Every time I go to Seattle, I am struck by the landscape - how different from Los Angeles. The ever-present deep green and jagged silhouette of Douglas firs on every horizon. The bright new green of spring-bursting vine maples and alders. The explosion of flowering cherries, dogwoods and apple trees.
I drove out of Sea-Tac in a black rental Chevy and took the 405 around the bottom of the lake toward the eastside. My destination was Kirkland, but I had a planned stopover in Bellevue. Heather and I met at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, where we took in the spring flowers, and then had lunch in a downtown restaurant.
It did my heart good to see the lush growth and showy flowers, and it was good for my spirits to talk to Heather about my friend Laurie, her husband John, and our long friendship.
Then - to Kirkland, where I bumbled and wandered in the suburban enclave before finding the house - I recognized it at once, but the surrounding streets had changed so much since I'd last been there that I was lost.
Laurie was resting in bed, her daughter beside her, watching TV. Her cheek was warm and soft to kiss. I sat and we talked, holding hands. It's hospice care now - there is no more treatment, other than managing her pain. Only a few minutes for weeping, though - a tumble of voices and footsteps, and three tall and giggling young women came in. Laurie's nieces. It was John's 71st birthday, and there would be a party to celebrate.
Soon the house was full of people - Laurie's mother, her two sisters, her brother and his wife; neighbors and friends and their children. Beers and wine and blueberry daiquiris; hot dogs and hamburgers and potato salad and broccoli slaw and kim chee. Cherry pie instead of birthday cake.
The nieces squeezed together in an oversized armchair and took videos of one another with their smart-phones, then played them back and laughed at one another. Grandma looked up from her detective novel to smile over the top of her glasses. One neighbor sat and twirled in the rope chair hung from a ceiling beam. A daughter modeled her pink high-heeled shoes, striding across the floor. John took visitors out to the deck and showed off his latest project, a custom-designed fence panel system he'd invented. The blender whirred with fruit and rum.
From her chair in the living room, Laurie talked to visitors, who sat, for convenience, in her wheelchair by her side. Each visitor took a moment to sit, hold hands, hug and talk. Despite her illness, Laurie managed to keep the party on schedule, urging the men to start the grill, and disarmed her daughter when she got too bossy, exerting a gentle but firm power. Her quiet voice hushed louder ones, and when she spoke, people listened.
"The one thing I've learned is they can't say no to me now," she said to me later, and I laughed and said she need to wear a shield on her chest like a super-heroine. But beware, I told her, "You must swear to only use your super-powers for Good, Cancer-woman!"