Tiffany and I are sitting in our diapers, topless, in the middle of west 5th street. It’s summer. There were popsicles involved, I think. Her lips were bright red. We poked and popped the tar bubbles on the street. It’s a dead end affording us all the flexibility we wanted, to create, destroy, and mold our long, unfolding summers.
We would run from the front of the house, through a secret passageway, into the backyard. That narrow passage that we’d shimmy sideways through would transfer us into our favorite place – butterfly land. Like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon, we would be transformed into those same creatures, waving our arms, pulsating around the yard, thinking we were beautiful.
We wanted to be them, so free. Delicate wings, vibrant, patterns that try and trick the birds above that the butterfly is something bigger, more vicious. Or the snakes below, that the butterfly is poisonous, you’d be dead with one bite. The butterflies dance and shimmer and flit. They head one direction, then change their mind and zig zag across the grass to the next dandelion or rose or daisy. It’s a two-step or a line dance, especially when so many of them are passing through. They get blown by the wind but really, Tiff and I were convinced that they were dancing, jiving, experiencing joy, so free, just like us.
Tiff’s mom Pat would wave at us from the porch. Her smile providing us with a nest of reassurance. Her long hair was so long then, in a braid that twirled and twisted into a bun. She rarely let it down. Only with family. And me. She called me Megaroo.
In gradeschool, Tiff and I would walk home together. My grandparents and Tiff’s family were neighbors. I wish I could remember what we talked about, without filter. What were our dramas. What did we hope for. What did we dread. What did we think growing up, becoming an adult really meant?
When did we learn the word hospice?
When Pat went into hospice two weeks ago, my sadness for Tiff and her family was heavy, grief bubbling up, imagining Pat’s transition from one phase to the next, a cocoon and a chrysalis. I realized, oh, it won’t be long until I know Tiff feels like. My dad, steadily declining.
I watched Tiffany these past few months grow more tired as she watched her mom become weaker. And yet, with so much clarity and strength, Tiffany called me and told me she is gone, suffering no more.
Pat wanted to wear her wig in her casket, one of her last requests. To have our memories of her be as she was, standing on the back porch in the sunshine of the sunset, watching over us. By the end of her life, her hair was falling out in clumps. But in a silent conversation between the living and the dead, Tiff made the decision, before the casket was closed, that Pat wouldn’t be buried in that scratchy, itchy wig. Pat ultimately hated it, what it stood for, what it meant she had to give, including her life.
Tiff knew that Pat wanted to be free.
And she would be. Free again.