It is my birthday, July 7.
Last year at this time, I was in Venice Beach, staying in a tiny cottage
that I had sublet, partially in hopes that my sister would find the
change of scenery to be a place of rest and renewal. And she did in
fact, come to California last year a few days before my birthday to
share it with me. We had an overpriced breakfast with terrible service
at a snooty and famous place called Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica.
But it didn’t matter. We were together and sharing the morning
with my friend Val with whom I had had a rare and terrible fight a few
It was the first time I had seen Val since our fight and we were tentative
and careful, trying to find our way back to each other through the morass
of our bruised egos.
We have since patched it up. Our fight tested our friendship of over
twenty years and has brought us closer together.
But that is a story for another time. Today’s story is a look
back in time to a year ago to how far we have come.
I remember walking briefly on the beach with Laurel who couldn’t
spend much time in the sun. She walked slowly, holding her abdomen as
if guarding herself, my tall athletic sister whose long legs usually
challenged me to keep up.
I treated us both to massages and then we went to a beautiful outdoor
Japanese tea garden called Jin on Abbott Kinney to seek refuge from
the drowsy L.A. heat by a trickling fountain. I told her how happy I
was to have her there and she began to weep.
“I’m so grateful, Joanie,” she said. “ It is
so good to be here. To be out of Chicago and in this beautiful place.
I have felt so housebound and locked in for months.”
I embraced her and we wept together. I told her that having her there
with me was the best possible present that I could ever have. That I
believed in her recovery. That she would get better and that we would
have many wonderful times together. And that no matter what happened,
I would be there for her.
The owner of the tea garden came out to talk with us, looking alarmed.
She glanced down at our half eaten salads. “Is everything alright?”
she asked. “Can I get you anything else instead?”
My sister laughed and wiped at here eyes. She took off her baseball
hat, revealing a bald pate. “It’s ok,” she said. “Everything
is perfect. Delicious. Thank you. It’s just that I’m sick.
I am sick and I am just so grateful to be here in this beautiful place.”
I looked at her. Her pale puffed face, swollen from steroids and hairless.
No eyebrows. Not even eyelashes.
I marveled at her courage and honesty. My sister is the most private
of individuals. I felt a rush of gratitude for her desire to put someone
else at ease, even in the midst of her own pain.
A group of young Japanese women who were having a little party at the
next table overheard our conversation. “She is sick, yes?”
“Yes,” I said. "Cancer. She is being treated it for
it now. She is working very hard to get well.”
“Oh,” they said, in a soft maternal sigh that somehow seemed
to emit collectively all in the same breath.
“Yes,” I said.
They whispered among themselves and then one said, “We would like
to give her a hug. Yes?”
I looked at my sister who seemed dumbstruck and looked at me with wide
“Yes,” I said.
They surrounded her in a big group hug. And just when I thought it couldn’t
get any sweeter, the owner of the tea garden reappeared with a plate
with two perfect violet macaroons.
“For you,” she said.
Friday, July 7, 2006