I heard the sad news this morning that my friend, Larry, has passed away.
There, that’s it.
I was going to tell this story another way.
I’m taking a little course in creative writing. I’ve also been reading about the craft of telling a story well. I’ve been learning about talking around the thing you want to say, until there’s nothing else to do but say it. Anticipation, suggestion, forewarning, premonition.
I was going to start by explaining how the owner of the hardware store where I work is also a veterinarian, and that his clinic is in the back, and about how I first met Larry and his partner, John, when they came in with questions and concerns about their two old dogs.
We became better acquainted over pipe and wood stains and plumbing fixtures as they struggled to get their little house in shape.
They came to the opening reception when I had an art show here.
We met for lunch a few times.
Our friendship deepened.
I’d grumble to them about my problems while helping them pick out a paint shade or compare the qualities of different snow shovels.
They’d talk to me – separately and together – about changes and issues in their own lives.
They sold one house, and bought another. They moved a piano. John made drapes.
One year, Larry taught a class on making Christmas ornaments from long strips of colorful papers; my daughter attended with me. What a hoot, watching Jen and Larry tease and cajole and laugh together as she tried her very best to grasp his technique!
Larry played Santa at Christmastime for our charitable animal fund: “For a donation to the Animal Fund, have your pet’s picture taken with Santa!” He was a big hit! He even had his own Santa suit! I’ve never seen anyone so capable of handling animals of all types and sizes, while keeping hat, belly and beard on straight!
Larry came in one day alone, to tell me that John had been diagnosed with cancer. We just hugged each other tight with that sad news.
One day after I had quit working there, Larry called the hardware store regarding an urgent problem concerning his dog, Samantha. To Larry, all problems with his pets were urgent. He doted, fussed and worried over his animals like an over-protective mother.
The young girl that answered the telephone was new to the business. When Larry said, “I need to talk to the doctor!”, she replied, “Sir, this is a hardware store! There is no doctor here!”
Larry and John came to the little downtown gallery where I was working that day.
“This is crazy,” Larry shouted, after relating the telephone conversation. “What are you thinking? You have to go back! You are needed there!”
And then he broke down.
And we sat there, side by side, and I held both of his hands in mine as he told me about Samantha, and her nervous stomach, and the diet they tried first, then second, and the meals they were now making for her themselves, with organic brown rice and yams and chicken. He told me about her arthritic joints and how he could sympathize because of his own aches and pains. He told me about the puppy they took in, to replace the old dog they’d lost, and how it terrorized the entire household, especially Samantha, until they regretfully had to find it another home. He told me about their house-guests, who understood nothing, and stood in judgment of his doting and worrisome nature…
Every single painting could have been carried out of the gallery, and I would not have been able to turn away from Larry that day, he was so distraught and sad and in need of a listening ear.
Every now and then I caught a glimpse of John rolling his eyes.
Mostly, having missed Larry and his sweet disposition as much as he’d missed me, I was content to just hold his hands and let him talk.
I was going to tell all of this first, so that the message of Larry’s death would be a shock to you, as it was to me.
Having gotten to know him a little, you might feel the loss, too.
I just couldn’t get my heart into it.
It seemed manipulative, for one.
Two, there’s really no dressing this up.
Sometimes, a sad story is simply that.
And the loss of a dear friend is always a sad story.