Over the last couple of weeks, I've tried and tried to write a fitting memorial to my old friend Colleen. I failed. Everything sounded like an obituary. Fact is, I still can't believe she's gone. When I left Colorado two Fridays ago to see family and friends in the Midwest, my plan and hope was to visit with Colleen, provided she was up to it. I'd be in the area for three days and kept my plans loose, hoping that on at least one of those days I'd be given the go-ahead by the Powers That Be to stop in. Instead, I had lunch with another one of our friends and got a chance to hug her tightly.
Every time I think about Colleen, it's like I'm talking to her in my head and because there were things I wanted to tell her, my good-bye won't be a good-bye. It'll be a letter, a letter I should have written long ago.
In the 35 years we've known each other, I don't think I ever told you how much I admire you. Yeah, that sounds way too sentimental and let's change the subject and all that, but it's true. And here's the thing, that's exactly what you are: true. True to yourself. True to the ideals you've held all your life. True to the friends you've gathered along the way.
I think I was a bit intimidated by you when we met, but you know how my memory is. You were so damn sure of yourself, so amazingly smart and perfectly at home in the world. I could tell just by watching you walk. Your loose-limbed amble belied your sharp eye, taking in the stories that surrounded you. And, for you, everything and everyone had a story, even if you had to make it up. Of course those were the best stories, but it took me a while to figure that out.
Still, you befriended me and I count myself lucky to be included in the posse of characters that pepper your life. I wish I'd recorded some of our marathon phone sessions from the early days. What the hell did we talk about for hours at a time day after day? Our kids? No, too mundane, unless they'd done something off-the-wall. But I do have every one of our party invitations for the Winter Solstice One-Size-Fits-All Sing for Your Supper parties you so loved to host. Every once in a while I take them out and read them, always ending up with tears of laughter streaming down my face. I can hear your voice; I can see you sitting at the typewriter(!) pounding them out as we tossed off ideas. It was easier, though, if I did the typing because you liked to pace and wander about the room.
Wandering has always been your specialty, one of the things I most admire about you. (I know, I know, stop with the praise already!) In my own travels I was never as mindful as you about how important the journey is as compared to the goal. The journey, after all, is fodder for new stories and introduces you to countless interesting folks that you can either turn into the heroes of your stories, or kill them off. Killing them off is so much fun!
We lost touch for a while, but when we reconnected, I was sad to know that you had a place on the city council and that I was no longer there to dutifully document its foibles for the newspaper of record. How much fun that would have been! I can see the worst of them rolling their eyes and gritting their teeth every time you called them out for a stupid idea. And there, right there, is one of the best parts of Colleen Sutherland: your ability to point out flaws in someone's reasoning with calmly stated logic. Often, they don't get it and while you never suffer fools gladly, you often choose not to waste your time. The patented Colleen shrug and a mumbled "idiot" have to suffice.
Misfits, though, misfits always have a friend in you. Anyone who has been deemed too odd, too complicated, too scary to be taken seriously can count on your advocacy, if not your friendship. And if some sacred cow needs to be slayed, you're always there to pick up the knife. Remember how we took a bottle of wine out to the cemetery to watch the Perseid meteor shower? I was all for just lying on the top of the car, but nope, it was a grave or nothing for you. I forget now whose graves you chose, but we spent a few giddy hours lying side by side in the dark, sipping wine and watching the skies.
Then there was my 30th birthday party. It was back in your old house and you even made a cake; cucumber-shaped with sickly green frosting. Only a few of us knew why. One of my relatives showed up and completely ruined the party, at least for me. You rather liked that relative at first, found her stories fascinating. But you saw how distressed I was and wasted no time asking the woman to leave, politely, but pointedly. Later, you took me aside and asked me why in the world I would allow such a person in my life. That was long before the phrase "toxic relationships" was part of the lexicon, but you knew all about those.
You also knew I wouldn't listen. Not then anyway, but some months later I excised that particular poison from my life and have had 30 years of peace. You're the only person I never had to explain it to. Thank you for that. Thank you for making me crazy with your logic and your honesty. Thank you for teaching me how to shrug and walk away. Thank you for pushing me to write, to do what I love and how to push through fears. And thank you most of all for your love draped like a loose arm around my shoulders, never too tight and always ready to set me free ... and to let me back in.
This week's story Lightening the Load