My friend Amanda and I had lunch in the park just about everyday. We talked about family, friends, and loves. Together, we formulated our early exit strategies from the corporate world.
Blah blah blah
How many people talk about retiring early and don’t. Mostly, we fantasize about giving the man the finger and riding off into the sunset 10 years before our financial planner gives us the green light.
But shortly after turning 56, my friend Amanda and I left our corporate jobs and took our pensions without the customary annual cost of living adjustment provided with most government and public service retirements plans.
Then Amanda casually told me that I was in her will. Wow. I was flattered, but didn’t give it much thought. Her death was not in the foreseeable future. We had easily another 30 years or more to live. It was a nice gesture though.
Six months later, Amanda died from an undetected brain aneurysm.
No Time for Goodbye
Amanda’s death came as a shock. There was no hand holding or warm embrace before she left. No final words, or golden prose that evoked something sentimental, heart felt, or mind-blowing. Nothing to give her life that well-deserved exclamation point.
She was physically fit. Her positive presence was an inspiration to those who knew her best. Amanda didn’t leave behind any notes, or letters, or poetry in longhand, or personal journal. No words escaped her last breath. Nothing, to ease her pain or mine.
I don’t mean to be so goddamn selfish, but the first thing that came to mind when my friend passed, was me. How would I survive without our lunches in the park? At least, I wanted her to know how much our daily talks helped me tamp down the rising bullshit of our workplace. Never mind that now, I told myself. The end had come for her, and everyone will follow in due time.
Dropping Out Before Dropping Dead
My friend is dead. Even God can’t undo that on this planet. Lest we also blame Her for the coming zombie apocalypse. Which is inevitable.
Amanda and I had so much in common – more than most casual lunch dates – retiring a decade early to pursue our separate “dreams denied.”
After “dropping out” of the corporate world, Amanda moved to her mountain cabin. Instead of waking up every morning being forced to deal with the onslaught of L.A. traffic and office politics, she breathed in pine scent and took short hikes from her doorstep with a dog she rescued named Griffin.
“Life on life’s terms,” she always said.
I followed her lead picking up where I left off 30 years ago with a pen in hand and big dreams of writing a best-selling novel and Academy award winning screenplay. Early retirement for me meant believing again in my talent and eating a steady diet of beans for lunch and a can of spinach and SpaghettiOs for supper. I also like to toss a fist-full of Cheez-It crackers into that delightful marriage of tomato soup and pasta Os. Tomato sauce, cheese, and salt are my favorite foods. I could eat Blaze Pizza everyday of the week. I, unfortunately, digress. Amanda got a kick out of my random thinking and unabashed lack of normal.
* * *
The longer we wait to pull the plug on our career, the more money we will have with fewer days to enjoy it. For Amanda the decision to retire 9 years early at 56 was a no-brainer. I felt the same. Together, we already had one foot out the door.
And now I write about what my friend will never experience.
I guess that’s where my selfishness lies. When I last saw her connected to life support, she was already gone. Holding her hand and demanding that she fight death would not bring her back.
I stayed until the decision was made to remove her from life support.
Shortly after she passed, I sat down to write a letter from the blue-painted bench we shared in the park. I opened my laptop and felt the familiar breeze and her warming smile, and imagined she was sitting next to me with the crows in the pine trees sneaking down from the lower branches for our leftovers.
What would I tell her?
I realized later that my letter began as it ended with “hello.”
I feel your presence here in the park, you are sitting next to me on our bench. Thanks for coming.
I called you the other day but you didn’t answer and found myself smiling through my tears.
We escaped our cubicles six months ago. Together we kissed our corporate jobs goodbye with arms stretched high and middle fingers waving buh-bye!
You know me so well. Few friends ever get that close. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: there is comfort in knowing that a friendship like ours will endure.
So long my friend, but only for today. When tomorrow comes, we’ll meet again someplace somewhere somehow and I’ll say “Hello Amanda, so glad you could join me today.”
Your forever friend,
I never knew what the word “forever” meant – not in human terms anyway – until that day in the park. Amanda’s last six months were the best days of her life. If she knew she had less than a year to live, she would have changed nothing.
A lesson for us all.
Amanda, I vow to honor your memory by living my life to the fullest as you would have. I’ll never forget our lunches in the park sharing our frustrations, hopes and dreams, plans for the day we both “dropped out before dropping dead,” and feeding the ants with bread crumbs and a pulled-off a piece of sandwich for the crow with a broken ankle we named Footloose.