I ran into him at the local supermarket last week and we hugged as if we hadn’t seen each other in years. But of course, we had..
Neal had attended Smythe and Wesson Elementary School with Bitchy, and was the only boy at her 7th birthday party. (He had given her an envelope with twenty dollars in it, and it was her favorite present that year.) They remained friends all throughout the years, and he always had a special, special place in my heart. He was an incredibly smart young man, but was also so friendly, kind and funny.
I have to admit I had always hoped that Bitchy would realize what an amazing young man he was, and smile in his direction. But alas, while she thought he was awesome – she had given her heart to another.
He attended and graduated from the University here in town and works at the local microbrewery. He and Bitchy are both waiting for “The Job” to come knocking at their doors.
Yet I digress.
I ran into him at the local supermarket last week, and we hugged as if we hadn’t seen each other in years.
I had seen him now and then at the local microbrewery, and we were always happy to see each other. I also saw him on Facebook and watched with sorrow as he posted love letters to his mother, who has not been fortunate enough to dodge the cruel hand of fate. (This time Fate was holding a handful of terminal cancer. )
I’ve watched him gracefully share glimpses into his family’s heartbreak, and it makes me catch my breath. He is a loving son and brother, and his love comes shining through.
I’ve read his sister’s eloquent and brutally honest blog posts about this journey, and my heart breaks for her, her brother and all that are touched by this ugly, painful bitch of a thing. It's so hard to mourn someone when they are still alive, but she's an amazing writer AND daughter...
When I hugged him at the supermarket I wanted so badly to say something, but I didn’t. I wanted to say I was sorry. I wanted to ask if I could help. I wanted to say.....something. But we hugged, laughed, and went on our way.
And then, I couldn’t stop thinking of him. And her. And them.
This weekend I drove back and forth twice to the big city of Pittsfield to Sassy’s field hockey games. I have driven this route so many, many times that I could do it blindfolded. I drive the same route, stop at the same 7-eleven’s for gas and the bathroom each way, and that’s the way it is. (I'm a crazy creature of habit....)
I left Sassy’s game late tonight and was almost at the 7-eleven where I always stop. Something told me not to. I can’t describe it, but I drove on, arguing with myself the whole time. After a few miles I let it go, and decided to just drive all the way home. I didn’t need gas OR a bathroom and so it made sense.
After about 45 minutes I spotted a 7-eleven on this return route that I hadn’t noticed before. I could see it was a bit difficult to maneuver into, but it was as if my car had a mind of its own and it turned onto the road that looked like it could get me there. I parked, and decided to go the restroom and buy a bottle of water or two. I walked out of the bathroom, grabbed the drinks and walked towards the register.
I looked up and ran right into ... Neal. An hour and a half from Pittsfield and an hour and half from Smythe, Oregon, in an innocuous gas station that I’d never been to before I ran into NEAL.
We stared at each other in shock, and laughed and hugged again! Only this time I held him at arms length, and said what I wanted to say.
“I’ve been thinking of you, and your family. Are you okay?”
He looked at me knowingly and said he was. But I knew in my heart that he would never really be “ok” again. I told him to please, please contact me if he needed anything and he smiled. I said a few other things I wanted to say, and hugged him again. He and his sister were on their way TO Pittsfield to be with their mother, and I was going the other direction.
We talked about the crazy coincidence that brought us both to that gas station. I had NEVER stopped there before, and neither had THEY. They drive this route often, and couldn't figure out how to get into the parking lot, hadn't PLANNED on stopping, but stopped anyway. Holy Crap.
The hands of fate are cruel bitches sometimes. But once in a while, sometimes, they send you somewhere for a tiny bit of love and a great big hug.