My Paula

In the midst of my grief over my father’s death, my elder friend Paula had the audacity to die on me too. She and I were instigators at best, bandits at worst. She recognized me when I walked down the hall of the nursing home and called out to me. “Hey sweetie, where you been?” I could have been gone a week or ten minutes, it didn’t matter. I was her long lost friend. I’d bend over her wheelchair; she’d place her hands on either side of my face and kiss me right on the mouth. We had no shame.

She was from New York City, a bohemian hippie who wore full-flowing gauze skirts, peasant tops, open toe sandals and no bra way before it was popular. She wore her hair long, sometimes pinned up and sometimes flowing around her shoulders. She colored it a whore red and put on lipstick to match.

“What’s on tap today?” I’d ask.

“Something stronger than beer I hope,” she’d answer.

Paula had the most beautiful lilting voice and sang so sweetly that those who happened to catch a note, stopped mid-stride and turned to her, waiting for the melody to continue.  She studied classical music at Juilliard when she was a girl and gave voice lessons for a fee when she graduated.

She was married five or six times. I asked her once why so many and she said, “Why would anyone stop at just one when there are so many to choose from?  I’d have lived with them all, but my mother insisted I marry. She was so old fashioned.” Each of her children was fathered by a different man. Her babies scattered over the world and sent her letters, cards and packages from exotic places.

She had the tiniest feet and danced wildly upon them, swinging her thin hips and tossing her head back and from side to side, smiling behind that curtain of red hair. Her snapping green eyes sparkled with mischief. She was game for any adventure and we took several.

One cold December we bundled in black velvet capes over satin dresses and attended a gala at the theater in town. It was an Opera. I’d never been to one, wasn’t sure I’d like it, but Paula assured me I’d fall in love. At ninety, in her three inch heels, tottering at my side, a purple chapeau affixed in a jaunty angle with a fancy rhinestone hat pin on her head, Paula sparkled. Her glitter and glow put everyone else to shame that night. I can still hear her toe tapping to the music, and feel her small fingers tightening around mine as she let the music take her into another world. She was right. I did fall in love that night, but not with the Opera. I fell in love with her.

I can only imagine that my red headed Paula came into this world on the notes of a song, because on Monday, she took her last breath to the music of Vivaldi, another red head with a passion for music.

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