NO FREE PASS
At my fifth year or maybe it was the ten year high school reunion, (it all blends together almost forty five years later, eeeh gads), I spotted her from her literal behind. Her beautiful figure would in an earlier era be referred to as svelte. Smooth, curvy, but not bodacious at all, highly feminine, ballet-esque. She was kind of like the waif version of the Jessica Rabbit character who played in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Her pale sunless skin with her vibrant red locks cascading down her back gave her appearance away immediately but so did the shimmery fabric adorning her skin. The handmade fabric she had invented just for the occasion of the reunion stood out like the bright light she was in high school- creative, inventive, confident. She had designed a dress (of course) that she had screen printed on the stretchiest of fabric all of our senior photos from our North Kingstown High School class of 83 yearbook. We, well mostly the men, spent the evening trying to find where their early eighties hairstyles and faces, but still looked like late seventies, had landed. It was the hit of the evening and she sauntered around with the air of understated, hippy elegance, egoless, calm and kind. This was how I knew her when we graced the halls of the A, B, C, D and E buildings for the four years at North Kingstown High together. She went on to RISD and I connected her to my father in Fall River, Mass as he was very familiar with the textile industry and I think he helped her with some connections there. Eventually she began designing dresses for women who chose to strip for their profession and on and on with her magical creative life I could never wrap my head around, but admired greatly.
Keri Haas, who transformed herself into her alter name, Sarah Good and I were friends in high school. We had a nice connection and though never really stayed in touch, there was a familiar thread between us so when we would see each other at reunions, it was comfortable and comforting. She grew up in the woods of Exeter, and I grew up in Jamestown, worlds apart back then and we somehow found each other in the world of high school that mixed lots of different towns together for the first time in a hot bed of hormones. Back then a ride from Exeter to Jamestown without a drivers license may as well have been a rocket to the moon and the likelihood of getting a parent to deliver to and fro was next to impossible. There was also no public transportation so it was hard to become friends with anyone outside of our own hometowns. But we did somehow.
Somehow she read something I wrote and found out about my cancer experience and mentioned to me that she too had been part of the tribe of cancer chicks and we got together this past June. We met for lunch and shared our war stories, bummed out that this was our link, but nonetheless grateful for the excuse to be together. She told me about the latest discovery of cancer in a different part of her body, a dreaded spot on her lung and we talked about the things we wanted to still do in our young lives. She shared her typical Keri creative world, deciding to make her own wig after her last bout with chemo, actually going to New York to meet with a famous wig designer to learn the art of wig making and actually used her own hair that she cut before chemo to create a wig. Keri was like this. Thrifty is an insult. She was unabashedly one of the most artistic people I have known. Jewelry, clothing, living off the radar in Maine in a house I meant to visit, nothing surprised me about her ability. I sat in awe as she filled in the holes of the time that had passed between us with her endless love of creation. We left each other that day, sad that cancer was the excuse, but happy knowing each other and the shared camaraderie we always have had.
Life gets busy. I went on healing from my surgery, she went on trying to grapple with her diagnosis and our lives again separated as we both went on. I saw she got married typical shotgun style and sent her a comment that I didn’t hear back from her on and time marched on. So this morning for some reason, I went on Facebook which I seldom do and started to see mentions of her in the past. I quickly realized that she had passed away and reached out to her oldest friend, Kim who called me apologetically and promptly for not letting me know. Not knowing about someone dying and then missing an opportunity to celebrate their life among friends is one thing, feeling bad about is another. I don’t feel bad because I know that Keri knew I cared for her. I know that the people who know me who went to the memorial would know that too. This is the glory of ego release. I had a generous conversation with Kim about the service and Keri’s remaining weeks on this planet. This was enough. What I have been grappling with today is deep sadness for her loss and a fresh wound opening that just because I am ok now does not mean I get a free pass. I am not being negative or pessimistic. It just really has freaked me out that Keri died in less than the seven months that I saw her and she really didn’t know that the “little spot” on her lung would be her final coast into today without her.
When I was getting radiation, the thought process was that surgery takes out what is there, but even though they caught it early, there is always a chance that something could be missed and radiation is one more line of defense. When the cancer came back the second time, it disproved the radiation theory to me and I actually wondered if the radiation caused its return. Who knows, really. I was starting to buy into the idea that this is over for me. I am healthy, strong, fearless. When I found out today that Keri died last week, it reminded me that I haven’t even gotten to the one year mark each of the last two we caught it early times yet. So today as I allow myself to wallow, to write, to sit on the couch with tea and a robust fire, I feel vulnerable and heavy hearted. I allow this. I accept it and know that all of “it” is completely out of my control so I march forth again into the rest of the day and the weeks and the months.
I remember Keri and I think of all of the people who knew her and were inspired by her grit. She went too soon. She had a lot left to do and as she said when I last saw her and Kim said she said the same, “this sucks.” Yes Keri Haas, Sarah Good, it very much does.