Those of you who know me well recognize that I am not only capable of great compassion and deep empathy but, beneath my rough-edged exterior, possess the capacity to nurture my closest friends over some of life’s inevitable bumps. And so it is that I recently found myself faced with the true test of friendship–and failed–miserably, I might add. In order to measure how truly my character was compromised and whether the subsequent shame was warranted, you must first familiarize yourself with the circumstances surrounding my test. Enter one accomplished tennis player (Karen) and one overly eager tennis novice (myself).
The week of June 22nd had literally proven to be the first rain free stretch of 2003. With rackets in hand, Karen and I headed to the nearby tennis court to see just how rusty we had become. After all, it had been nearly a year since we had stood on opposing sides of the net, and the last exchange of balls had resulted in a badly sprained ligament and bruised ego. But my lack of skill, child’s racket and memory of weeks with a limp was not about to dampen my spirit. One ball after another sailed through the air, over the net, and into the corner of the tennis court where overgrown bushes, vines and weeds had taken up permanent residence. Some 20 minutes and 6 lost tennis balls later, Karen and I declared the end of our inaugural game of the season, and headed back to the house via the adjacent subdivision where a couple of my errant balls had landed. We pledged that within 24 hours we would be back on the court, I with more tennis balls and Karen with hedge clippers.
The following day, determined that none of our tennis balls would again become lost in the jungle of overgrowth, Karen took hedge clippers in hand and annihilated anything that dared breech the barrier of the chain link fence. It was a proud moment indeed as she tossed vines over the fence assuring us both of a leaf free playing field. The area in which my cross-court tennis balls always seemed to land had been cleared. But lost tennis balls were soon to be the least of Karen’s worries. The lamentable, horrible, and inexorable spread of urushiol oil, better known as poison ivy, began slowly–imperceptibly, at first. Wednesday’s rash hinted at a mild, manageable case easily tamed by a bottle or two of calamine lotion. But by Friday, Karen’s circumstances had changed considerably. And herein enters the food particles that compromised my character and will forever condemn my mouth as a deadly weapon.
Arising at the usual hour that Friday morning, I went about my daily ritual. I was surprised that Karen had not yet stirred but her well being took second place to my need to alleviate unrelenting hunger pangs. One skillet, two eggs, a slice of ham and multiple cubes of cheese later, I with a plump, steaming hot omelet on my plate could no longer leave my friend’s slumber undisturbed. The door to Karen’s room was ajar and she appeared to be breathing, but her silhouette seemed to be oddly if not grossly out of proportion–enough at least to cause me some concern.
“Karen, are you all right?”
She rose up slightly from her pillow, and it was then that I realized her profile was compromised by the large bath towel wrapped completely around her face. Only Karen’s lips protruded from beneath the towel; two big puffy lips seemingly enhanced during the night with botox. Bags of melted ice scattered about Karen’s bed should have hinted at the depth of the horror lurking beneath the towel. I didn’t know what Karen was about to reveal and had I a hint, I would not have chosen that moment to take a very large bite of my ham and cheese omelet.
Then IT happened. As the towel fell to the bed in a sodden lump, I was suddenly face to face with a moon-shaped object three times its normal circumference and slits where the blue eyes once had shown bright. It was at this moment of revelation that my partly chewed mouthful began making its way with rocket-like speed across the length of the room. My partially chewed mouthful of omelet had become a dangerous projectile over which I had no control. A confusing mixture of sympathy and shock tempered by the predominating response–a large guffaw at a very high decibel–had raced from brain to egg-filled mouth. With ham now in her hair, cheese hanging from her earlobe and egg spotting her very swollen face, Karen did the only thing she could do. She sighed deeply, thanked me for my concern and recovered her face with the wet towel.
Now lest you think I am an insensitive being, I did recover my wits long enough to rush Karen to the doctor, egg and all! A round of steroids, various ointments, many ice packs and several meals of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia later (Karen claimed it was the only thing that would go down) (I was in no position to argue), “Elephant Girl” is finally on the mend. It seems that the affliction was systemic, caused by her weedwacking zeal, unwitting exposure, the efficacy of a sweat inducing tennis game and the subsequent lack of immediate treatment.
My rent has gone up only slightly despite the fact that Karen has declared I am a menace not only to myself but to others. I’m also eating alone these days and forbidden from partaking of a meal anywhere other than the kitchen. I figure it’s a small price to pay for a roof over my head and the forgiveness of a friend.