My Best Friend Forever

Linda while pregnant with Andrea.
 You can see her joyous glow.

My best friend,  Linda Watkins, would have celebrated her 63rd birthday this month. I believe on the 24th. But, she died of cancer close to her birthday in 1982 about the age 33. When we first met in 1974, I had just moved into a small house in El Monte, California. We hit it off right away. She was my neighbor.

Linda has a very great sense of humor. She could always find something funny to joke about, even at the most serious of times. She had such a cheerful disposition and never allowed herself to be depressed or miserable for any length of time. She was also a very strong minded individual and never let anyone push her around. She had a very firm belief system and some of her values were immovable.

If ever too opposites attracted it was my friend Linda and I.

She had a darling little baby girl, named Andrea, who must be in her thirties now, or perhaps forty. Linda’s mother Millie/Tillie called on the phone every day, and asked, “how’s my baby?”. She didn’t mean Linda. She meant Andrea. It was funny at first, but then one day Linda, feeling a little possessive, responded with, “She’s not YOUR baby, she’s mine! I am your baby, and I am doing fine!”  The reason I refer to Mrs. Duran as Millie/Tillie is because her name was Mildred and went by Millie at one time in her life. But, before Linda introduced us, she insisted that I call her Tillie. I never learned why. Perhaps it was a private joke between mother and daughter?

Look at the joy on those faces!
Linda was approximately my height, 5‘ 2“. When we first met, we were the same weight, but from that point on she lost weight and I gained. Sometimes it was the other way around, a running joke with us. Still both of us were more plump than we thought we should be. I look back and see we wasted a lot of time worrying about our figures.  She was of Mexican-American ancestry, though if anyone ever asked if she was Mexican, she firmly replied, “I’m American!”  With the Watkins last name, and no accent, no one dared to ask further.

Linda had sparkling brown eyes that showed her inner attitude that life was fun. She had naturally tan skin, but every summer we laid out under the sun to get more tan! I always ended up with sunburn. Her complexion was clear. She had perfectly arched eyebrows and a lovely face that most women would envy. She had what my mother called, “beauty marks”.  Linda called them moles. But, they were not moles in my opinion. They were flat. They were beauty marks. She didn't like them much and always said someday she wanted them removed. Linda had naturally curly, thick black hair. She always made an effort with her appearance. Where I would toss on a pair of jeans and t-shirt. She might do the same, but she accessorized. She took the time and trouble to put on her makeup and wear nice shoes. She carried herself better than I. I’m somewhat of a slouch. Even when she was casual, she still appeared neat and fashionable. And I admired her for that.

Even though we were best friends, I didn't know she had cancer until just a few weeks before she died.  I remember a year before, she hinted around, but I didn't get it. She asked some medical questions, which now I understand were directly related to her symptoms.

Was keeping her secret part of her keeping a positive attitude? Did she not want to share her situation with me? Truly, I was very hurt, and tremendously suffered grief when she died. Would it have been different, if we had shared the burden? If I could have supported her through her ordeal?

I look at this picture now. Linda and her two daughters, Andrea and Marcee. I can see it on her face. She already knew she had cancer at that time. I'm sure of it. Her smile is not entirely lit up the way it was before.

Linda didn't have Leukemia like I have now.. Those couple weeks before she died, when she did share with me, she waffled about what her diagnosis was. There was a terrible new cancer that no one had ever heard of at the time that was killing gay men by the hundreds. She referred to it often, but we laughed about it. After all she was not a gay man. Is it possible she was one of the first women to have HIV-AIDS? I used to think that maybe it was her moles. I knew there is a kind of cancer a woman can have where a mole is in the womb while she is pregnant. But, I have since learned that a living baby is not produced, and Linda had Marcee just two years before she died. I suppose I will never know. I guess it doesn't matter what kind of cancer it was. She's gone and there is still a great big hole in my heart that my best friend used to fill with laughter.

PLEASE! If you are going through diagnosis of cancer of any sort, find a way to share with your loved ones what is going on with you. Yes, it might upset them. Yes, they might cry. Yes, they might go into denial. We all do that sometimes. But, give them a chance to be with you on your cancer journey. PLEASE don't go it alone.

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