“This stone is rough and will always remind you of the tough times you’ve experienced.” I looked down in my palm and saw a small white rock that resembled the kind of Home Depot gravel you’d see surrounding a small plot of begonias in a tacky garden.
“Now give me your left hand.” I did as told. “This stone is smooth and symbolizes the smoothness of your life as it unfolds in the future.” The brown nugget looked as if it had been polished by years of the Pacific surf. I looked up at her and tears started to stream. The maxim of the closing of one door and the opening of another was physically held in my hands.
I had been bracing myself for this moment in the past month. It actually had been tickling me for longer than that but now it was here and there was no looking back. I have come to depend on my four comrades in pain and I will always hold them close for their support and their love. I was able to get inside of these people and let them see the darkest parts of me, and it was a gift.
I looked to Earl, the only other man in our group, and thanked him for letting me know his Dora, his wife of twenty-four years whose life ended when the hijackers drove that cursed plane into the side of the Pentagon. I’ve drawn on his extraordinary strength as he struggles to raise his their two children as a single father. His eyes welled as he told me how proud he was to know me and how I helped bring humor in a place where laughter was an unwanted stranger.
Suzanne grabbed my hand with hers and with the other hand she was wiping her face. I told her how much I grew to love her Alex, a big strong man who had the misfortune of checking into LA’s best hospital for back pain and getting overdosed on morphine after she left him at 1:30am. I had coincidently met Alex when he tried to sell Billy a car. I’ve grown to know her three children who will never know their dad. She wished me well on my new adventure and hoped I would leave my heart open for love. I let the statement stand without argument.
Peggi and I always had a detestable thing in common – both of our husbands passed away on the very same day. It created an odd connection even though she is a deeply Christian woman. At the very beginning, I felt reserved with Peggi because I didn’t know her stance on Billy and me but I quickly found out her social politics had absolutely no play on this ground. She loved me unconditionally and her generosity of spirit has been unparalleled. She told me how much she loved getting to know Billy, and I told her that her Steve was a wonderful father and her children were lucky kids to have her guide them.
Finally it was Debbie who concluded the highly charged weep-fest. I’ve come to know Debbie and her daughter, Kimmi, outside of the group. She struggled so long watching her Steve dissipate through the ravages of prostate cancer and she now struggles to control her sixteen-year-old daughter. She is urbane and successful and has been completely available. Her Steve was a musician who wrote her songs she now has forever on CD and her house is littered with his instruments.
I sat there with my wet face and tried to choke out my gratitude. “You’ve all allowed me to express my darkest misery and you actually listened and held me and…” I couldn’t go on. I crumpled. The corniness of a group hug never felt less corny. When we left the building, we made plans for dinner next Friday.
As I was driving home, I felt relief. Not about old doors or new doors. Pages turned be damned. It wasn’t about easy aphorisms. I was relieved to have gotten to know such a wondrous group of friends.