My friend Sidney is no longer in this world but today, like many days, I remember her with fondness and some regret. I met Sidney when I was in my early 30’s and attending classes at the local vocational school; she was attending some of the general studies classes for something to do, to be around people. I don’t think we ever discussed age but I’d venture that Sidney was in her late 60’s or early 70’s. She was an interesting woman: inquisitive, reticent, prickly, sad, and very educated and when she smiled or laughed, which wasn’t often enough, her whole face lit up – literally, her cheeks pinked and her eyes sparkled.
Sidney grew up a “military brat” and I tend to think that she either loved or hated the military; there was definitely a wound around her father and the military and I’d wondered if she’d been denied a career because her father didn’t feel it was the place for a woman. She was educated but I don’t know to what degree, double entendre intended; I know she taught school at a private institution somewhere in the north east. She was also an equestrian.
We started meeting outside of school because, Sidney, to my astonishment and extreme delight, seemed very fascinated by me – which was very helpful for my flagging self-esteem and chronic depression. We sometimes walked her dog, Jesse, and sometimes had lunch or dinner at her home but mostly we just talked and talked. Sidney, for a very short time in my life, was someone who could see something in me and she encouraged my intellectual/emotional growth and independence. She was so curious, so full of questions about me, where I came from, what I thought, my family history and she questioned me about things in the current culture that, being older, were more ‘foreign’ to her, she especially liked to read (and correct, comment, grade) my homework. When the tables turned, when I asked Sidney about herself or aspects of her life, you could see the internal struggle; she became reticent, somber, evasive and a little curt. She had an edge that I didn’t want to provoke because we were friends and she was good for me so I learned to not go to certain places, not to lean in certain directions.
I knew she was lonely, she’d said as much, as was I – even with a husband and three kids. I got the impression that she’d never been a ‘popular’ person, somewhat of a misfit, and I only knew of one person whom she spoke of as a friend, Jane. I think I may have met Jane but I don’t remember. I know we went to Jane’s home/barn where Sidney cared for an old horse Jane had and sometimes she exercised her – the horse who’s name I can’t quite grasp. I remember one time Sidney had thought she’d teach me to ride. I have never had that little girl-horse love that some girls romanticize about but I was willing to learn something new and ingratiate myself into Sidney’s other life. Well, the height as a rider was dizzying and the odd bump & sway as the horse moved was like standing in a canoe (in the water, of course). I eventually allowed myself to fall off – I knew it would happen and I just let it – knowing that would be the end of the ‘riding lessons’. I think Sidney was stunned, not because I was hurt – which I wasn’t – but because I fell off at all. She was just leading the horse around in a small circle so I’m sure she was dumbfounded as to how the hell a grown woman falls off a horse. Anyway, I think, in retrospect, it was a disappointment to her not to have someone she could meet with regularly and teach; it would have given her some ‘purpose’ perhaps, something to look forward to, focus on each week. I am sad now about that.
Sidney lived in a quaint little house that, for reasons mysterious to me, she seemed disgruntled about and waved off any conversations or even comments regarding. She seemed to enjoy having company, my company, for a small meal but again, she seemed a little guarded about the ingredients. I do still like my salads the Sidney way; room temperature because she’s right, the flavors are much better.
I eventually got a job and had to move away. I did travel the one hour to visit on occasion, it wasn’t far for a friend but with a fresh divorce, new job and three young children to care for, eventually we only kept in touch via the phone and then even that fell by the way-side. It was a short time later, I don’t remember how long now that it’s been over two decades since I moved, that I drove up and the house didn’t look quite right. I entered the tiny little vestibule to knock on the door, to which there was no answer. Her little pad of paper and pencil were still there and I was tempted to leave a note but I had the vague feeling she was no longer there – at all. I went back out to my car and looked at the windows that I could see without making the obvious walk around the house and looking in them; they really looked no different, little knick-knacks on the sills, the chairs on the porch but there was a darkness, a vacancy that was noticeable to me. As I slowly pulled away a woman came out of her house across the street. She inquired about my presence – who wouldn’t since I seemed to be lurking – and I asked about my friend. The woman’s face changed and she peered into me and said, “Oh, she died a few months ago.” She didn’t seem to have any specifics except that she’d been in the hospital then a ‘home’ (rehab or nursing, I’m not sure), but Sidney was gone. I thanked her and drove home, dry-eyed and stunned.
I still go through those feelings that are human, the “I wish…”s – I wish I had kept in touch, I wish I had been there when she was hospitalized, I wish I had taken her to my home to nurse her back to health, I wish I had given back. I know that being dependent on anyone and especially in a (nursing) home is what killed her. I know that she was fiercely independent and proud and she would have been mortified to have needed someone to assist her in any way. I also know that she felt used up and that she’d already outlived her usefulness in this life but I just wish that her exit from this world could have been less lonely.
Thinking about Sidney is bitter-sweet. Today, I was walking my fur-babies on the trail and found some more “kindness rocks”, a few were the same as the last walk but there were a few new ones too. This last one I saw just before I got back to my car. For some reason it made me think of Sidney and that she made me feel special, interesting and worth while. I got a coffee and when I got home I looked through the cupboard for my Sidney cup and poured the coffee into it. I went out onto my sunny porch on this beautiful autumn day and I was finally ready to sit and remember and write about my friend.