My PDA beeped me Saturday morning to remind me that her birthday is next week. She spent her last birthday in the hospital, and died a few weeks later. Her office still seems terribly empty to me. And the neighborhood seems terribly empty without her. I can't believe it's already been a year.
We first met back in the early '80s. I don't remember exactly when, probably around '83 or '84, but it wasn't long after her divorce. Her son and mine were the same age, and we lived barely two blocks apart. We didn't really become friends right off, although our sons were in the same first-grade class and hung out a little together.
Friends or not, I admired Paula from the get-go. She had a way about her, which I could never quite put my finger on, that caused people to underestimate both her intelligence and her courage. But she was smart, and she was tough. She was a single Mom raising three kids on her own. Child support was late more often than not, weekend visits with the dad frequently cancelled at the last minute. She worked full time in a pink-collar job for pink-collar wages, drove three hours round-trip several nights a week to complete first her undergraduate degree, then her graduate training, and still found time and money to buy ponies for her kids and schlep them and their tack and gear around the Southeastern horse-show circuit behind "the Skate," that tiny little car not even as big as the pony. And she was strong in her faith.
When she got ready to do her practicum experience for her Masters in counseling, she called to see if she could come to work with me. She did, and stayed for two semesters. She was well-trained in Rogerian therapy and was a serious, hard-working student. She was a joy to supervise. She saw some clients on her own and did some co-therapy with me, and got A's in the course. After she graduated, she wanted to work with us for the Supervised Work Experience she had to have (three years' worth) to get licensed. And after she got licensed, she stayed on as a colleague. I used to joke that I couldn't get rid of her.
All in all, I'd say we'd been together over ten years by the time of her death, and by then she had become a good friend. We walked together some (although she preferred the track and I preferred the neighborhood streets). We swam at the community pool, and we had "Culture Day" once in awhile and went to the museum or to home tours and such. We called each other when there were good birds in the air over our neighborhood ("Go outside! Quick! There's cranes!").
I loved her laugh. I loved that little disgusted spit noise she would make when she was mad.
She'd been sick a long time. It started with some falls that, at the time, did not seem all that unusual. But they got more frequent. Her balance was affected. Her gait was affected. She said her head felt heavy. I don't remember what all else. She visited doctors who said it was this (it wasn't), and it was that (it wasn't) and gave her medications, and changed the prescriptions when they didn't work. But because she had a really crappy HMO, it took months to get an MRI and find the tumor. By the time they did, she could barely walk.
Also possibly because of the crappy HMO, she didn't get a second opinion. I'll always wonder if she should have had radiation or chemo or something instead of the surgery, or to shrink the tumor before surgery. I'll always wonder if, had they caught the tumor sooner, or even if they'd caught the infection sooner, she would have lived. But she didn't, and they didn't, and she was gone in what seemed like the snap of your fingers although she'd been sick for nearly a year and in the hospital over a month.
She was 60 years young. She had children she loved and who loved her. She had grandchildren she adored and who adored her. She had plans, goddammit.
I miss her laugh. I miss that little disgusted spit noise she made when she was mad.