by Linda Rodriguez
I have a new best friend. Well, not really new. We've been very close before, and then as the press of daily life and work took over, we started to see less and less of each other. You know the way these things happen—not because of anything either of us did but the world got between us. I'm sure you have friends like that. It's not that you aren't still friends, but just that you don't have the chance to see each other that much anymore. Then, one of you goes through some kind of crisis, and suddenly the other is there with support and whatever help you need, and you're reminded of how much this neglected friendship means to you and swear you'll never let the world and work get in the way of it again.
When I had to leave my fulfilling career in higher education for medical reasons, it was devastating. At first, the doctors couldn't figure out what was physically debilitating me, so couldn't really give me much help. Eventually, they diagnosed me with lupus and fibromyalgia and prescribed steroids and DMARDS (disease-modifying drugs) to protect my organs from further damage and help begin to control the overwhelming fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and muscle weakness. (Fun lupus fact of the day: As with most autoimmune diseases, lupus has no medicines developed specifically for it, but uses organ-transplant-rejection drugs, cancer chemotherapy drugs, and other similar powerful and expensive remedies.)
Determined to become active again and work at the writing career I'd originally aimed at before being derailed by family needs into higher education administration, I began to use a kitchen timer to help me return from the helpless mists of illness. I would set it for fifteen minutes and walk around the house, then go lie down to recover, set it for another fifteen minutes and sit down to try to write, then go lie down to recover, set it again and do a simple household chore that didn't involve a lot of exertion, then go lie down, on and on ad infinitum throughout the day. My rheumatologist was impressed with the recovery I made with this simple routine and told me he wished he could get his other patients to do the same. Over months and months of this, I slowly built up a reasonably normal life again. I was actually able to function and to build a new career.
As I grew stronger and busier, I used my trusty kitchen timer less and less. It was nothing my friend had done, of course. Life just caused us to drift apart. Until another disaster stuck—breast cancer. After three surgeries in two months, culminating in a radical mastectomy, I found myself weak, fatigued, in pain, and brain-fogged from all the medications and treatments. Suddenly, my dear friend showed her loyalty and support again and helped me rebuild my strength and life.
We had been once again drifting apart when my last chemotherapy treatment suddenly included a new additional infusion, and the combination tipped me over into a massive lupus flare, even once the terrible chemo side effects settled down somewhat. Only this time, I couldn't take the medications that helped suppress the flare because of interactions with the chemotherapy and other cancer meds which were still circulating in my body. Once again, I was knocked flat, and my loyal, too-often-taken-for-granted friend, the kitchen timer, came to my rescue.
We were in the middle of downsizing a big, old house in which my family and I had lived for 42 years. I put off the realtor's walkthrough for another month. I was also in the midst of writing another book, which had a publishing deadline that I couldn't really put off. So I rose in the morning, ate breakfast, took what meds I could and waited for them to go to work. Then I set a timer and handwashed a few dishes (no dishwasher in that old house). I couldn't stand in one place for long without pain and weakness in leg muscles, but the warm water helped me get my hands to function. When the timer went off, I sat down to try to write a few words, setting the timer because sitting for very long caused problems with my knees and hips and writing on the computer or by hand for very long caused cramps and pain in my hands, arms, and shoulders. When the timer went off, I moved to the heavily-cushioned recliner to elevate my legs and rest my arms, setting the timer again. When it went off next time, I packed items for giveaway in boxes or filled trash bags and recycling bins from cupboards, closets, two attics, full basement, and garage. And eventually, we got through the move, things got better, and I neglected my old friend again.
Now, once again, my dear pal has turned up when I need her most, proving to be a most loyal and devoted friend, as I struggle with the aftermath of a shattered shoulder, destroyed rotator cuff, and the onset of yet another auto-immune disease. With her invaluable help, I feel sure I will do what I must and still recover my strength. I've come to realize that the problem with our relationship lies with me. I forget that I need to pace myself. I forget that I need the help of my friend, the timer. I get busy and self-involved and forget that I need this friendship. I have vowed that I'll not make that mistake again.
Do you have friendships that have drifted apart for similar reasons? Is there a good friend in your life that you see less and less often as you get busier?
Linda Rodriguez's Dark Sister: Poems is her 10th book and is a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published in 2017. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2019. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.
Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Learn more about her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com