I call one of my dearest friends “Sandra Dee”, and even after all these years of friendship -- over a decade -- she smiles at me when I call her that. She smiles and says, “I’m Sandra Kay!”
Her refusal to be anything but who she was is one of the many things I’ll miss about her. Sandra passed away on November 22nd, unexpected and suddenly. She was only 39. She had been married the week before, on November 12th, to her soul mate, Robert. For ten days she went by the one nickname she’d wanted more than anything else as long as I knew her: Mrs.
”There are no happy endings because nothing ends.”
~ The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
I’d like to believe that’s true, but the fact is that there’s an irreparable hole in my life. Sandra was the older sister I never had. She wasn’t famous or rich, but she was a light in my life for too short a time. We met while playing ice hockey. I was in school and working as a Zamboni driver for a local ice rink as my after-school job. Beyond decisions on the ice, she talked me through so many life decisions over the years. I don’t exactly know how to be me without her a phone call away.
I never played with a more passionate player than Sandra. She wasn’t the best player, or the fastest, or the biggest, but Sandra pushed herself to play with 100% of everything she could give the sport. She made me such a better player for it. For every goal she got, Sandra spent about four minutes in the penalty box. I always teased her that she needed to get sneakier about her infractions. “It’s only cheating if you get caught.”
After playing for a women’s league together, I convinced her to come and play with a men’s team with me. She convinced me to play for the women’s travel team, and we went to Dallas for a tournament. We came in second! Together we went to a hockey camp in Banff, Canada. We slept on a dry rink with other girls ages 15-adult for the chance to be coached by former-NHL players every day for a week. When the week was up, we had inside jokes and a solid friendship. Sandra always included me, and since I was much younger than her, it made me feel pretty damn important.
Due to money reasons (hockey is bloody expensive!), I stopped playing well before Sandra did. Unfortunately, injuries plagued her time in the sport. The first big one was a cross-check that damaged her voice box. From then on she had this gritty sexy voice. She would have made a great Adult Chat Line hostess, if it weren’t for the giggles and snorts. Later, a lower back injury would keep her off the rinks for good. The second to last time I saw her, she begged me not to have back surgery. (So far, so good, Sandra.)
Off the ice, Sandra was every bit the fierce competitor that she was on the ice. This summer she convinced me to play Wordfeud against her, even though she knows I’m terrible at Scrabble. I cheated. She called me on it while beating me -- without cheating -- by hundreds of points. Even though she was competitive, she was always generous with praise. When I put in a word that was short and lame, she’d text me and say “Good job!” I catch myself daily looking at my phone, waiting to get the notification that says she’s entered a word, and it’s my turn. Waiting for her to accuse me of cheating because I enter words we both know I can’t pronounce.
Sandra loved to entertain. This time of year is especially hard because she hosted Christmas holiday parties. She provided the cheese and crackers and asked a couple people to bring wines. A small group of us would meet and snack and make crafts for table toppers or to give away as gifts. I never gave my creations away. Right now, I’m glad for it. I can look at them and remember how she held that piece of twine while I pushed hot glue onto her finger. She taught me about wines, fancy cheeses, and how to be generous.
Sandra had hobbies because she constantly reminded me that she couldn’t sit still. In all the years I knew her, we went to two movies. She was fonder of sitting on her couch and telling stories. They often included her jumping up to go get her diary and reading passages to me while she paced the wooden floors. Or running downstairs to sneak a quick cigarette in freezing temperatures. If I ever needed a friend who was up for something that didn’t involve lethargy, I called Sandra first. I always, always stayed too late. Sitting up until the early hours of morning and talking about everything is how I really got to know her. Maybe Sandra was a little lonely because she never asked me to leave. Maybe she had better manners than I did.
One summer I tricked her into signing up for a Leukemia half marathon. We both begged for pledges and met up at East High School to walk the track for hours. Hours of talking and talking and talking. Because I didn’t make the pledge requirement, I couldn’t compete in the actual race. I donated what I did collect to Sandra, who went and kicked ass (for a good cause, of course).
We had so many conversations. She wanted to adopt someday. She would have been a fantastic mother. But until that day, she fostered cats, friends, and foreign exchange students. Sandra had been a nanny before she moved out to Colorado. She talked about her boys as though they belonged to her. She was so good with children. Probably because she couldn’t sit still any more than they could. That and she loved a good fart joke. Sandra’s toilet humor was the perfect counterbalance to my gallows humor. We never fought. It’s hard to fight with someone who thinks farts are funny. We’d be laughing and just as it started to lessen, Sandra would snort and we’d be back to laughing until our sides hurt. More than anything, Sandra was as happy as she could be with what she had.
It felt to me that Sandra was always trying to build family around her. She could make a friend of anyone because she saw past race, creed, sexual orientation, etc. If she met someone new, she’d invite them to some get-together so that they would get to know her other friends. She liked to introduce me as “Leftie”. During my short-lived hockey career, I did in fact shoot left, but that’s not the reason she called me that. And somehow, I can’t bring myself to type out why that was my nickname. She was a hilarious storyteller. Sandra spoke Spanish fluently, and there’s a story all about that that I don’t know how to tell either. She made everything so damn funny.
Sandra had a green thumb. When she lived off Race in Denver, she had garden parties. Her garden was mostly concrete, but she’d used all her crafty skills to grow roses up and around a wooden trellis. There were pots that she’d made herself full of beautiful flowers. In the middle of a Colorado summer, with the heat index in the high 90’s, Sandra could make a patch of cement into a cool and magical place. One 4th of July she had a huge barbeque. It was my first real grown-up party. There was wine, fireworks, laughter, and so many flowers.
She loved taking really close-up photos of flowers. We spent almost an hour in the Canadian Rockies walking along a path and waiting for her to photograph the flowers. And I sit here, years later, wishing I had asked for copies. Wishing I could fill my walls with the flowers that I can’t grow no matter how hard I try.
The house near Race had three rooms upstairs. One belonged to Sandra. One to her roommate. The third was home to a closet-sized glass tank. In my heart, it was glass from floor to ceiling, but in my brain, I know it wasn’t quite so big. Inside were two boa constrictors (they may have been pythons. Sandra would be laughing at me right now). See, Sandra was 5’3” and the snakes were both almost 5’. I’ve always been fascinated by things that terrify me. While I’m 5’8”, the idea of being in a room with two snakes that could -- but didn’t -- eat me was awesomely frightening. I asked about them all the time until finally she’d decided I was as curious as I seemed.
This scene will be easily recalled until I’m gone or my memories are. Sandra invited me to sit in the room on the floor. She took out the male snake, saying that he was more docile than the female. She instructed me not to make any quick movements, and if I felt scared, I should keep my hands to myself. Right now, if I close my eyes, I can see that snake moving along Sandra’s outstretched arm. She kept his head distracted while I ran a finger along his body. She wanted so badly for me to understand a misunderstood creature.
Sandra had an endless well of patience. If she didn’t, she never would have found enough of it to sit down and teach a co-worker of mine (and me) java script one night. She came over for dinner, probably expecting to leave after a couple hours, and stayed for eight. Sandra’s the reason that I pursued a career in technology. She taught me Fireworks (which doesn’t exist any more). She showed me faster ways to code html, though she was more of a graphic designer than a coder. Sandra had one of the first websites for her business before Facebook came along.
From the very beginning of my friendship with her, I always knew that she was searching for someone. In company, she’d play the single independent woman card with flair. When it was the two of us, she would often tell me how much she wanted a boyfriend. Then a husband. Flash forward to the beginning of summer, 2008. For some reason, we started talking about Harry Potter fanfic. Sandra told me how much she liked Harry/Hermione because she could always see herself in Hermione’s shoes. She was strong, smart, and kind of a nerd. There was such a longing to the way she told me about the latest story find. Secretly, I was making fun of her for reading HP fanfic, but I told her that love wasn’t going to find her. We were living in the 21st century. She’d have to be as bold in finding her Prince Charming as she’d always been in the corners digging out a puck.
In 2008, Sandra turned 36. I guess that was her cut-off age of fooling about. She went to the Internet and signed up on eHarmony. This is another conversation, though much closer in the past, which I will remember forever. She had pulled up her profile and was seconds from giggling. She told me she’d met a boy, and she offered to let me use the rest of her three month subscription because she wasn’t going to need it. I’d never seen such a light behind her eyes. She walked and talked with a new purpose. The summer of 2008 was the Summer of Love for both of us, but for very different reasons. I was nowhere near 36, and there was no way in hell I was ready to settle down for this silly thing that had her in its clutches. This thing called love. But Sandra had waited her whole life for that summer to get there. A month after her birthday, Sandra wrote on her blog, calling Robert “an affectionate, fun, endearing boy to call boyfriend.”
Not too long after this, we were walking around a movie theatre (the second movie we ever went to together), she got some ice cream and I got some sorbet. We sat down to drink in the sun and she told me all about Robert. I knew, though she didn’t say it, that he was the one. They had been on maybe 3 dates at this point, but I knew without having met him, though he called twice -- once to see what she was doing, and then after the movie to see if she needed a ride, that he was the one. Sandra had just started having seizures. The state took away her driver’s license. Through all of this, Sandra wrote that she believed “God, or something, or someone, is taking care of me, making sure that I will be given only as much as I can handle.” Robert was sent into her life to make things easier to handle. I'm positive of that.
Robert was the person she’d been waiting, hoping, dreaming of for so long. Sandra told me that she loved him after their second date. At the time, I poked fun at her and she held her own. But Sandra and I were always like that when it came to something true and sentimental. We’d met in a world where if you took a puck to the arm, you’d show everyone the bruise but not your tears. Never your tears. Sandra, I can’t stop showing you my tears.
When I first met her, Sandra wore braids under her helmet. It wasn’t long before I was wearing braids too. So much of my life’s story is tangled up with hers. We had so many of the same insecurities. Our friendship lasted those first few life-changes (me graduating school, her getting a new job, then a new one after that) because she was tenacious. I’m a little bit of a hermit if not prompted to get out and live. She helped me live. I never told her that I looked up to her. Nor did I tell her how much I respected her, or how grateful I was that she was my friend. I can only hope that through my actions she knew how much I loved her. There are so many stories I could tell or scenes that keep playing in my head. Sandra reminded me so often that we need -- not should or want or whatever, but NEED -- to enjoy even the smallest of pleasures. Or, better said, we need to find pleasure in the smallest of things.
Sandra laughed loud and often. Perhaps it was to take away from the thing she was missing in her own life until recently, but I think she’d agree with Professor Dumbledore when he tells Harry, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
My dearest friend, Sandra, you lived well and you will be well missed. I’ll never forget you or how much you changed me for good.
As an aside:
Thank you to everyone who’s asked about me. I’m grieving, and while I can’t tell you when I’ll be back to Anne, I can tell you that I’m lurking about trying to do mundane and “normal” things. I appreciate you, and I’ll do my best to show you that I do.