Tuesday, August 8, 2017

... and then there is one

John and I are sitting on the couch listening to music, talking and generally enjoying the soft breeze through the screen door.  It’s June 1971.  I heard someone knocking on the door and got up to find a woman with my cat, Rover, in her arms.  “Is this your cat?”

Just the week before we were living in a duplex in Inglewood.  It was a small one bedroom near Inglewood Avenue and Lennox Boulevard.   It was directly under the LAX flight pattern.  I could almost see the people in the windows of the planes.  I had enough.  John left for work and I opened the Daily Breeze to find a place to live far from the sounds of jet engines and the smell of fuel.  That night he came home and witnessed me packing. “What are you doing?”  He looked confused. We had only been married six months and he obviously misread what he saw.  I announced we were moving to Torrance.  “Torrance!  Why there?”  John was less than happy but followed my lead, relieved that he was coming too.  We moved into a small two bedroom house with two houses, side by side in the backyard.  We laughed about this years later and always said it was the best decision we could have made.

The woman introduced herself, “Hi, my name is Leslie.  I live behind you in one of the houses.  Your cat came over to my house.  She’s really friendly”.  That is how I met Leslie forty-six years ago.  A few months later Judy moved into the other back house and now we were three.  Judy died in 2008 (the link to that blog post can be found by clicking on "Judy".  And we have been two since then.

Leslie married Dennis a short time later.  The marriage was volatile and lasted only five years.  Judy was living with her boyfriend; a situation that was crazy and short lived also.  We were all broke and many nights scrapped up enough money to buy food for a communal dinner, we picked vegetables from our common garden, and always carried a tab at Bennies, our neighborhood market.  On warm nights we brought Leslie’s television out onto the porch and watched it while sitting on lawn chairs.

Neither Leslie or I worked.  Judy, always employed, was the more responsible one.  We spent many days playing cards, riding bikes and just hanging out in the yard.  It was a very happy and carefree time in our lives.

I suppose many couples have the same happy memories of those first years together.  I remember my mother reminiscing about the days when she and my dad first married and their struggle while he was going through college.  They were broke, living in a Quonset Hut in Tucson, but mom described it as their happiest days. 

When I had my first son, Jay, he was premature.  I brought him home at a couple months old.  He was small and fragile.  We had to wake him every two hours to eat and it would take him an hour to finish the 2 ounces in his bottle.  We were exhausted.  We set the alarm and put it in the kitchen so we had to get up.  Many nights Leslie would come in through the back door before the alarm would go off and feed him, then reset the alarm for us.  He was so tiny there were no clothes in the stores for him.  Leslie retrieved her crochet needles and made sure he had clothes that fit him.

Tonight I did a search through my emails to read her words.  I read her funny stories which reminded me of her crazy sense of humor.  I read about the pride she had in her daughter.  I read about her love for her new son-in-law.  
I read through our plans to meet at my cabin and all the food she and her husband, Ron, would be bringing.  Could she bring her 160 pound Rottwieler? Yes of course Leslie.  There were many emails that started with “I just thought of you today when” and then a situation was described.  These email threads demonstrated the commitment to a very old friendship.  In 2015, I wrote a short email to her complaining about how people were treating Muslims.  I found it unfair and wondered how so many people could be misguided.  She was the friend who had never lost her 60’s values, her sense of inclusion, and my connection.  She wrote back, “What you envision you create.  Hold a better vision.  That’s our job.  To create a better place.“  That short reply was exactly what I needed to hear.  True to this philosophy was her ability to take care of others in need.  When a young girl needed a home, Jenny was adopted and is family.

Over the years there were camping trips, a trip to Washington to visit her brother and sister-in-law, Michael and Ann and stays at my cabin in the mountains.


When I returned from two years abroad in the Peace Corps, the world I left remained, but I changed.  During those years, I reentered my roots and remembered what was important.  I had two years to reflect on what I had become.  Working in a corporate environment, taking care of my family, and masking my identity had taken a toll on my soul.  When I returned I felt I didn’t fit into my old life anymore….but there was Leslie.  My old friend, who got me, who understood the values that we lived and are central to being.

Leslie and I lived in far different worlds but managed to stay connected on a spiritual level.  I often didn’t understand her world and she often didn’t understand mine.  But what we did have was basic values that created a bonding philosophy about life.  That philosophy was formed during the time Judy, Leslie and I lived in those three tiny houses on Border Avenue.

As I write this, Leslie is living her final hours.  How can I describe losing a friend of forty five years?  I can’t.  And so, as I write this piece and reflect on our lifetime, I am acutely aware that shortly, there will be one.  I love you my dear friend. 

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