It was at one of those sunny Fuller Park play dates. We were gathered at the upper part of the park, since our normal meeting time often coincided with the mowing schedule. Tash came striding up the hill with her daughter, the sun bouncing off her pretty-well-grown-in, spiky blond hair, and then slowed down when she saw me. She sauntered towards me on those long legs, her smile both beatific and mischievous, and said something about reading such a [great] book. (In an ideal world, I’d remember the exact adjective she used, but I didn’t know yet that I needed to hoard memories of her.) Clueless, I asked what book. And then she began to describe my manuscript, even quoting some of my own words back to me.

Validation. Encouragement. Relief.

She was the first non-family person to read my earliest noveling attempt. It was the summer of 2004 and Book Club had a weekly play date at Fuller Park. I’d written a romance novel during my son’s year of preschool. I can’t remember now whether Tash offered or I asked her, but she wound up as the person I trusted to read it and tell me whether it was good enough for anyone else to see. I truly believed that she would tell me, kindly, if it sucked, but looking back now, she was such a big-hearted friend, I’m not sure.

But it meant the world to me at the time.

My friend Natasha died last week. She fought cancer for 9 years, had “mets” (as she referred to metastatic cancer) for 6, so it wasn’t a surprise, but it was a horrible shock. You can prepare your head, but you can never prepare your heart for such a loss.

I’ve been hitting Facebook hard for the last several days, soaking in all the tributes to her, rereading her great obituary, as well as this amazing post  on a friend’s blog. She was a bright light of a person, fierce in her love and support of her friends and family, but also, because of the cancer, forced to be able to accept love and support. We were in a book club together for 12 years, the kind that always chooses a book, but doesn’t always read it, although we always met, because, after years of dealing with kid-rearing, divorce, miscarriage, and cancer, we were more about us than about the books.

The moments I keep going back to are not the deep moments, although there are plenty of those. They’re the silly ones, the ones that made me smile. Her imitations of her mother. The poem she wrote and recited for us once, at Fuller Park, about how to make her husband happy (yes, it was a funny and sly, yet classy, poem about what we shall call here, marital relations). Her smile that almost always held a hint of mischief managed. The family stories she told. I have a vague memory of an attempted kitchen table exorcism story that I’m kicking myself for not writing down.

One of my favorite stories is one she wrote down in her blog.

This fall Dad made and installed 30 custom storm windows (mostly interior) for our leaky old house. Dad is well acquainted with storm windows having hauled them around his own house every year. When Dad was painting his own windows with his perfectionist eye, I was only 4. He would pay me a nickel to tell him stories while he worked. One day, Mom snapped this picture:
dad-and-me.jpg

Back when I was still trying to write romance, I stole that little story. Who wouldn’t fall in love with both the man who paid his daughter to tell him stories and the irrepressible little girl who needed an outlet?

I sure loved that little girl when she grew up. My world is a little dimmer right now.