I heard "Drops of Jupiter" on the radio the other day and ever since, I have been thinking of Melissa. The line that gets me is: Your best friend always sticking up for you/Even when I know you're wrong.
I have written parts of her story and it is, I feel, one of my most important projects. Melissa suffered from Chordoma, a rare congenital cancer that is both relentless and fatal. Less than three hundred people a year contract this disease. The chances of a woman Melissa's age (she was 25 when diagnosed) having Chordoma in her vetebral spine were astronomical. It was an unsusual presentation of an almost unheard of disease.
I could go on and on with what I have learned about it, but that was not who Melissa was.
She was the most infuriating and interesting person I have ever met, but she taught me what it was to be fearless. To be honest, she ignored fear; she'd give it a passing nod and go on with whatever project or fancy caught her eye that day.
She was a Gemini through and through. Or a multiple personality. You never knew what you were gonna get.
Physically, Melissa moved with the grace of assurance. Tall, thin, blue-eyed, California blonde, and could subsist through an insanely busy day taking care of 40 horses on a single apple.
I hated her immediately.
And yet, we worked well together. We both wanted to get the horses untacked, washed off, fed, and turned out with the least amount of wasted time or energy. Our system was never discussed, it happened. It was as inexplicable as our friendship.
We never really talked or spent time with each other until she found out she was pregnant. Since I had had a son at eighteen, I can only guess she figured I could advise her. Not that she had any intention of listening. But she did ask.
"Do you think I have to get married?"
"Absolutely not." She and her boyfriend were notorious for their very public screaming matches. Neither was the poster child for calm, effective communication. Then again, me saying that is the pot calling the kettle black. Especially back then.
I advised her to wait.
The wedding was two months later.
On one hot summer day, Melissa drove up in her '65 Mustang- a prized posession she always dreamed of restoring- and levered her heavily pregnant body from behind the wheel."I need help" I thought she meant getting out of the car, but she waved me away. I felt so bad for her. She was so BIG and uncomfortable.
"Can we go for a drive?" She asked and she didn't mean in the car. So I hitched one of the Morgans I was caring for at the time up to a Meadowbrook cart.
For those who don't eat, sleep, and breathe all things horse, a Meadowbrook is a simple 2-wheeled cart that is connected to the horse by two shafts and a leather harness. It's not particularly easy to get in and out of, nor is it a smooth ride down the road.
But Melissa REALLY wanted to go. And I needed to exercise the horse anyway...
After ten minutes of levering her into the seat, I climbed aboard, took up the reins, and off we went. We strolled along the roads for a while, enjoying the Vermont sunshine. It was a humid July day, but after months and months of winter, a week of mud, two days of spring, the week that passed for summer was always special. As I recall, that year was particularly summery, two full weeks, maybe even three.
Melissa wondered if we might trot. (Trotting is a two-beat gait- it's bouncy. If astride, you want to hang on, be thankful if you are female, or rise and sit or "post" to rhythm.) It sent the cart rocking up and down gently. Melissa put her hands on the side of the seat for balance.
"Can we go a little faster?"
"Are you sure?" I asked. She was nearing her due date and I was really starting to rethink the wisdom of this outing. Melissa's face was turning increasingly red as she bobbled with the cart,her breath was getting more and more ragged. "I'm sure. Go."
We came to a hill and the mare, who knew we were heading toward home and loved to trot along, opened her stride and began to really move. The cart was bouncing well now. We hit a bump, the cart jumped, knocking the breath from my lungs.
What I think I heard from Melissa was,"That was a good one!"
At the top of the hill, I pulled the mare up and we walked sedately back to the barn. Melissa groaned her way out of the cart. I walked her to her car after I put the horse away.
"Are you sure you are alright?" I was concerned. She was sweating profusely and huffing. I wasn't prepared for her to go into labor right there.
"Yeah." She sounded disappointed. "My water didn't break, but I'm hoping we bounced the baby into thinking it would like to come out!"
It didn't work, Christopher was born weeks later. But it was a valiant effort.
Happy Birthday Christopher.
Hey Melissa, Did you finally get the chance to dance along the light of day?