Almost one year ago, I received a phone call from a woman I used to work with at an upscale restaurant when I was in my early 20s. She called to inform me that one of the waitresses we’d worked with, who I’ll call Marie, had died of pancreas cancer two years before. She discovered this when she Googled Marie’s name, curious about what she was up to and looking to possibly reconnect. The first hit to pop up was her obituary.
We were both shocked. I’d gone to high school with Marie, though she was a couple of years older and we ran in different circles. She was one of the popular girls who seemed to have everything going for her; beauty, brains, a spot on the cheerleading team, the boyfriend everyone wanted. When I got to know her better at the restaurant, she also turned out to be super nice.
As for her beauty, she wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill beauty, but an exceptional beauty. Large, cat-like blue eyes, long brown hair tickled with gold, and the perfect figure that she fastidiously kept up with regular exercise and watching what she ate.
Specifically, I remember her avoiding the delicious, gooey, homemade chocolate chip cookies the rest of us waitresses used to gobble down nearly every shift. They were so damn good, I don’t know how Marie restrained herself from indulging in them.
Once, perhaps in a moment of weakness, Marie agreed to share a cookie with me. Sitting across from her, watching her nibble at the cookie while I devoured my half in three bites (I could have eaten it in two, but I didn’t want her to think I was a complete Neanderthal), I remember wishing that I had her willpower.
Not long after that she left the restaurant to spend a summer traveling through Europe with one of the other waitresses. How I envied her freedom and sense of adventure. I was already a mom with two little ones and in the process of getting a divorce. While she was driving a scooter around Greece, I was supporting my sons by slinging hash, and taking courses at a local community college.
Our paths never crossed again. I went on to remarry, buy a house, earn a couple of college degrees, have two more children, and pursue a career in higher education. She, I heard, went on to work as a leasing manager for a large apartment rental company. She never married or had children.
I should add that she smoked cigarettes, which seemed so at odds with her otherwise healthy habits. It was the one thing I could never understand about her. Didn’t she know that smoking accelerated the aging process? That it could cause cancer?
Marie was 44 years old when she passed. Learning of her death was a grim reminder of how short and precious life can be. Now, whenever I am hesitant to indulge in a simple pleasure or engage in a moment that requires spontaneity, I think of Marie and say to myself, eat the cookie.