This morning, Dad received a phone call from a family friend letting us know that another dear friend who’s been quite ill had passed away.

Duane was a member of my parents’ longtime “club” of six couples that started doing things together shortly after they all married. Mom and Dad sometimes refer to members of the group as “the girls” or “the boys,” even “the kids”–even though the youngest is nearing 80 years of age.

Growing up, my family spent many evenings with Duane and his wife Betty, along with the other couples in the group. My brother and I got to know their kids over the years, from the days when our parents slipped us into pajamas assuming that we’d fall asleep in the car on the way home until we were all well into high school.

Duane isn’t the first to pass from this tight group. In 1975, one of the other men, Ronnie, died suddenly from an aneurysm, and for some time, the couples stopped meeting out of concern that Ronnie’s widow would feel left out coming to get togethers alone. Over time, they resumed their gatherings.

Duane will be missed. His passing reminds me that all members of the friend group are aging, that life in my hometown as I’ve known it is changing. Friendships like those shared by these six couples are rare, and it will be difficult to see them drift into memories.


Back at the Coop with Edwina

On Thursday, I met Edwina for her doctor’s appointment at Cooper Green, this time with her primary care physician Dr. Hamby. While Edwina hasn’t been feeling well in recent months–during which she’s taken several trips to the emergency room, some in ambulances–she looked happy and healthy.

Edwina, smiling in pink

Edwina, smiling in pink at the Coop.

Edwina was in a great mood, despite her aches and pains.

She asked me to help her send a form to somebody who “was gonna help get [her] some glasses like the ones you wear, Miss Rayan,” so I took a picture of the form and sent it on its way.

We talked about her son, Steve, who seems to be staying out of trouble, and her husband, Tyrone, who can’t say the same.

I filled Edwina in on the trials I’ve been experiencing with my family and with work. She listened intently, nodded her head up and down in agreement that times had indeed been tough, and lifted me up when she said that “God be lookin’ over all y’all, Miss Rayan–your momma and your daddy and even your brother.”

We’re heading back to the Coop again the week after Thanksgiving to see Edwina’s pain doctor. In the meantime, Edwina wants to see Madea’s Halloween. If it’s anything like the Christmas movie featuring Madea, it’s sure to be a rocking night out for the two of us.

Small towns

This story on msn.com cracked me up: http://www.msn.com/en-us/lifestyle/smart-living/22-things-you-only-understand-if-youre-from-a-small-town-so-many-parking-lot-hangs/ss-BBs47ph

The authors got it right. Almost everything they listed as “things you only understand if you’re from a small town” was something I could relate to.

One exception, of course:

In my hometown of Clinton, Illinois, our favorite high school pastime/sign of coolness was cruising the town square. In hindsight, it was pretty ridiculous. We’d get together with friends on a weekend night and drive in circles, never actually going anywhere but feeling seen while seeing everyone else from school

No wonder my dad had a fit about the waste of mileage, and time!


My oldest daughter, Celia, is a smart kid.

Yesterday, she and I were talking about some upcoming celebrations in our extended family. In April, my cousin Tim’s daughter, Meredith, is getting married, and the girls are very excited about attending.

I told Celia that I’m looking forward to Meredith’s special day, but admitted that I sometimes feel a little bit sad when I’m around families with siblings who share a kind of bond that I don’t have with my only sibling. My cousin Tim, for example, has four siblings. Wherever they are, they remain connected. My relationship with my brother is measured by phone calls with directors of mental institutions, shelters, and correctional facilities.

Celia had a truly amazing response to my comment.

“I don’t think your brothers and sisters have to be related to you by blood,” she told me. “You have sisters like Tanya and Teresa who have always been there for you.”

Celia is absolutely right. Smart kid.

Another mission, another chance

We’ve been receiving a number of phone calls from Bethesda Mission in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The caller holds on until the time period for leaving a message ends before hanging up. None of us pick up, since we figure it’s likely my brother, Joe, who should be nearing the end of his time in another facility in the state that treats people with mental illness who are also struggling with addiction.

I so often feel like a hypocrite. My friendship with Edwina has shown me that people with the odds stacked against them deserve a second chance. Once diagnosed with breast cancer, Edwina left crack behind. She’s certainly not kicked all of her bad habits, but neither have I or anyone else I know. Edwina messes up, and I forgive her. I mess up, and she does the same. It’s a friendship like any other.

Maybe it’s because my history with Edwina is shorter that I feel differently about her intentions when she calls. After all, I never knew Edwina when she was on crack, so I haven’t experienced that side of my friend. And while Edwina sometimes lies to me to get what she wants–and isn’t much better at hiding the truth than Joe–she seems sincerely sorry.

I count on those who love me to forgive me when I screw up–which happens more than I care to admit–but I also work hard not to repeat my mistakes. I don’t want my friends and family to regret giving me a second chance. Joe, though, seems to apologize only when there’s something in it for him: money to buy more drugs or another opportunity to move in and destroy trust.

I have to assume that Joe will end up back on the street, surviving on handouts and the occasional night’s sleep in a men’s shelter. It makes me sadder than I can say, but it’s a sadness that I’ve gotten used to.

A hurt heart

Edwina left me a desperate voice message Monday night.

“Miss Rayan, you don’t love me no more,” she said, her voice quivering. “I never hear from you, you don’t call me, nothin’. Call me. Please.”

I called her first thing Tuesday morning to tell her that I do still love her. I’ve just been busy and had a lot on my mind.

I’ve been down this road before with Edwina. When life gets crazy and I’m otherwise occupied, Edwina begins to panic. She’s certain that I’m dropping her as a friend, even though I’ve assured her many times that I’ll always be there for her. That’s what friends do.

Once Edwina calmed down, she and I talked a while. Turns out, Edwina has been in the hospital twice in the past few weeks. Both times, she had to have stents put in her heart. I know she must have been scared, and I told her that no matter how busy I am, she should call me when she faces something scary and needs some support. I’ll find a way to see her.

We do have an outing planned in a couple of weeks. I’ve been invited to be the guest speaker at a breast cancer event at a community college in Huntsville on October 28, and I invited Edwina to come along.

“We’ll spend the day together,” I told her. “Two friends on a road trip.”

Edwina told me she can’t wait to go.

New digs

Edwina has moved.

The rent for her old apartment, the only residence she’d ever called her own, went up and she couldn’t make the payments. Plus, once management at the place shifted, Edwina discovered that not much got fixed. As a case in point, she spent much of the summer without a front window after the wind shattered the glass during a particularly forceful storm.

Last week, Edwina and I decided to meet up. She wanted me to see her place and catch up on things since the last time we’d seen each other.

I had an hour or so between a scheduled appointment and the time I hit carpool to pick up the girls from school, so I checked out my Google map directions and headed off towards Edwina’s new digs.

But the closer I got to my destination, the more out of place I felt. Block after block revealed dilapidated buildings, abandoned cars, street dwellers hanging out on corners and propped up against store fronts and benches in the middle of the afternoon. Perhaps my discomfort stemmed from an unclear sense of direction–I’d never been in this particular part of Birmingham before–but whatever the reason, my gut told me to turn around and head back towards my own side of town.

When I got home following carpool, I couldn’t help feeling guilty. My friend had moved to what seemed like a more dangerous area because she had no choice. Shouldn’t I be willing to move outside my comfort zone for an hour to pay her a visit? I’d never turned away from Edwina before, not because of a decision she’d made that I disagreed with or because I didn’t completely understand her perspective on something. What made this situation any different?

I was scared. Driving through Edwina’s new neighborhood, I felt like I stood out. I was dressed up for work, driving a car that looked newer and in better condition than any other means of transport I saw in the area. I hadn’t come across another white person as I drove block to block looking for Edwina’s address. Despite years of knowing Edwina, her family and her friends, I didn’t feel safe in her new surroundings. And I felt terrible for admitting that I felt the way I did because of what I saw when I looked out my car window.

Edwina and I did meet up the next day when she stopped by my office. We chatted for a while and then she headed for home when I told her it was time for me to leave for class.