One fine Sunday evening my sister-in-law invited us over to have dinner with our friend Letta and her new boyfriend. She had three failed marriages and he was recently widowed after his wife’s debilitating 10-year illness. We were elated that Letta had finally found a nice, decent, caring – monogomous – man; someone, we felt, she had always deserved. Their ooey, gooey, gushing over eachother was a highlight of the evening.
Another highlight was to have her brother and his wife, Mila, another dear friend, with us for supper. She was battling cancer and undergoing some painful treatments which, as in most cases, had led to the loss of all her body hair. For many people seeing someone in the throws of battle with a disease is uncomfortable, but we didn’t feel that way with her. Mila, even on her worst days, would make her way out of the house to shop, visit a friend or go to church. It was strengthening to see her move forward as best she could. When she finally lost all her hair she started out wearing only a scarf on her head. Then came the wigs. All the wigs were adorable – one short curly platinum blond, one chin length blond bob, and one fiery red layered look. The blond bob was my favorite; it made her look very youthful.
This particular evening Mila was only wearing a scarf. She’d had a particularly tiring week of treatments and you could see it in her face. After supper my sister-in-law invited us all to play a game of Apples2Apples. If you’ve never played before, it goes a little like this:
1. Each player gets 7 red cards each with a different noun phrase on it.
2. Starting with the person to the left of the dealer, each player takes turns being the presenter/judge and they select a card from a stack of green or adjective cards and presents them to the group.
3. The other players select which of their noun cards is best described by the adjective on the green card and passes it face down to the presenter/judge.
4. The judge then reads aloud the cards received from the other players and decides which combination they like best.
5. The person whose red noun card is chosen gets to collect the green adjective card.
6. The player with the most adjective/green cards at the end of the game wins.
Anyway, we get playing and some truly humorous combinations are made. After a few rounds it comes back to Mila’s turn to judge; she is sitting to my right. The card she pulled from the stack of adjectives was “phony”. I had an attrocious set of cards in my hand. The only card in my hand that even remotely fit was “My Hair”. So, without thinking, I just laid it down and slid it over to Mila. Not until she picked it up and it was too late to retrieve did I realize I had made a horrible folly. She read through the stack of everyone’s cards and three quarters of the way through she finds “My Hair”. Her sister-in-law, Letta, instantly said to choose that one because she wanted to know who would be so stupid. Just then the phone rang and I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Well in the meantime, they figured out who had laid down the card in such bad taste. Mila looked at me and said, “That’s just mean,” echoing her sister-in-law and then whipped off her scarf. “What do you think of that?”, she said. I told her I thought it was sexy; which in truth to be confident and strong despite what ailed her was sexy. I felt like garbage. It was not my intention to offend her or anyone. We went two more rounds and finally everyone kind of fizzled out, visibly uncomfortable from the earlier “confrontation”.
My sister-in-law came to my defense and tried to comfort me saying it wasn’t a big deal since she could tell I was upset. I went to Mila and apologized trying to explain that it wasn’t on purpose, that I’d set down the card without thinking. I just couldn’t hold back the tears; I felt so awful. She just said not to worry that she’s a kidder and didn’t take it seriously. We hugged.
I’d always felt awkward around Mila, but now I can barely face her to speak to her. The fear haunts me that I’ll say something stupid or offensive. That’s probably a little cynical or paranoid, but I’ve always had trouble approaching people like that.