When I think of her, of that last week when all of us swept the path clear before her, when we cradled her and Mike as best we could and walked to the doorway all together–I think of trying to tell an epic story. I think of Ereshkigal, “the fearsome woman under the earth”, and how when Sharon meets her, well, there’ll be some conflagration goin’ on in the underworld, that’s for sure. I’m sure they’d get along like a house afire. it was really something, you know, hanging out with someone as they’re dying, all that past, all that emotion, all the the weight of love and sorrow and anger in the room–I thought i’d always remember, every detail of that week. But I don’t. I remember bits.
Sharon’s wheezy chuckle, getting fainter and fainter as the days ticked on, as she herself slipped away, got smaller and smaller. She was so big, I remember her as a big round vital woman–loud, kinda obnoxious and know-it-all sometimes. Generous as anything.
One night in the ward, Laura was there, too, Mike’s sister, and we were talking with Sharon, well, more with each other, Sharon was in and out of the conversation as wakefulness came and went like clouds scudding across a sky– I told Sharon, I said, “We’re gonna get a bench for you at Trout Lake. The plaque’s gonna say: In loving memory of Sharon Molloy: heart as big as the prairie sky–and farts as windy.” she practically snorted the oxygen tube out of her nose at that one.
And the day her brothers came to visit. Molly and Pat. Molly’s name is something regal like John Alexander or something, but everyone has called him Molly for most of his life. He was in the Armed Forces. they have nicknames for everyone there. These big men, they were so uncomfortable in the face of their big sisters’ mortality. They stood at the foot of the bed, looking at Sharon, not knowing what to say. What do you say to the sister who babysat you and kept your secrets from the old man and gave you scrambled eggs and kisses in the morning when you were all little, but she was bigger than all of you? When you see her there, as if she were shedding her skin, the final transformation taking place before your very eyes? it’s almost obscene, the intimacy of dying. Sharon had nothing to hide, everything that mattered to her was in our hands now. The brothers stood. hands awkward at their sides. Then they backed out of the room and looked kind of shocked-like at one another.
“Sure makes ya think about what’s important” said Pat. He’s younger than Molly.
“Sure does,” agreed Molly. He nodded, stuck his hands in his pockets. Lifted his shoulders to his ears.
“Gotta take time for the important things” said Pat, “while ya can. While ya can.” He looked up, kinda sideways at his big brother, “I got an idea,” he said, and touched Molly on the shoulder, laid his big hand on Molly’s shoulder, “Let’s you and me this summer, let’s go out to the lake in my boat. You come over for a couple of days, we’ll do some fishing.”
and Molly, he barely looked at Pat and then, it was almost as if it was reflex, he just said it, without hardly thinking, “Ah. I can’t. Gotta work.”
Molly retired from the Forces a long time ago. I can’t remember if he told Pat before that little talk or during or when, but now he works at a Home Depot in the city where he lives–
Ah, c’mon, Molly. Why didn’t I say anything then? Why didn’t I say, “Are ya paying attention? your sister is in there dying, and your brother here, he’s offering you something life-affirming! Take it, Molly, take it–you may never get another chance–”
But I didn’t. i watched that whole thing go down, and I didn’t say a word. I made a note, “i have to remember this”. I did not act.
there was a little portable tape player in Sharon’s room, where we played as much of her favourite music as we could. Stuff that we listened to when we were College girls right outta high school (but twenty years apart)–The Police and Supertramp and the Stones and Blondie and the Parachute Club (but they were later) and music that she and Mike loved, like U2, and Bob Marley, and hippie stuff from when she was a young mom in Edmonton, working at the Bank of Montreal, trying to be all urban and sophisticated.
She was always sophisticated. Always yearning to learn, always asking and thinking and talking and teaching. She had a baby and was married at 15, and before that, she was the oldest of six, so she never really had a childhood, or a youth to mis-spend. No one expected girls who “got themselves pregnant” in the late 1950s in small Prairie mining towns to finish high school. Those girls, they were supposed to lie in the bed they’d made. Not Sharon, though. Oh no. She brought her baby to school with her and she got her Grade 12 diploma, and damn them all, she was smart and determined–she wanted to learn. She wanted to go through the doors that an education would open for her.
But those doors were difficult for her to find, even at that. Her husband was a brute, turned out. And there wasn’t much money, and the kids to raise (a girl, Sheryl, born in 1957 and a boy, David, born in 1962-same year as me) — until she went to College in 1981 at the age of 38. That’s where we met, she and I, Red Deer College. I was 18. She was my first grown-up friend. I was all freaked out about the age difference, i had to call her “Mom” for at least the first year of our friendship, ’cause every other grown-up woman in my life up till then i had to call “Mrs.” or “Auntie”. In fact, a couple of years ago, I called Mrs. Munro, “Mrs. Munro” and she said, “Oh for heaven’s sake, Erin, you’ve lived in Vancouver for 20 years now, you can call me Colleen.”
That was a bit of a digression. sometimes my stories do that. zip around. I don’t think that Sharon ever met Colleen. anyhow it doesn’t matter. Sharon and I smoked each others’ cigarettes (I’m sure I smoked more of hers than she did of mine) and took classes together and talked about boys we liked–she had a big crush on a kinda rugged, troubled Newfie named, oh what was his name? Gerard? and I was all hung up on a beautiful young man (who smoked a lot of dope and knew all too well how handsome he was), named Phil. Sharon had a thing for the depressive, reclusive types. She was so gregarious and hopeful herself. I wonder what that was about?
Sharon’s daughter had a daughter and they were both at her side that last week, too. I hadn’t seen Carrie-Lynn since she was a little girl who would rush into my arms, ‘cept for once just after Shari moved to Van in ’91, and Carrie-Lynn was living at her dad’s , I think, in Surrey. By the time Sharon was on her way out, Carrie-Lynn had two children of her own. She showed us all pictures. Sharon was sewing pyjamas for them when she died. I guess Carrie-Lynn took them with her and finished them.
It’s late now. I have to sleep. this will have to do for now…part two will be soon, I expect…