When we met, Gay was at her son’s house in Virginia. She had flown up, double-masked, from Lakeland, FL to spend Thanksgiving with him and his wife while her husband was in Mexico with their daughter.
Apparently this wasn't the first time we met. “I’ve been in your bedroom.”
As risqué as that sounds, it turns out Gay and I met in high school. Back then I had hair and her friends called her by a different name. Our mutual friend and she were in the neighborhood and stopped by to say hello.
She remembered meeting me. “You were really cool, and really nice.”
Though it would have been nice to have known this before we met, I really wish I would have remembered that first encounter, for the sake of honoring this amazing woman.
“I guess I didn’t make that big of an impression.”
Well, this was our second chance. And the timing was perfect. Here we were, two adults from rival high schools getting to know one another without the teenage nerves or drama.
As I would learn, Gay has spent these last forty years staying super busy. “I always have projects.” She has worked as a Controller for a private technology company, and has worked as an IT special as well. She has a Masters in Statistics. And now works as a commercial property assessor. She has raised three children and faced numerous personal challenges along the way. Through it all, she has remained married to the same man for 29 years. “I used to tell him that he was my rebound.” We both agreed that marriage is always better the second time around.
Gay is also a talented artist. She showed me some of her drawings that she has done to help raise money for a daughter’s medical treatment. She is also a self-taught painter. One of her works, based on a storybook swan, is still on public display. “I try to do art that brings value and makes people happy.” Like me, she can’t wait for retirement (if it ever comes) so she can have time to do nothing but art.
“I love learning and doing things. I love family and friends. And God has always been in my life.” She developed these passions early on, from her mom who Gay credits to having the biggest influence on her life. As the oldest sibling, she was put in charge of helping out with her much younger siblings. Yet her mother always encouraged Gay to strive for more in life. “You can do anything you want as long as you put the effort in.”
She and her husband once owned a 35’ Hunter sailboat. She is also a water person. “I love to scallop and scuba dive.” She has shot a crossbow. “I only did it once, but I have pretty good aim.” She learned how to use a gun when a child her dad would take her hunting and let her shoot oranges off the trees.
Her favorite Muppet is Kermit. “He’s sweet and goofy. And he loves everybody.” I like to think that is why our friend wanted us to meet again. Like Kermit, there is an authentic, gentle spirit that radiates from Gay and a confident wisdom gained from years of living that spirit in the world. She too is loving and gives of her time to care for others. She likes to smile and laugh. Even in difficult situations, Gay is able to find hope and strength to persevere.
When asked to describe herself in ten words or less Gay admits, “I am complex, persistent, light-hearted, overly caring and a little chaotic.” These are traits we learn at a very early age. But aren’t fully realized until we’ve lived and wrestled with them for a while. Our time together wasn’t so that we could remember our past , “I thought you were really cute” (included for posterity reasons only) but so we could be fully present, in this moment where life is a little chaotic to say the least.
“Everything I’ve been through has got me to where I am today. I wouldn’t change anything.” I can’t go back in time, to that day she walked into my bedroom. Nor can she go back and tell her younger, teenage self not to “drink a bottle of wine all by myself after ballet practice.”
It may have taken four decades to understand that “things happen for a reason. We are given some hard things to help us later on in life.” Although Gay missed our original interview earlier this month, I am thankfully I had one day left on my calendar for her to get a second chance to make a first impression.