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The Measure of Margie’s Heart

by Roberta McReynolds

We began the day by sitting together and catching up on the past week. We’d planned to spend quality time together, my friend and I, unrushed by other obligations. Margie’s cats greeted me and begged me to follow them into the kitchen so they could receive their ritual cat treats. As soon as I sat down, the two felines took turns climbing in my lap to be stroked for a few minutes before leaping down again.

We watched the clock only because we planned to go out for lunch. When the hour and our appetites signaled us, we left her house without even picking a restaurant. I drove down country roads, instead of the freeway, to enjoy the view of open pastures inhabited by dairy cattle, horses and a few goats. We headed in the general direction of a favorite store with sales coupons tucked in our purses for a post-lunch shopping spree.

A restaurant which happened to be in the same shopping center as the arts and crafts store became our spontaneous selection. The Sunday lunch crowd filled the eatery, but Margie and I were oblivious to the noise. Our focus was on each other, with our conversation only interrupted briefly to give the server an order for two chicken sandwiches and iced tea.

We’ve known each other since 1979, when I became employed at the same place where Margie worked. There was a lot going on in my life at the time and I didn’t have enough self-esteem to fill a thimble. I was isolated, unhappy and friendless. My departmental supervisor was critical and bossy, making me redo jobs unnecessarily. My employers, a husband and wife, were often sharp-tongued toward my co-workers and I lived in a world of tension, always expecting to be the next victim. Migraines and upset stomachs plagued me almost daily.

One October morning I came to work to find a figurine sitting next to my art table. It was a black kitten covered with fuzzy flocking to resemble fur. Its large green eyes peeked out beneath an oversized witch’s hat sitting between its ears. I love cats. I picked it up and saw there was a note tucked underneath it. It read something like this, "If you need a friend, I’ll be yours. Margie."

Tears filled my eyes. I needed a friend so badly and here was someone who had noticed. I carried the kitten over to Margie’s work space and held it up, nodding my head. I could barely utter the words, "Thank you."

That kind gesture at a desperate point in my life sealed a friendship. I still have that figurine. Better yet, I still have my friend. We’ve been on an interesting journey, Margie and I. When I first felt brave enough to share my troubles with her, she sat and listened. There was no advice or judgment. She accepted me exactly as I was. I was reminded of why I am so fond of my cats who loved me unconditionally.

Margie shared her life story with me. I was determined to emulate her example and be for her what she was to me. She made life bearable for me: something to look forward to when I came to work and sought refuge from life’s troubles in a deepening friendship.

Our supervisor quit her job. The owners sold the business to a new partnership. That partnership nearly ruined the business before it sold yet again. I had extended my job responsibilities beyond the art department and was now production manager. One day the owner told me he was going to downsize and eliminate one person from the payroll and he wanted me to do the firing. He was ordering me to fire my best friend.

I was not able to carry out his orders professionally, as I sat there fighting tears and repeating, "I’m sorry. I’m sorry." Margie never held it against me, but we didn’t stay in touch. Our time together at work was all we had, as my home life was still in turmoil and hers was often unpredictable.

A few years passed before I finally began to take control of my life and made some difficult, but much needed changes. One of the first things I did was to pick up the phone and call Margie. I was worried that she might be angry or hurt that so much time had gone by, but I misjudged our friendship. We picked up again as though we had last visited only the day before. Since then, we talked on the phone several times a week, never seeming to run out of things to say to each other. She’s still a wonderful listener. We also try and get together regularly for lunch or window shopping.

This visit, however, was a celebration. We hadn’t been out together in three months. Not since the phone rang early one morning and I felt the chilling certainty that something was wrong. No one calls at that hour with anything but bad news.

Margie’s son had phoned from the hospital to tell me his mother had been taken by ambulance to the emergency room a few hours earlier with chest pain. She’s always been the type of person to wait and tough things out, delaying trips to the doctor, so I knew this was serious. I learned later that during the ambulance ride, EMTs administered medication promptly and eased Margie’s discomfort. She told them she felt much better and didn’t think she needed to go to the hospital after all. Typical! Needless to say, the professionals didn’t agree.

It was a long day for me, waiting to hear the latest test results from her son. They decided to keep her overnight and run more tests. I was grateful, knowing she was in the best place possible . . . in case anything happened.

The next day Margie, her son and I were supposed to walk in an annual fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. Our team was one person short now, and mentally we were all distracted. She was scheduled to have angioplasty midday, so I put in my laps and headed for the hospital. I couldn’t stand being away any longer.

I ran into one of Margie’s daughters as I navigated through the maze of hallways (her other daughter lives across the country). Hospital staff believed I was family, and no one told them otherwise, so I got to see her right before the procedure. They discovered several blockages in Margie’s arteries and it was determined that she needed triple bypass surgery.

Margie was clearly upset by this, and afraid. I told her that I knew she felt this was all quite terrible, but that she was actually a very lucky person. The nurse agreed and said that if Margie had delaying dialing 9-1-1, she would have suffered a major heart attack, rendering her so helpless it would have been fatal. Then I thought about the laps we had planned to walk together at the Relay for Life and mentioned it to the nurse. She bluntly stated, "You’re fortunate that your chest pains came two days before the walk. You would have collapsed on the track from the exertion and the medics couldn’t have reached you quickly enough."

"Your guardian angel was with you and working overtime," I told her. I put on a brave face, but I was still frightened.

Her bypass surgery was scheduled two days later. I phoned her the night before and we visited for a while. I couldn’t believe how much I missed our near-daily routine phone calls prior to this event. I could hear the strain in both our voices. Finally, Margie said, "Well . . . I guess I’d better hang up. The nurse wants to give me some medication. Goodbye."

"Goodbye," I echoed. I walked into the bedroom and cried. I prayed it wasn’t goodbye.

The next morning I was at the hospital early and waited with Margie’s son and daughter. We got regular updates from the operating room and everything went along smoothly. I was allowed to go into the ICU when it was over, although Margie was still not awake. I phoned Margie’s other daughter and let her know how her mother and siblings had fared. My prayers were filled with thankfulness that day.

Recovery from her bypass surgery has been slow, but the steady progress is there. Our outing together marked another joyous milestone. We always get together for our birthdays and mine had to be put off for a few weeks. Margie treated me to lunch, but the best gift of all was spending more time with someone who has such a good heart.

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