Sunday, April 20, 2008


Sitting at my desk in my third floor classroom in my historic high school, my next door neighbor, the Spanish teacher poked his head into my room one day last year. "You busy?" he asked politely.

Seeing he had a guest with him, I got up and invited them in. "I wanted you to meet my wife," he announced proudly.

Every lunch period, all the teachers in my community had admired (and often actually lusted after) Al's delicious home-made lunches. Thick slabs of meat loaf on homemade sour dough; roasted turkey slathered in homemade mayonnaise on fresh baked whole-wheat. And, on special days, Al's wife would send to dessert to all of us. My personal favorite was her bourbon laced bread pudding. But there had been cakes and breads and cookies, too.

One day I had passed Al in the hallway and mentioned I was feeling low and depressed, and "Man, some chocolate sure would perk things up . . . " Ten minutes later, Al was in my room with a huge slice of homemade chocolate cake.

Like me, Al is older. I'm not sure his exact age, but he's close to retirement age. Still, he's agile and frisky and coaches the soccer teams both fall and spring. In the summer, he enjoys doing "house" things with his wife. They plan a garden but Al does the yard work. His wife pays the bills and reads novels by the bushel. He drives an old car but his wife has a newer model. They like to take car trips together. Al home-country is Italy and he translate Italian poetry, often love poems, for his wife.

Together they are a unit; married 38 years they are still deeply in love. She takes care of "Al" and he takes care of her. He's proud when he tells you she raised three sons and "Al, too."

Except . . .

This has been an awful spring around here. It's been too cold and too wet and too much snow. Spring just wouldn't seem to come. When the flu hit, we all got sicker than we've ever been.

I spent six days out of school and for a full month I feel perfectly awful every single day. Hubby and I both got the flu, not once but twice. The first round was the worst. It was an "out of body" experience, when even the strongest will could not get me up and moving. The second round just lingered on and on.

In February one of my graduate school classmates got the flu. It turned into pneumonia and then encephalitis and then he died. He was only 57 -- five years younger than me.

Al's wife got the flu last week. On Tuesday she went to her doctor, he checked her out, and sent her home. Wednesday night she began to feel much worse, so Al drove her to the ER. They were joking in the ER at 8:30 p.m. By 9 p.m. she was dead. Unknown to Al and his wife, her heart had been weakened and the flu put the final strain on it.

"I've lost my best friend," he brokenly sobbed on the phone Friday morning. "I'll see you on Tuesday . . ."

I wonder if I should bring him a lunch . . .

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