The other day when I was out for my daily walk and standing at a stop sign waiting to cross the street, a van that I didn’t recognize came to a halt beside me. I looked inside to see who was driving and saw a former neighbor, K, waving at me. I always liked K when she lived here, but lost touch with her after she moved away five years ago. So when I saw her, it pleased me.
She rolled down her window and we started to talk. Or rather, she started to talk.
She told me she was in town on business, and had borrowed this van to drive out to see her old stomping ground.
She brought me up-to-date on her kids.
She explained why her husband’s job had taken them first to the east coast, and then to the middle of the midwest. She talked about the houses she’d lived in since she moved; and how she missed this neighborhood and her old house here.
She knew the whereabouts of a few of the families who used to live on the street back when she was here, and told me about them. I updated her about the families who were still here– and about the neighborhood curmudgeon’s latest issues.
Eventually the conversation turned to a more personal tone, and I took the opportunity to tell her that I thought her new hair style and color really flattered her. She’d gone from a long dark brown layered style to a short golden blonde bob. She looked great.
And then the conversation got strange.
She laughed and said, “Thanks. I decided that I wanted to die a blonde.”
At first, I thought she said: “I decided to dye it blonde.” But slowly it registered in my brain what she had said; and that she was waiting for me to respond.
Hoping that I had misheard her, but fearing that I had not, I said: “Oh, that won’t be for a while.”
But I was wrong.
Come to find out, she has terminal breast cancer with a couple of years left to live. The change in hairstyle happened after many rounds of chemo during which time her hair fell out and then grew back gray. So she decided to take advantage of the situation, and become a blonde.
Being totally stunned and at a loss for words, I said a few trite, encouraging things to her; but I imagine that she’d heard these sorts of platitudes many times over. So I just let her continue to talk. There was nothing much that I could add to the conversation.
She talked a bit more about the details of her disease, and how her faith in Jesus was helping her cope. She talked about how she wasn’t really upset anymore about the unfairness of this situation, and that she was just doing what she wanted to do all the time now.
Then she looked at her watch, realized what time it was, and started to say good-bye to me. I asked her for her email address, but she said she couldn’t remember it. I told her mine, but I doubt that she really cared. This was to be our last conversation, I realized.
With that, she thanked me for talking with her and drove away. Drifting off in that casual way of suburban acquaintances. Just gone one day, never to be heard from again.
Leaving me standing by a stop sign– sad, confused, numb. No longer interested in going for a walk. No longer sure about much of anything.