I came home that day to a voice mail message. Paula was hoarse, apologizing for her voice and for not getting back with me quickly. It was my turn to play phone tag and when I called her back she shared the worst news possible. She had spent the last ten days in the hospital undergoing numerous tests, being poked, prodded and left to wait for a cell phone call from her doctor who told her some really bad news. She had Pancreatic Cancer.
|1983 in Dallas|
Paula had battled with her weight for the entire time I'd known her, struggling to get to that optimal size 10 she always longed to achieve.
During the seventies and eighties when we worked at a hair salon together, she'd lost a considerable amount of weight, going from a size 24 to a size 16. She looked fabulous and kept it off for the next few years, hovering at that plateau, a barrier she couldn't seem to surpass.
For her birthday in 1983, during the height of the "Dallas" TV show heyday, Paula came to Texas for a visit. Of course, we visited the Gold Twin Towers where JR's office was supposedly located.
|1995 at my Dad's house in Winter Park FL|
|1997 at Universal Studio's Kongfrontation in Orlando|
After the century changed to 2000, while we were scouring resale shops together, gathering merchandise to sell in my collectibles store, she had spring in her step, more energy, and was pleased with her progress slimming down to a size 12.
|2003 at Busch Gardens in Tampa Florida|
In 2009, she was proud to tell me that she finally bought her first pair of size 10 shorts. Not the kind with elastic waist, either. These were the button and zip shorts she'd always dreamed she would wear.
|T.C. and Zoey in 2006|
Our shopping trip to Publix before we hit the beach was one unlike most of the others over the past thirty years. Instead of picking up several desserts for the week, we bought only half of a Key Lime Pie, one of our all time favorites. The wide variety of breads we generally bought was reduced to hot dog and hamburger buns and sandwich bread for our lunches. Our usual snacks like potato chips, ice cream, bags of cookies, apple strudel and chocolate candy were reduced to only a few of these choices. I was proud of her restraint and mine as well. I usually went home a few pounds heavier after our vacation.
I had no idea at the time that something was going wrong with her digestive tract. She'd already been through two years of agonizing pain and a long battle to find a doctor who would perform hip replacement surgery as she was still in her fifties. Her osteoarthritis had destroyed her hip joint making it nearly impossible for her to walk. Our shopping trips to favorite places like Donation Station, Goodwill and other thrift stores became rare with less enthusiasm from my friend whose every step radiated pain.
|2004 at Dad's in Lehigh Acres FL|
In 2017, around Mother's Day, Paula was admitted to the hospital where her diagnosis would change the course of her remaining time on this earth. In July, I flew down to Florida to relieve her mother who had been caring for Paula as she grew weaker each day. By then, she had essentially stopped eating due to the gastric reactions she would experience after ingesting any kind of food.
I'll never forget her saying, "Don't think the irony of this disease is lost on me. All my life I've struggled to lose weight and now I'm dying of starvation."
|2009 at her house in Tampa|
Even to the end, she remained grateful for the small comforts and blessings of life: friends who loved her dearly; two precious dogs whose awareness of her situation was clear in their actions; a mother who never expected to outlive her daughter after her own devastating illness the prior year. Paula had dedicated her daily life to her mother's recovery after nearly losing her to a massive CDEF infection in 2015.
I look at photos of what was for forty years my friend's house "in the hood", always comfortable, warm and lived in. I cherish the memories of T.C. Wilson, her cockatiel who sang and talked to the dogs that came and always left too soon. We shared their losses of hers and mine through the years. I recall our many talks over cups of coffee in her living room watching out the front window as her neighborhood changed with time. I remember her words of comfort and open arms after my dad passed away and I stayed at her house after his funeral. We spoke so often of the days when we would ultimately lose our mothers as we shared the responsibility for their care in their elder years. So much in common with the caregiver responsibilities of our mothers along with their live in friend. Ellie, and Mom's sister Louise. Never in a million years did I expect to lose my best friend.
|Nevy, Zoey and TC were good friends|