Kath and I met in high school. We were both in the concert band; I was a budding percussionist and she handled the tympani. We played keyboards in the stage band and travelled together to Cuba, playing music and night and sleeping during (much of) the day. It was on this trip that I developed an aversion to rum. (I’m okay with it now, almost 40 years later.)
We went camping in my father’s green Mustang and I recall applying press-on nails while sitting in the tent and then having trouble zipping my jeans. I also remember stopping for supplies in some small town, having trouble starting the car, and then being reminded by a male passer-by, that the car had to be in Park to start. Kath taught me how to roll cigarettes from Drum tobacco and how an introvert could be an outstanding actor in a high school musical.
We lost touch as we went our separate ways on graduation. We reconnected when she popped up on Facebook just over three years ago in 2010, some 30+ years after high school; we finally reunited in person in the summer of 2011 when she was in Toronto to help out a cousin and her twin toddlers.
That first meeting was in a little hole-in-the wall Asian restaurant on Danforth. She walked in with a cane and as she sat down, I asked her if she’d hurt her ankle or something. That’s when she told me about her MS, the reason behind her retirement from the federal public service. I’m not sure whether I showed it or not, but I was stunned. I’d been her friend for a year on Facebook and had no idea. Her timeline had been full of home renovations, dock diving with her dog Jennie, a cruise to Alaska, horseback riding in Davos. This was clearly the same, determined woman I remembered from high school, who wouldn’t let something like a chronic, incurable disease prevent her from finding her bliss.
It was one of those (re-)connections that make you feel like no time has passed. We made a date to see the Abstract Expressionist Exhibit at the AGO later in the week (she is an artist, and Rothko is one of her faves.) When we met there, she decided that she’d be more comfortable and steady in a wheelchair so she requested one and bopped around the gallery, answering pretty much ALL my questions about the works we were seeing. It was like having my own personal docent.
Since then, she’s become involved in various horse rescue groups in the Ottawa area, and became the crazily doting human companion to a gorgeous quarter-horse named River and a chunky Shetland pony, Lord d’Appleby, both rescued from the “meat-man”. I’ve met been introduced to both of them on various trips to Ottawa (I now keep some barn boots in my car!) and she’s working hard to train these equines so that they can be ridden by her (River) and children (d’Appleby – for therapeutic riding.)
Fast forward two years to last fall and she contacted me when she was coming to Toronto for a funeral of a dear friend of her mother’s. The Royal Winter Fair was on and she wondered if I’d like to go with her if she came down a day early. I’d never been but had noticed the ads for it over the past few years and agreed with pleasure. We spent some time on the exhibition floor (and Kath spent some money), LOTS of time talking (and eating), and then watched the evenings events. She stayed with me that night and we met another friend from high school that we’d reconnected with (also via Facebook) for breakfast near the University of Toronto. She stayed the rest of the weekend with her brother north of Toronto, and then the two of us drove up to Ottawa on Monday. I had been planning to spend some time with my mom and I also got another visit with Kath today.
It was probably in the five hour car trip that we shared the things in our life that are most important and concerning. We both have the same attitude about life: we care deeply about our family and friends, but need to find a zen-like, drama-free zone where we can spend most of our time. That life is happening now, not in the future, and certainly not in the past. We can only move forward and in doing so, try to accept what is on our plate with grace and a positive attitude. We’ve lived very different lives, both personal and professional. But now in our mid-fifties, we’re both kind of nesting. She’s renovating her house, loving her dogs and other four-legged friends, and helping her mother as she downsizes and struggles with health issues. Replace the four-legged creatures with a husband and grown sons, and that’s pretty much my life too.
She’d had a rough summer, with a bad flu while on a cruise which may have led to the flare-up of another chronic illness, a broken foot (that didn’t set properly), and the hospitalization of her mother. She was housebound for a while, with friends bringing her groceries, and she wasn’t able to get out to see her horse and pony for weeks. Her Facebook posts sometimes sounded down, but never out.
I spent some time with her later in the fall. We did some sorting and organizing of books and linens, went to her favourite Vietnamese restaurant for a late lunch, and then took the dogs for a long walk along the Ottawa River. She gave me some good advice about planning my kitchen reno since she’s almost finished with her hers.
A week ago, we got together again for a short visit and Lebanese lunch at The Garlic King. Due to some health issues, she’s been taking it easy the past few weeks, but I wanted to see her and meet her new kitty Stella. I’m heading to Ottawa again next week and she’s told me to bring my skates so that we can hit the Rideau Canal. She uses a walker to skate, and I’ll probably be hanging on to it too as it’s been a while.
So when people gripe to me about the downsides of social media, I just smile and remember how many new friends I’ve made and how many I’ve reconnected with. We’re planning a camping trip (or two) this summer to Sandbanks, where she can bring her beautiful dogs Jennie and Mollie to the dog beach.
[Edited to correct name of Kath’s pony!]