Cindy (first person)
It was back in the summer of fifty-four. The Korean War was over, the economy was doing well enough, and Americans in general were feeling good about their lives. That was the summer Larry met Betty.
Before they met, Larry had volunteered for the army and trained as a cook. It was a purposeful decision that was intended to provide income after the war ended. He never deployed, but his foresight at career planning was 20/20. Right out of the army he landed a job at a luxury hotel as the Assistant Chef. Cooking was something that Larry was meant to do. He would often say—I just have a knack for it. Knack or not, he became Head Chef and worked at that same hotel until he retired.
While Larry was busy building his career, Betty’s family finally had the time and the money to go on a vacation, and it was now or never. She was getting older and wanted to move out on her own. Betty already had a job as a legal secretary and saved enough money to get an apartment with her girlfriend. It was a big part of growing up, especially back then, and it made the family vacation that much more important.
Both Larry and Betty seemed to have their plans in order, and neither included the other. But that’s when fate stepped in and changed everything. Larry was taking his lunch break at the tiki bar next to the hotel pool; Betty was stretched out on a nearby lounge chair taking in the sun. Suddenly she sneezed. Larry said bless you, and the rest, as they say, is history.
A few years later, Mom and Dad were busy building their lives and after that, their family. I was one of the first steps. As the oldest in a long line of four girls, I just want to say that without a doubt, I couldn’t have asked for a better family and it’s all because I had the best parents. It was their support, both emotionally and financially that gave me the strength I needed. I would never have made it through med school without them.
Mom was always sharp as a tack and never let any of us slack off whether it be school or chores. Dad on the other hand . . . Let’s just say that I was nine years old before the reality of spending the rest of my life as Daddy’s Little Princess started to fade away. It was a hard pill for Dad’s little girl to swallow. But in my defense, I wasn’t the only one who figured out how to wrap him around my tiny finger (I’m winking guys), I was just the first. I think it’s fair to say that Daddy’s little girl set a high bar only to be exceeded by each of her successors. All kidding aside, Carla, Cathy, and Celia, out of the four C’s, you guys are the best.
Now, back to me. A lot happened during those early years leading up to high school, but none of it was out of the ordinary for a young girl growing up. So rather than subjecting you to a premature death by boredom (hehehe), I will skip that stuff which brings us to my last year in high school. I was prodding through life not knowing what else to do with myself because, well, what is a former Princess of the World supposed to do? My grades were always good. Wait. There’s no need to be coy here. Most of you know me, and if you don’t, you probably heard from those who do. I am smart—really smart. But as smart as I am, I had no idea what to do next. Oh sure, I was going to college, but I constantly found myself asking why. Just to get smarter? It didn’t seem like a judicious use of time.
It was just as I was contemplating the question for the umpteenth time that I crossed paths with a chauvinistic and probably misogynistic high school dropout. Interestingly enough, it all happened right there in the crowded hallway just in front of my high school cafeteria. He was trying to convince his girlfriend to join him on the road to nowhere. He used the word dropout many times, and each time it was emphasized like a badge of honor, or something very desirable. The plan was to run away and live happily ever after in of all places—Duluth, Minnesota. She didn’t like the idea very much. In fact, she wanted to stay in school and go to college so that she could be a pediatrician.
He said something to the effect that she was being stupid: girls are terrible doctors, and if anything, they’re only good for nurses. Well, before I knew what happened I stuck my nose in where it didn’t belong. The war of words escalated and before I knew what was happening, I was going to be a doctor too, and not just any doctor, I was going to be a brain surgeon. On top of that, not only was I going to be a brain surgeon, I was going to be the best damn brain surgeon ever.
It was originally intended as a simple threat to the moron standing in front of me. But the more I thought about it, the more appropriate it began to seem and then, it became a proclamation to all that heard it. I mean seriously. What else is a former Princess of the World supposed to do? Right? Brain surgeon—it made sense to me. God truly does work in mysterious ways.
At this point, I think it’s important to mention something. I know that when a person approaches their passing, they often find a renewed love for God or a completely new awareness that they never experienced before. From the outside looking in it can seem hypocritical, especially for those who don’t believe. While I have never been overtly religious, Darin and I made it a point to bring God into the lives of our children. For me, it’s important because death is so close, and such an important part of what I did to live. Sometimes, there’s nothing else that works. It’s my belief in a higher power that brings me to my next point.
Darin, I loved you always, which in all this, is why I think I’ve hurt you the most. I can say that because I know you’ve loved me and still love our two girls even more. To this day I’ve never admitted it, but I need to now. My mistake was not ours; it was all mine. At the time I was filled with hubris, and the thought of you forgiving any transgression was a foregone conclusion. Forgiving is one thing, forgetting is something else, and I had no right to expect that from you. The one thing, the only thing I would ever want the chance not to do over again, would be that mistake—my mistake.
After the divorce there were men. Not many but there were a few, none of whom could ever really measure up. Darin had set an unfair standard, as a man, a father, and a husband. Nevertheless, there was a doctor, a medical management professional of one kind or another (I think he was a VP or maybe a CEO), and there was even a lawyer. They were all highly respectable, and all respectively inadequate as men.
Then one day my car broke down, and my cell phone battery was dead even though I had it plugged into the car charger. There was a huge problem with the electrical system that left me sitting on the side of the road in a good for nothing $60,000.00 Mercedes. I was feeling pretty damn sorry for myself—angry too. All of a sudden this strange guy starts tapping on my window. It caught me by surprise, but I wasn’t scared, maybe a little apprehensive, but definitely not scared.
He motioned for me to lower my window, I shook my head no. He smiled and asked if I needed help. He said that one of his surveyors noticed I was having car trouble. I could see that they were working on the lot across the street so his presence wasn’t as suspicious as it might seem. I said that my car broke down and my cell phone was dead. I asked if he would lend me his phone to call AAA. He agreed, but I had to lower the window so that he could pass me his phone. I informed him that I couldn’t lower the window: that the car’s electrical system was dead and the window won’t work which was obviously why my phone died too. I was being a little sarcastic, but he was nothing if not completely polite. He stepped back from the door so that I could open it, and then he handed me his phone.
I called AAA and gave them my information. The AAA lady told me that it would be about an hour before they could get there. When I finished my call, I gave the stranger his phone back and thanked him. He had heard my side of the conversation and knew that help was an hour out, so he volunteered to wait until they came. I thanked him but told him that it wouldn’t be necessary. Then I closed the door of my car just to be on the safe side, only to realize a moment later how hot and stuffy it was getting without air conditioning. I didn’t have much of a choice, so I reconsidered the stranger’s offer. He had stepped away to take a phone call, and I took the opportunity to open the door and get out of the car. Shortly after that, we were sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck talking up a storm and drinking cans of diet coke from his cooler.
Long story short, Jerry was divorced with kids, I was divorced with kids, and we shared one great sorrow in life. It wasn’t the only thing we had in common, but it was a huge starting point. Jerry, my knight-in-shining-armor, spends his days surveying other people’s land so that he can come home and spend his nights making me feel like a princess once again. I love you more than you can ever know, and with every passing day . . . I love you more.
Kate and Jen listen to me. No mother could ever be as proud of her daughters as I am of you. They say a job worth doing is worth doing right and you guys prove my worth. I love both of you more than words can express, and I know that when your turn comes, you too, will know the love and pride I feel right now. If it’s possible to learn from the mistakes of others, please, I implore you, learn from my mistake. You both have wonderful husbands that love you, and just so you know, I love them like sons—be good to them. By the way, there’s something else you should know, the job of spoiling my future grandkids is a job I would not have taken lightly. And while we’re on the subject of grandkids, please try, for grandpa’s sake, one or two boys would be nice indeed.
So here we are. Tell me. Is it coincidence or is it true irony? After all the support I had from my family, all my training, all my hard work, all the lives I was able to save, and all the prayers for the ones I couldn’t; when it really counted most, the best brain surgeon in the entire country had to step aside and let the second best surgeon operate. Don’t worry Charles. Everyone knows that as we speak, you are the best surgeon in the country. Though, up until my forced retirement, it was highly debatable. Just kidding.
I know that these last few months have been very painful for you Charles. Not for me of course, you’ve had me juiced up on the best pain cocktail imaginable. But all kidding aside, you aren’t only the best: you’re the best for me. I know that if more could have been done, it would have. Now it’s time for prayer. We’ve both been there before, and you’ll be there again. It brings us closer to God, but it comes at a price. We chose this honor, to be able to heal the sickest of the sick and it must carry on. I know you will do nothing less. Thank you, Charles. And take it from someone who knows, you are the best.
They call it The Forgotten War, but without it, there probably wouldn’t have been any reason for all of you to gather here today. As I said, Daddy never did deploy, but he did enlist and was ready to serve his country if needed. It was important to him that while others forget, we girls remember. Daddy we do.
Okay. There is so much more that I could say and I know there are those who should be acknowledged. I’m truly blessed, and the proof resides in the fact that if I did mention everyone, we’d be here until next spring. No one has the time for all that and speaking of time. The time has come for me to say goodbye and tell you that I love you all so much. I will miss the hell out of this life, and I have each and every one of you to thank for it. So for now . . .
Thank you, and Goodbye.