Mary Byrne, sister of Tom, has been my friend for more than 50 years. (She is only 35, but we met in a previous lifetime.) She is now Dr. Mary Al-Saleh, and I learned of so much of her joy and sorrow as we had breakfast at Kiss the Cook in Glendale, our home town.
First I caught her up, thus: Broke up with high school/college sweetheart Gayle in 1979. Some effort to get back together, but we didn’t. Next real girlfriend, 1985. Lasted three months. Engaged to be married in late 1987 to a woman from Iran. She broke our engagement in mid-January 1988 and two days later I met Joni, who would marry me on December 10 of that year. Our only child Kate was born in April of 1990, and Kate got her library card at the age of 3 on July 23, 1993. Joni and I ended our marriage amicably on December 19, 2011. New love sent me to the Village of Oak Creek in Sedona, and then Cottonwood, but, alas, we could not get along and I gave my girlfriend, despite my still having deep love for her, and my employer Sedona Winds, despite my still being a dependable worker in good standing, two weeks notice in mid January 2015, and then headed back to Phoenix that February. Stayed with my mom and younger brother a while, found my own place, found a new job, found a steady girlfriend and lost her, found a better job at Matt’s Big Breakfast, where I work to this day, found another girlfriend who ended up breaking up with me, getting back together with me, and yet again breaking up with me–March of this year. Now I call myself the world’s most ineligible bachelor, and I see my daughter and ex-wife and former steady girlfriend fairly often, but have been ‘ghosted’ by my second girlfriend…
“‘Ghosted’? What’s that?” Mary asked.
“When someone acts as if you don’t exist.”
Then Mary caught me up, and here I am plagued by memory issues, but I seem to remember her first child, who died tragically young, was named Laila, meaning Day, and her second child Noura, meaning Night, and they were indeed like Night and Day. A son whose first name is Ali, and two other sons, both of whose first names are Abdul. One is called Hobby. Mary briefly tried her hand at travel agency, then taught Nursing at the community college level for 28 years. Somewhere in there she earned a Ph.D. She also learned there is a lot of unpleasant politics in the teaching profession. She is now, I hope I got this right, a Certified Lymphedema Therapist…
which came at the end of a long journey involving Mary’s health issues, of congestive heart failure and of breast cancer. Congestive heart failure caused her legs to swell, and then caused her to collapse. Her heart pumping capability was measured at 28, and it needed to be at minimum 55. (She is now a fine 55.) But then one day she was standing in front of a mirror. and for some reason she let her hand fall to her breast, and at the exact spot her hand fell, something did not feel right.
Soon she was tested, including a biopsy, and then she found herself facing an oncologist. The oncologist, aware of Mary’s CHF, said almost immediately, “Yours is a difficult case.” And that did not sit well with Mary at all.
Her search for a good fit for healing somehow led her to Houston, Texas. Suddenly she had a team on her side that she could believe in, and so she underwent a course of chemotherapy and then of radiation. And it was in the enormous room where the radiation was done, when Mary was surrounded by arcane apparatus telling her that desperate measures were being taken, that Mary realized that she was very, very sick.
Sick she may have been, but her spirit was robust. Her game was on. She took a radiative beating that left her so exhausted that at one point she did not have the energy to move her toothbrush up and down. So she crept back to bed and slowly gathered strength. And she recovered from all the ghastly things that some Stage 3 cancer patients must endure, to survive.
And now she is a grandmother, and proud to say that many of her progeny have pursued medical careers. One son is a nurse. Another is a doctor.
And Mary’s journey continues. She is full of life, full of giggles, full of fun and lovingkindness. Long may she thrive!