On Saturday night, I took my friend Lily out for drinks at a speakeasy-type cocktail bar downtown to celebrate her birthday, which I missed by a week. Lily is the one with class in our friendship, so she had Chardonnay; in the spirit of the place, I veered away from my usual beer, and ordered an Americano and some Negronis. Yes, ‘some.’ It should be noted that I feel awkward ordering Negronis on account of the racist-sounding name – it makes it even more uncomfortable when the lady you’re ordering your drinks from is black. So I often call them Negrinos – and, if corrected, I just nod ‘yes’. Incidentally, the name comes from the Negroni family in early 1900s Italy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negroni) and has nothing to do with racism or slavery or anything of the sort. That said, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s cringe-worthy and just feels plain disrespectful.
Lily is a stunner – she looks like a petite Michelle Pfeiffer. I’ve never, ever seen this woman look like shit – even when she feels like shit, she never looks like shit. I, on the other hand, have a tendency to look like shit, and look like I feel like shit, even when I feel fine. She’s smart and stylish and is very much a lady. She can swear, but she does so in a very ladylike way; when I swear, it’s like I just spent a month of hard labour on board the SS Schweatyballs. She also looks younger than me, despite being 14 years older. What makes Lily even more amazing is that she is probably the sweetest person I know – she never judges, doesn’t have a mean bone in her body, is not at all snotty, and sees the good in others. So, beautiful on the outside AND the inside. She’s a perfect example of when people say, ‘women want to be like her, men want to be with her.’
We were chatting away when this super drunk Russian man, who was sitting at the next table, drove two young guys off of the terrasse with his constant questions about what they do for a living, asking what a ‘network’ was, etc…. When they left, he started talking to the universe at large. Then he started on us.
He said that Lily was a “Jewish person trying to look English” and that I looked Russian and that I should go home to Siberia. He was close – I’m half Slavic. He went on and on and it was really distracting – I had petty shit to discuss like what haircut would camouflage my double chin. So I finally told him, “How’s about you shut the fuck up?” Temporarily stunned, he then went on about Lily looking like a Jew tryin’ to be ‘English’ and me needing to get my Russian ass back home. “I AM home!” I said. He finally went inside the bar, started to argue with the barmaid about the bill, and basically dared her to call the police… so she did.
They showed up almost an hour later… despite station 20 literally being around the corner. He sobered up really quickly when he saw them – I imagine that when you come from a country where the police can make you disappear like you never existed in the first place, you shut up and agree to whatever they say. I feel like the police should have drove him home or called him a cab or something – he was a complete danger to himself at that point. But they sent him off on his own. For all we know, he might have gotten into his car. Or fallen asleep in one of the many filthy alleys somewhere and got mugged. It was sad, really. Annoying at first, but then quite sad – maybe he was just yelling at us what ignorant Canadians have been yelling at him.
It was during our conversation that night, that I learned that a woman I used to work with, Sunny, who’s a friend of Lily’s, has pancreatic cancer. She’s only 47. I remember her as being chatty and cheerful and very easy-going. She’s been in a happy relationship for almost 20 years, I think, and she would have made an amazing mother had she been able to have children. She comes from a loving Italian family that gets together to make their own sausages and wine. I never once saw her lose her shit and get mad. Ever. Not even inside her head. She’s just a sweet and honest person who likes to have a good laugh. At least, she used to.
Just about everyone knows that pancreatic cancer is the most lethal, with an extremely high mortality rate. By the time doctors notice it, it’s already too late. Lily’s brother-in-law is a surgeon in the US, so she sent him the test results to get a second opinion – he said that, according to what he saw, Sunny might have two years to live. But doctors tend to be hopeful – they have to be, don’t they? How could they deal with all that they see otherwise?
Two years. Can you imagine what it must be like having an expiration date on your life? When my father was dying with cancer, I remember holding his hand and just looking at it, knowing that, one day, there would be no life in it anymore, that it would be cold. I’m not afraid of dying, but I don’t want to die just yet- I have too much that I want to do and see and feel. I feel like there’s something left for me, but I don’t quite know what. I would rather be taken by surprise. Which means that I really need to get my shit together, have a Will and Mandate drawn up, konmari the fuck out of my house, etc….
So while walking the dogs yesterday morning, a little worse for the wear after those drinks the night before, I had mortality on my mind. And I thought about how we spend so much time on petty things that, at the end of the day, mean NOTHING. Am I really wanting to lose those 30 pounds to make me happy, or to make me more ‘acceptable’ to others? Why am I so preoccupied with what I do wrong, and ignore all the things that I do right?
So I look at my hands right now, knowing that they’ll eventually be cold and lifeless. They’re imperfect. Older. Sort of chubby. They’ve written exams and essays, fed and pet animals, poured wine and wiped tears. They held the hand of a dying father and a dead mother… and one day, maybe, someone will hold my hand and think, ‘at one time, this hand had life in it.’ I’m just hoping that it’s not the coroner.