Human Formalities
                                                            


M. Sandra Babcock

(c) Copyright 1999 by M. Sandra Babcock                                                                                  

This is a story of friendship and letting go, of realizing that, perhaps, some other realm calls to us.

"Dolphins," Denice said to me, "I love dolphins." The words bubbled effervescent-like from her lips as we trotted through the vibrant Seattle metropolis. Her wispy blonde hair swirled lucidly in the cool wind. A menacing 'don't walk' blinked at us like a hooker's eyes, halting our procession.

"And whales." Her smile stretched. "I've always felt this connection, this safety net. Kindred spirits, I suppose." Her words were swallowed in the hubbub that surrounded us.

I nodded my comprehension, absorbing the idea of another destiny. "A former life," I offered, "or perhaps one that awaits you." The baby blues sparked a deep knowing as she eyed my muddy sky gaze. A hint of moist pacific air perched on my lips. We moved through downtown. Starbucks beckoned us.

Later that evening we talked like school chums with mountains of secrets hidden in dark crevices aching to be released. Our lives connected. The ocean reached out from our table in the dimly lit, swanky restaurant and showered us in dreams of what was and what could be. Sunset was hypnotic; cozy warm. We were buds.

For years, we hovered on the office-friendly level. We cautiously spoke, laughed and occasionally discussed family, never crossing that shrouded separator line. The line disappeared on the puddle-jumper to Seattle to attend a seminar given by attorneys belying their comprehension of a legal assistant's work. I wasn't looking forward to it and nervous that without the office walls holding us at bay and a desk to retreat to, we would flounder like a pair of slippery fish, gasping for air, looking glassy eyed as we contemplated spending three days in the City of Grunge.

It was fun. All out, have a good time, shop-till-ya-drop, eat-till-ya-bust fun! Seminar? I think we went. I really didn't care. I wanted to hear about the dolphins and whales. Why such a deep longing; how she sensed their spirits. I wanted to know Denice; I wanted her to know me which was totally absurd, as I never thought I had much to offer. . .but Denice did. She meshed questions with concern, giggled that silly little soft dolphin giggle and listened with anticipation.

Women grasp at the similarities that connect and divide. We have such a capacity to stimulate, entertain, educate and tear each other down. A dichotomy that cautioned my approach with those of my gender. I lay victim to the backbiting, the bitterness, and the catlike attacks that scratch the soul. Sadly, I dished it out as well.

But we broke through the swinging door, tipped the waiter's tray and drinks splashed tears that dripped solemnly to earth. We reveled in our new awareness, refreshing as the ocean, complex as the connection between human and animal. The journey began. Denice, the exotic, introduced me to gourmet drinks, food and ocean realms and I, the earthy, connected her to the subdued, acceptance of the unexplained, the known yet ignored animal world. We were a pair, Cheech and Chong, Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Carmen Miranda and Calamity Jane.

A few years eclipsed like the moon and eventually the ties that bound loosened as our lives took different directions. Denice joined another firm; her exodus ended our daily latte runs leaving me adrift on the Java tide like a homeless urchin. The bastion that encircled our friendship kept us afloat and lunch became the rhythm we frolicked to with Denice's innate sonar seeking unique restaurants throughout downtown Spokane, enticing me to follow.

"Hey, happy 1995," Denice's smoky voice echoed smooth over the phone.

"A week late," I replied with Calamity Jane sarcasm.

"You're lucky I called." Dolphin giggle. "Someplace Else for lunch. Be there Thursday." I could see the Carmen Miranda fruit balanced on her head.

"Oh, God," I moaned and rolled my eyes, "now what?"

"Quit rollin' your eyes and meet me there. It's my birthday." Dolphin giggle, the fruit disappeared into the computer screen. The phone went silent with a smooth click and a smile pulled at my mouth.

We remained simpatico.

How was I to know on that rain swelled Thursday afternoon, that a week later, as the sun shone brilliantly through azure skies and white billows danced with the bitter chill, my hand would slap hard against the cold metal of an emergency room door, my heart pounding, eyes wet. I searched the beds in a daze.

Hey wait, my heart screamed, we've still got lots of laughs to laugh and tears to shed. Is this a Denice joke? I almost laughed out loud as I thought of her obscure humor and heard her voice.

"You'll do anything to get out of work," she said.

Until I saw the tubes, the respirator pushing her to breathe, her mind destroyed by the burst of an intricate blood vessel. I thought her eyes fluttered. The blue-gray dolphin eye shadow, so precisely painted on, lay dormant on her lids. This was no joke, no obscure humor. Her words only a voiced shadow absorbed in the hospital walls.

Reality set in like a hatchet.

I touched her hand, still warm from the blood methodically coursing through her body, giving pretense of life. Oyster nail polish set off her diamond wedding ring. Wispy blonde strands curled delicately, framing her face.

Moist sea mist glistened on her skin and a hint of salt hung in the breeze like seasoned memories. The supplication of the whale, the movement of the dolphin surged through me. I sensed the safety net awaited Denice's soul in the calm of the ocean.

Her final release was only a human formality.

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