Tall, beautiful and imposing, she was hard to miss when she blew into the class, and blow is an accurate description as she never just walked anywhere. If you could bottle energy and enthusiasm, it would be called Monica.
She sat across the table from me in class, hunkered down, head lowered, looking like a child who had just been reprimanded. I couldn’t quite tell if she was shy, afraid or half asleep.
But on this particular day, she looked like a lost, confused child. I whispered across the desk to her: “Are you okay? Do you need help?”
She whispered back: “I haven’t bought the textbook, yet. Don’t have the money.”
I felt so bad for her. I wondered what her situation was that she’d sign up for classes and not be able to buy the required textbooks.
When the class met the next time, she was absent. I wondered if she was sick, embarrassed or what might have happened. After class, I told our teacher that Monica had not bought the textbook yet and I thought that might be why she was not there. I added that I would buy it for her, if that was the case.
The next class meeting, she was there, with textbook. I was relieved for her and asked her how things were going. She smiled and said fine, I got my textbook.
It was the start of the oddest of friendships: the 60 yr old senior citizen returning to college after 40 years and the 22 yr old brainy new girl in town, just transplanted from the Windy City (Chicago).
Maybe it was because I had no kids left at home to “mother” or maybe because Monica’s happy-go-lucky aura made her easy to befriend: whatever it was, we became friends and I started giving her rides to and from school because she had no car. Since she was not much of a morning person, I was soon back in Mommy mode, calling her to make sure she was up, reprimanding her (gently) when she was late and being the “mother hen” to this impulsive, intelligent young lady.
She amazed me with her memory, her ability to score A’s with no studying, and her love of history, of all things! How many kids her age cared one whit about history, much less knew and loved it? I called her out on it one day when she went with me to pick up my new glasses. I referred to my new squared, black sunglasses as my “Jackie O” look and then commented that she probably didn’t know who that was, at her age.
“Are you serious?” she exclaimed. “Jackie Kennedy, wife of the 35th president?! She was a legend and such a class act. The Queen of Camelot, everyone loved her.”
I was speechless and somewhat amused at my obvious faux pas.
My husband didn’t understand it, but he rarely understands “girl things”. He did support me though and even invited Monica on one of our fishing trips. It was a fairly cold winter morning, but being from Chicago, she was dressed for it. She was so enthusiastic about catching a fish and proudly bringing home dinner! Unfortunately, the fish were huddled deep beyond our reach and not biting, so we went home fishless. It didn’t daunt her enthusiasm though. She was determined to try again.
We kept inviting her to go with us, but she was always busy or not feeling well. That puzzled me because she seemed so interested.
Then, the last catfish stocking of the season was done and I emailed her that it was our last chance to catch Mr. Whiskers. She said she had strep throat. Okay, I thought, I can buy that. But a week later, she still had it.
I told my husband that I had a feeling that something was wrong. Strep normally clears up after a round of antibiotics. I put my worries in the back of my mind for the time being.
Then one afternoon a few days later, while I was trying to nap, my cell phone rang.
“Sherry, it’s me, Monica.” she said.
Groggily, I said, “Hey, what’s up?”
“I just got back from hospital. Sherry, they think I have a brain tumor.”
Suddenly, I was wide-awake.
“No way! What the heck is going on?”
She apologized for lying to me. She didn’t want me to worry. Me, worry? Some would say Worry is my middle name.
It seems she had been having slurred speech and vision problems. She went to the doctor who sent her for a CAT scan. The scan showed a condition called chiara malformation. When the bottom portion of your brain (the cerebellum) protrudes beyond the base of your skull, it presses on your spinal cord. Sometimes a birth defect, sometimes a condition that appears in early adulthood, it almost always requires surgery.
We’ve spoken several times since then; she will be having surgery next week.
I can tell she is scared; I’m scared for her. No 22-year-old young person should have to face this, I thought. A week in the hospital and 6 weeks of bed-rest would be hard for even me to do.
So as I await her surgery and recovery, I pray this young woman with so much to offer the world and such a bright future, makes it through this. I would lose a good friend if she didn’t and the world would lose a great person with much to offer.