad things that have happened to anyone in town, and after reminding her who the woman was, using her catastrophe/disaster/hardship/tragedy voice, said, “OH, yeah, she has something terrible like Lou Gehrig’s Disease or Huntington’s or something like that.” And then she headed off to ask another co-worker, who is actually related to Celestia, and came back to confirm that it is Huntington’s Disease.
I Googled Huntington’s Disease and read about the disease. And with each word, I felt my heart sinking for this woman, whom I had actually had the nerve to envy. Immediately, I thought how many times I had envied someone only to find out that they were miserable or dying or some horrible thing had happened to them. I made a mental note to warn all the young woman in my life to embrace who they were, because they were better off than most and you never know what is going on in someone else’s life or what fate lies in their future.
My thoughts of Celestia did not stop there. The rest of the day, I have been haunted by her life, and now – her lack of it. I thought of all the things I love to do – quilting, writing, knitting, walking, cooking. All the things that I turn to to give myself purpose in life would forever be impaired and eventually made impossible by that disease. What would Celestia do to pass the time in her life. Soon her thoughts would not connect, her breathing may be impaired, walking was already difficult, talking now a challenge. It is a progressive disease that would steal her freedom, her pride, her looks – her life. She would have to rely on others to take care of her.
All of this, the fear of it, the reality of such threats to all of us, settled on my heart. None of know when something like this – a disease, an accident, an illness – might steal all the things we take for granted. The things we put off or say we are going to do another time, another year, after this or later, we may end up not being capable of doing.
As I pushed that vacuum back and forth, I didn’t resent it. I didn’t think of all the other things I’d rather be doing. Instead, I thanked God that I could run the vacuum. I thanked God for my dog, the laughter and love that I am able to experience because of her. Yes, suddenly, life seems awfully good. All the complaints I had yesterday seem trivial today.
My heart breaks for the woman I used to resent and envy for her perfect hair and teeth, her tan and her outgoing personality. I just wish I had known then what I do now. I am blessed and was then. I just didn’t know it.