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Friday, January 29, 2010

Safe Haven

It's funny, isn't it? The way sometimes the Universe just opens up and shows you a lesson in life. Of course, you have to be open to learning, or else you're very likely to miss the message. As the events of my day yesterday began to unfold in front of me, I found myself wondering just how many lessons I might have missed because I was too worried about me.

As always, you've all been so terribly kind. Everyone has something going on in their own world. Yet we know, within our little rag-tag group, we can count on a good word in bad times, in good times, in whatever times we choose to share. In spite of my feelings of late and contrary to my entry yesterday, I know in the depths of my heart I am not alone. As fortune would have it, I was more than primed yesterday for a respectable ass-whooping by the cosmos. I didn't have to look far. In fact, I never had to leave home. The lesson came and knocked on my front door.

I was in the back of the house, getting ready to leave for my afternoon at the Boys & Girls Club when I heard someone calling my name at the front of the house. I thought it was funny that Ellie wasn't barking. She barks at EVERYTHING. Even if she knows the visitor, she ALWAYS barks. But, she was looking through the window, wagging her tail in a calm, lazy manner. I opened the door to see my cousin Sandie standing there. It took a minute because I "thought" it was my cousin, but the person I knew as my cousin, the last time I saw her about 8 months ago, was quite a bit heavier and much younger than this woman standing on my doorstep.

She smiled, and I smiled back, trying to hide my look of shock and surprise as I stepped toward her to hug her. I felt the embrace warmly returned, but physically, my arms encircled a tiny, frail package. We keep the island custom of removing shoes when we enter a home, so I have a large basket inside the front entry. As she stepped in, she weakly struggled to remove her shoes and I leaned in to help her balance, telling her that it wasn't necessary for her to do that. She smiled and said; "Yes, it is." I knew, being raised the way we were, that it was a sign of respect to do so and she would never be one to be disrespectful. I was still intrigued by Ellie's behavior. She did not bark at Sandie. In fact, quite unlike the skitish dog she is, she walked close as Sandie settled on the couch, and then, plopped herself softly next to her. From this, I knew, without a doubt, that there was something I needed to hear from my cousin. Something that my perceptive pooch was already quite aware of.

"Sandie; you and I have always been chubby together. Always struggling with weight. The last time you were here, I noticed weight loss, but just thought, like me, you'd found a way to deal with it. But now? Now I am scared Sandie. You don't look well and you are SO tiny. PLEASE, I beg you, tell me what is wrong."

Tears welled up in her eyes. She said she didn't come here to worry me. That she was nearby and hadn't seen me in awhile. A favorite Asian market was around the corner and she went there to get some poi. So while she was in the neighborhood, she thought she'd come and say hi. I sensed that she was trying to divert the conversation, but the tears in her eyes told me she really needed to talk. I urged her to share with me by reaching out to touch her and when my hand reached hers, those tears spilled over and down her gaunt, tired face. I held my breath and squeezed her hand.

"I'm better now. Really, I am. But I HAD cancer. Cancer of the colon and a tumor in my bladder."

I thought about the last time I saw her. Even those eight months ago, she looked as though she'd lost about twenty pounds, but she didn't look sickly. I asked her how long ago she was diagnosed. She told me it had been a year, and that the last time she was here, she was in chemo-therapy. Now my tears came. I hurt for many reasons, but mostly because she didn't tell me then. That she had been through this alone. My cousin was widowed twelve years ago when she was only 45. Her vibrant, active husband, taken after a very long illness by complications from Type 1 diabetes. Since then, she has had one terrible ordeal after another. Losing her home and her husband's land in Hawai'i through unscrupulous bankers and realtors, consequently having the bank foreclose and declaring bankruptcy. She came back to California, basically leaving everything in Hilo behind. A friend told her she could stay with her, and a month later, having been ill and going to the doctor, she got the diagnosis that she had cancer. She'd gotten through two surgeries and rounds of chemo, spending this last Christmas and New Year's in the hospital. Upon her release from the hospital two weeks ago, her friend's husband told her she needed to leave and go be a "burden" on someone else. She asked him if he could just give her a chance to regain some strength and he responded that she needed to be out by February 10th. Over the last two weeks, she tried to be out of the house to avoid the man while he was there, spending time reading at Starbuck's or the library. Now, she was preparing to move this weekend to the home of another friend who lived in LA county.

The massive lump in my throat and chest made me feel as if I couldn't breathe. I was sick with worry for my cousin. I was hurting that she didn't feel she could share this with me all these months. That she didn't feel that this was a place of refuge. That she couldn't be in a safe place to recover and regain her strength. More than that, I was so angry at her friend's husband. I sat there, tears flowing down my face, my mouth gaping in shock. When I finally found the air to fill my lungs, I blurted out; "You are coming HERE to live! Right now! Let's go get your stuff! You're not spending another minute under the roof of that, that, PERSON!"

"No Renee. I didn't come here for that. I will go to my friend's."

I pleaded with her.

"Sandie, we are family. We are 'ohana. You should be here. With people who love you. Where you will be safe, where you can be you and get your health back. This is the reason I am home now. YOU are the reason I am home. Please. Be here. Be safe. Be welcomed."

As if on cue, Ellie lifted her head and rested her chin on Sandie's lap.

"You see? It is decided."

She made feeble attempts at telling me I should talk to Charlie and the kids. I knew that somehow, Charlie was already being made aware. However, to make her feel better, I told her that it was perfect that it was Date Night. We would talk about it over our dinner and I would call her tonight. I walked her to her car and we hugged a long, long time. "Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine. I promise you."

I waited until the server brought Charlie his beer. As he took his first sip and sighed his predictable "Ahhhhh", he smiled a knowing smile and said; "So tell me Honey, what's happening this weekend?"