The first time I ever saw her was more than twenty years ago. I didn't like her. I didn't have any reason not to like her, I just didn't. She had the thickest pile of red hair that I have ever seen hanging almost to her waist. It was ninety degrees and humid as hell and we were standing in the factory. Sweat was dripping into my eyes and seeing her mane of fire made me so hot that I thought I was going to faint. She was wearing black clothes and black eye make up. I think she was Goth before Goth was Goth. After that day, I never gave her another thought.
[one_half_last]Until ten years later when she wound up in the Credit Department, sitting at the desk next to mine.
It turned out that she loved fairies, the color purple, fantasy, picnics, graveyards, picnics in graveyards, sunrises, weed, our fearless leader: the Cranster, annoying chirping clocks, scary movies, sunsets, dogs, pugs, pugs, pugs, puppies, kitties, basically anything with fur that was breathing, bubble baths, her Grandma Bubbi, egg sandwiches without the eggs, The Lord of the Rings, The Best in Show, Excedrin, random herb gardening, drinking coffee with Kahlua while in her pajamas, messing around in her random herb garden while drinking coffee with Kahlua while in her pajamas, heavy metal music, Five for Fighting, Reed, Eduardo, her friends, her parents, her Uncle Bill, her sisters and most of all, her kids.[/one_half_last]
What she hated was driving in snow, conflict and any dog without a home.
That is precisely why she set me up with Dakota. She staged a conversation with Christy in front of my desk. They were discussing a dog who needed a home because his owner was ill, losing limbs and in a wheel chair. The wife couldn't take care of the pooch on her own because he was too big for her to handle and the the couple was getting on in age and it was dangerous for the dog to be around the guy. The overgrown puppy who was five, had already tipped the man over and blah, blah, blah. Sherrie knew exactly what she was doing. She knew I'd been grieving the loss of our dog, Leonard, so she just set the hook. Yes, Sven and I brought Sweet Dakota Jones home with us the following weekend.
[one_half_last]She was trying to give up Excedrin, for whatever reason, and everday she would mark an X across each square on the wall calendar to proudly display her accomplishment of being Excedrin free.[/one_half_last]
Among other things, she collected clocks. One day she bought a chirping bird clock at the United Way White Elephant Sale and then promptly hung it up in her cube where it obediently sang out bird calls every hour on the hour. That bird clock was stolen from her office quite often. One time a scavenger hunt with more than ten clues to retrieve her fine feathered friends had her traipsing all the way back to the warehouse, the company store, the onsite bank, the nurses office and departments in both the factory and the office. She was finally reunited with that clock from hell. It had been on her shelf behind her books (battery-free)the whole time.
My favorite bird clock adventure was the time it went missing, and yes, I was involved in this one as well as many others, and then it reappeared in yet another white elephant sale the next morning. She ended up buying her own stolen clock back by waiting until the very end of the sale and then placing the highest bid. We were all cracking up and all she said was, "I don't care. It's for a good cause."
Life changed. I had an interview and was promoted to a new position in another department on another floor. Early one morning while sitting at my desk a week or so into my new job, I heard what I thought was a tufted tit mouse faintly singing. Then I heard unmistakable snickering and I followed that snickering sound only to find Sherrie and Betty crouched down on the other side of the cube wall looking real grown up. We all three came back to my desk and again I heard the bird calling. I opened my bottom drawer and discovered the clock buried under a bunch of very important documents left by my predecessor. I didn't understand what those papers were then and I actually never did figure out what they were. I tossed them out about a year ago. I hope they weren't important. But most importantly, the point is, it was apparent that those two hooligans missed me.
A few weeks later Sherrie showed up in my little office space to shoot the breeze in the early A.M. She sat on my chair for visitors, swinging her crossed legs under a long skirt, with her hands, one on top of the other on her lap. Her hands, one on top of the other, on her lap, wearing a sparkly diamond
on her finger.
"Holy shit!" I said.
She just grinned.
It was not long after that she was sitting in that same chair telling me that she had cervical cancer.
"Holy shit!" I said again.
The wedding took place in her parents' backyard. We gave them a stained glass piece that I'd made and Sven had framed. One side was wavy reds and oranges (Sherrie) and the other was straight lined white and blue diamonds (Reed).
Shortly after that there was lots of chemo and radiation and then chemo again.
I saw Sherrie at the Kwik Trip one morning about 6:30. She was throwing the egg from her egg sandwich into the trash bin.
"Want to ride in to work with me?" I asked.
After that morning we rode to work together for the rest of her life.
Some of the best relationships can be formed inside a car. For one hour every day we had each other's undivided attention. Of course there were days that she slept too and from work and there were times that she used her puke bucket and wasn't much of a conversationalist. But what I learned from Sherrie on her journey toward death was more than I have ever learned from anyone in my life. She was so strong and so hopeful. She wasn't going to let go of her life, her job, her essence or her insurance, even if she had to sit up at her desk and puke. And during all of this crap she would ask me about my insignificant problems.
Some days she would drive over to my house and then I would drive us to work from there. One morning I was in a panic when she arrived. She came to the door and I was beside myself. I said, "Sherrie, there's something wrong with my gold fish!" (Just for the record, I never liked that gold fish, but he was mine by default, so what was I supposed to do?)
She came running in and together we watched him swim past us in the glass bowl.
"Look at his mouth," I said.
"Oh shit," she said. "He's got one of those fish tank pebbles stuck in it."
And sure enough he did.
"What the hell are we going to do?" I said. "We can't leave him like that. He'll starve to death."
"Do you have a tweezers?"
"Go get it."
I ran upstairs and got the tweezers out of the drawer and she caught that slimy thing barehanded and held him over the kitchen sink. "
Okay, pull that rock out of his mouth."
So, I did.
She dropped him back into the tank and he swam away and we drove away.
"Why the fuck can't those doctors fix you? We've had no training whatsoever and we just saved that fucking fish's life with out a problem!" I said.
And Sherrie said, "If only I could find a doctor with our qualifications."
I don't know why we thought we were so funny, but we laughed so hard that we about peed our pants and every time we stopped laughing we'd look at each other and it would start up again.
But the doctors couldn't fix Sherrie.
What did happen was she had a check up and she was given a clean bill of health. They said it was a miracle. They'd never seen anything like it before. They said she was a phenomenon. Our whole company was literally dancing in the halls with the good news. I bought her a congratulations- I- am -so- happy- that -you- are- going- to- live- necklace and everything. It was a happy, beautiful, wonderful three months. And then she went back for another checkup. The cancer was not only back, it had never left and it was now deemed untreatable.
And do you know what she did after that? She rode shot gun with me to my daughter in law's, grandpa's funeral, because she didn't want me to have to drive there by all myself through toll booths and then getting lost. She was dressed in her bandana, while three other fortunate women who happened to have cancer were wearing Sherrie's wavy red locks. She listened to a eulogy for a stranger and then she came out to brunch with all kinds of people she'd never known. While sitting at our table she said to me, "Millie, your son is so handsome. Look at him. He's a man. Do you think I'll ever get to see my son when he's a man?"
I said, "Of course you will, Sherrie. Of course you will."
Then she and Reed and their two kids drove to New York and they stayed in a fancy hotel that overlooked Niagara Falls and she took a bubble bath and they watched movies and they played board games and then they came home and then after a short while she wasn't able to come in to the office anymore.
People donated food, vacation time, sent cards, thoughts, prayers, and did anything they could for Sherrie.
One day Jan and I took a day off and we went to her house where we laid in bed all day with her and watched movies. We talked and laughed and we laughed and we talked, but it was apparent that it was getting hard for Sherrie to stay strong.
The next week Jan and I delivered a card to her that we'd made with a picture of everybody we could wrestle into a group photo to say hi. When we gave it to her she shrieked, "Oh, there's Frank!" And then she burst out crying.
That was the last time I saw Sherrie alive and that was a long time ago.
She's buried on top of a hill overlooking a beautiful valley with a farm. It was one of her favorite graveyard picnic plots.
I went to see her grave only once after the funeral and there were dozens of fairies stuck on her grave swaying and bouncing in the breeze.
The fairy featured in this story has been in my backyard ever since, in memory of Sherrie, the girl who I didn't like when I saw her for the first time.
Cheers my friend.