Two of my very close girlfriends are dying. One fast, one slow. Yes, I know, we're all dying slowly, but MS isn't the usual slow kind of death the rest of us are experiencing, it's a slow agonizing loss of everything but the clear thinking functioning brain that notices all the rest of the profound loss that's taking place quite rapidly. Her diagnosis was the first blow. I was able to help her in small ways in the beginning, since I had gone through the disability hoops and knew the ropes. Trust me, it gave me no pleasure to be this particular kind of help to her. Yes, I'm glad there was something I could do for her, but her diagnosis was an agonizing death sentence with a long time locked up and waiting. It wasn't long after this diagnosis, her loss of the ability to work anymore, that her only child, her son, was stabbed to death in a downtown park. He was going to be her rock, her caregiver. He and his lovely wife were going to make her final long demise less painful. His death was not the first nail in her coffin, it was close to a stake in her heart. I don't know how she survived that loss, but she has always been one very tough cookie.
She was Salt Lake's own version of "The Devil Wears Prada." She was the fashion coordinator at Nordstrom when we were Salt Lake's version of the Fashion Police. It was her great taste and exacting standards that scared us all half to death and kept us always on our toes. I was her assistant. It was her direction and fabulous taste the determined my choices. She did the decision making on all the really big fashion shows. She hired temporary help to pull the clothes and accessories for those gigantic shows and extra help with the fittings. And then there were the terrifying rehearsals at 5 AM. And because of her, my modeling career took off in my late forties and into my mid fifties. Who would have ever imagined that there would be a market for old models? But it was a time of enormous change in the fashion industry. We hired plus-sized models, we hired petite models. It had never been done before. We were trail blazers, pioneers in the fashion industry. And she was our leader. This probably bores you silly if you aren't a fashionista, but it was our lives. Even if what you do is essentially silly, if you do it really well, it can be quite spectacular.
I called her today. It's been a couple of years since her diagnosis of MS, maybe more. And when she got the diagnosis, she'd been ill for a long time. So how long does it take for MS to kill you? When we talked today, she said she was no longer able to walk without a walker. She takes handfuls of drugs to keep her from having spasms and cramping and uncontrolled twitching. Not fun drugs. Not like the good old days, when we partied at the New Yorker. Not like the time she visited Tom and me in Santa Barbara. We were the only two women working at Nordstrom who didn't hide our cigarette smoking. We wore red lipstick and ran in high heels as effortlessly as breathing. Now breathing isn't effortless for her and it has nothing at all to do with smoking.
Z on the other hand never was a cigarette smoker. She didn't care about fashion. She lived for her children and lived the clean and very wholesome life of a woman with a real spiritual belief. I can hear you thinking "What did she ever see in you?" I realize I have made light of her need to believe in homeopathy and Chinese Herbs and acupuncture and a very pure vegetarianism to treat her symptoms for years. But I was desperate for her to fight fiercely to live. So now she's finally given in and like a very good patient is going for her radiation treatments and chemo therapy. But her odds are not good. If I had her cancer, I'd be putting notes on the very good jewelry and nice pieces of furniture so there'd be no bickering about who gets what when I'm gone.
The bottom line for me is that I never was a girl to surround myself with lots of close friends. I could hardly stand anybody. But I grew to love these two women who seem to have nothing in common. Without them I'll be lost. I cannot even imagine a life without them. We had all taken it for granted that I'd die first. Be careful what you take for granted. You may not get what you expected. But what you do get will test you. It will hurt so much you'll think it just might kill you. But it won't. That's the problem. You might end up the last one standing.
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