The Last Ride by Carol E. Anderson

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vehicle going so fast the image is mostly a blur of light, to show motion

We speed, Mauree and I, through the streets of Seattle in an ambulance. Torrents of rain slap, slap, slap against the van. I strain against the harness, brush my lips against her forehead, search her metal gray eyes blurred by tears. We are best friends of forty-four years—witnesses to life and guardians of all our secrets braided into a shared DNA through the force of love. Now we were hurtling toward an impossible future. Only one of us will survive. Only one of us will remember.

I move closer and whisper. “I’ll never forget the night we met at Vet’s park. You were leaning against the bleachers, all badass in your blue windbreaker, black hair tinged with gray, smoking a Virginia Slim. Then you sauntered over, offered your assessment of the lousy play and offered me a cigarette. Gotta match, I asked.”

You smiled. “Not since I met you.”

A month ago, we were throwing down shots of Fireball Whisky in open-air bars in Nashville dancing to “My Church.” But something was off. Mauree needed a cab back to the hotel. Then she fell asleep watching the Seahawks. Throughout the weekend she said her brain was foggy. Twenty-four hours later she left for Seattle and I returned to Ann Arbor.

Then came the mind-numbing call from Laurie.

“Mauree has 25 brain tumors.”

Anxious words tumble out. Panic rips through my veins. “Are they sure?”

“There’s no doubt.”

Laurie keeps talking, I pick up the gold pocket watch Mauree gave me thirty years before and finger the engraving. “Love and Magic Still.” The metal is cold to the touch—the tick, tick, tick—keeps marking time.

“What are the options?”

“Without treatment, three weeks.”

The watch slips to the floor with a smack.

I fly to Seattle the next day.

The odds are impossible. The treatment insufferable. Mauree’s therapeutic choice is time with close friends, cozy fires, and bottles of Chardonnay. I admire that. Courage and audacity—hallmarks of her life.

We zip along past houses, churches and schoolyards. Inside this giant metal box on wheels, everything is still—no glowing lights, no blaring sirens, just shiny silver cabinets and rolling carts, oxygen masks, and a monitor that beeps every few minutes. Now, I long for noise—a marching band, clanging cymbals—even screaming children would do—anything to distract me from the wrecking ball crashing toward me.

I read a story once about the “memory priest” whose job was to possess the complete history of the Creech people, to remind them of who they were and what they’d done. At the appointed time, he would be put to death, erasing all of the failures, debts and debacles held by each community member. The first male child born after his death would be designated the new memory priest. With him came a clean slate—sins forgiven. A reboot. A fresh chance at perfection.

For forty years Mauree has been my memory priestess. She holds the whole of our collective history now lodged in a brain ravaged by a silent stalker that will soon steal our shared story. Attendant to her death will come the erasure of all our pooled memories–smoking dope behind the hotel in Victoria, the terror of landing in Moscow amid the coup, driving the rental car with the scotch-taped bumper across country.  This is our last ride—one she’ll never remember. One I’ll never forget.

But, I don’t want a clean slate. I don’t want to start over. I’m not interested in a chance to be flawless. I want the past that we’ve held together for decades to go on thriving filled with all the breakdowns, fuckups, and wake-up calls. I want the elegant messiness of our deep connection—the promise of “no jeopardy”—knowing we’ll never give up on each other.

“It’s OK, Mauree, I’m with you. We’re almost there.” I pull the blanket up over her arms, brush the hair away from her eyes. I memorize the shape of her mouth, the arch of her eyebrows, the touch of her skin. The rhythmic beeping of the monitor drones on like a metronome tapping out a warning. But I want to keep driving far beyond the hospice center.

As long as we are moving, it seems Mauree will stay alive and I will be known in the world.

Meet the Contributor

Carol E. AndersonCarol E. Anderson is a life coach and former organizational consultant whose passions are writing, women’s empowerment and travel photography. She is the founder of Rebellious Dreamers, a nonprofit organization that helps women realize dreams they have deferred.

Carol holds a doctorate in spiritual studies, and master’s degrees in organizational development and creative nonfiction. She is the author of the award-winning memoir, You Can’t Buy Love Like That: Growing Up Gay in the Sixties. Her goal at this stage is to live with a peaceful heart – a state regularly cultivated through walks in nature, meditation, and heartfelt conversation with friends.

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/marc falardeau

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