It’s either going to be the laughter, the narcoleptic dog, or the broken toilet cover. I don’t know which, but I’m leaning toward making it all three. I didn’t know her well, but somehow, I think she’d find the combination appropriate.Her name was Duffie. I met her once.
The progression was thus: Jeff invoked spousal rights, thus ensuring I went to his ten-year high school reunion, which I was absolutely certain I would hate. As luck, fate, and reunions would have it, we sat at the table with Samantha, one of Jeff’s closer high school friends. As we sat at the back table, merrily snarking our way through the dinner, Jeff and Samantha flipped through the pages of the book to find out what had happened to everyone else.
Jeff pointed to a photo of a woman I didn’t know and said, “You really have to meet Duffie.” He read through her biography and said, “Well, she hasn’t changed a bit … and she’s living in Huntsville? Oh, we’ve got to meet up.” He looked at her bio and said, “Trauma nurse? I wouldn’t have guessed it, but somehow that just sounds right.”
When we got home, the reconnection was made. Phone calls were exchanged, and we made a date for the three of us to have dinner at Tim’s.
Don’t worry. I’m getting to the part about the broken toilet cover.
Within about thirty seconds of meeting Duffie, I knew why Jeff had liked her. He liked her for the same reason he liked me: because you could sit opposite her at a dinner table knowing that you could not possibly predict what she would say next. She didn’t say funny things; she was funny. (An intrinsic difference that not everyone, even comedians, grasp, and I envy.)
By the end of the dinner we’d come up with eventual plans to meet her new husband (“Be gentle, Jeff, he barely knows me!”) and heard plenty of tales of Narkle, the really and truly narcoleptic dog. I also knew she was the kind of trauma nurse I’d want to have working on me in a crisis: “I’ll save your life. Just don’t ask me to hold your hand afterwards” - the kind of person who would watch a local news broadcast just so she’d know what kind of night she was in for.
By the end of the dinner, I realized I should probably duck away for a few minutes; Duffie was opinionated enough to tell Jeff that she liked me - while I was sitting at the table - but I figured she might have even more interesting things to say while I was gone. Thus, I excused myself to the bathroom.
I used the toilet, and then it wouldn’t stop flushing, so like a good citizen I lifted the top of the toilet tank off to jiggle the stopper. It worked, but when I tried to put the lid back on it, it cracked into two enormous pieces with a very loud CLANG!
Or whatever noise toilet covers make when they break. Substitute your own onomatopoetic word, mmmkay?
Realizing that there was no way in the world I could possibly say “I broke your toilet” to a restaurant employee without invoking the automatic “What were you doing messing with it in the first place, moron?” reply, I washed my hands, exited the bathroom quietly, and slipped back to the table to eat crackers while Duffie told stories, wondering if the Broken Toilet Police were going to stop me before I got back to the table.
They didn’t. I am wily.
At the end of the dinner, we made tentative plans to see each other again. She said that she was going to be heading out of town soon, to go to Nashville to start working on her anesthesiologist’s degree, and that she’d get in touch with us eventually.
We got in our cars and headed home, and I turned to Jeff and said, “I see why you liked her.”
We never heard from her again.
Jeff emailed, to no avail. He called me this afternoon to say that he’d gone by the CCU unit of Huntsville Hospital with a letter, hoping that someone would be able to tell him how to get in touch with her, only to be told by someone he didn’t know that Duffie died on February 27 of this year.
We know the end result, but we don’t know what happened. I expect we’ll make phone calls to Jeff’s family, and perhaps he’ll call Samantha, to see if we can find some semblance of answers.
I ached to hear the lost, hollow tone in his voice, because I know firsthand the shock and pain required to generate it. I’ve spoken in those tones, knowing how much it hurt my friends to hear me sound that way, but being equally unable to speak as I would at any other time.
Jeff isn’t an entirely taboo subject on this website, but more often than not, I find myself unwilling to share details of our relationship. I prefer to let his continual presence speak for itself, to let friends and readers take in what I say, and imply, and to draw their own conclusions about our life together.
For me, Duffie was a funny acquaintance, a set of stories about a dog and a new husband and an extraordinarily ragtag set of siblings. For Jeff, she was more.
When faced with the loss of someone we cared about, words just never suffice.