Monday, April 21, 2014

Janice

You know how, sometimes, you meet someone and instantly think that you have them all figured out? Not in a passing judgment on them kind of way. I’m just talking about that initial moment, that first glance, when your brain gathers data about the way they dress or wear their hair, and you are fairly certain you know how they spend their Friday nights. The girl with the pink phone, jewels in her nails and glitter on her eyelids goes to the mall; the guy with the mullet goes to the raceway; the woman with the skin tight dress and heels goes to the club; the guy at the club with the creepy eyes that sits alone all night leering at the woman in the skin tight dress is going to go home to his parents basement to look at porn; and the sweet, quiet woman in her sensible shoes and cardigan sweater will go to the library or play a quiet game of scrabble with her sister, or equally sweet and quiet husband.

That was Janice.

Janice worked at the financial company I worked at last year and was as cute as they come. A pageboy haircut framed her small, friendly, wire rimmed glasses wearing face. Her timeless appearance suggested that she could be a grandmother without necessarily looking like a grandmother. She was in no way dowdy – just small, cute and quiet, never doing anything to draw attention or notice. She sat in her cubicle and did her work so quietly that I only remembered she was there when she smiled and waved goodbye to me on her way out. Probably the word I would have used to describe her was: Safe. On the human scale Janice was the exact, polar opposite of me.

The reason I write about Janice in the past tense is because, at a dinner party for the office that I was most thankfully invited to last Monday night, she up and died.

Not in a literal, choked on her beef and landed ankles up under the table, sense of the word – but the shy, safe, timid, scrabble-playing Janice I thought I knew, without question, bit the dust, bought the farm, kicked the bucket and is now, most definitely, off somewhere pushing daisies.

Her pulse started to slow when she walked in the door with her husband, whom we had never met. He was tall with a big, boisterous, life of the party personality – the kind of person I am immediately drawn to. “Huh,” I thought, “So that’s Janice’s husband… Wow. Never would have put those two together.” I found myself deeply happy that she had a man like that to love her. Suddenly she looked a little different to me. Taller maybe. Pinker. Which is strange for someone who is dying.

But it was at dinner that sweet Janice croaked - and, in the process, rocked my world and forever changed the way I hope to ever look at anyone again.

I was letting the grilled beef with sticky Thai peanut sauce have its way with me when Janice, who was sitting directly across from me, said something about how cool it is to fly upside down in an airplane. We all paused, mouths most definitely agape.

“Wait... you’ve flown upside down in a plane?”

“Uh-huh.” She giggled.

“Who was flying?”

“Well, I had an instructor.”

You flew a plane upside down???”

And it just took off, a million miles an hour, from there. Janice and her husband are pilots that have flown to Alaska. Janice has done stunts in her plane. Janice has sky dived – several times. Janice goes spelunking! (Okay, I went spelunking once in college and would never in a million years do it again.) But Janice? Janice, apparently, does everything. With bells on. Things that I will, most likely, never do. Safe my ass!

I sat there, glued to her every word with such amused delight, such awe, such respect. I listened to story after story - suddenly wishing with all my heart that I were on the Janice end of the human scale. I watched as she closed her eyes and took her last breath, never for a moment thinking of resuscitating her. I blinked and she was gone. And in her place was this windblown Superhero smelling of life and excitement and daring and faraway places. Someone I desperately want to be when I grow up.

Catwoman in a cardigan.