Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Remembering Melissa

I think it was buying pop the other night with those free Pepsi product bottle caps that made me think of my friend Melissa.

Melissa had a collection of those bottle caps--mostly because she was always asking me if I had any extras. We had a cooler at our video store stocked with Pepsi products, and thus a ready supply of free caps--much to Melissa's delight.

I met Melissa almost 10 years ago when we first moved to the Methow Valley. I noticed there was something a little different about her. She clutched a tattered drivers training manual and asked everyone for autographs. She explained that she really wanted to get her drivers license. She believed her friends' signatures would bring her the good luck she needed to pass the exam.

I grinned as I realized her request was in earnest. I signed the first of many drivers manuals I had the privilege of autographing for Melissa.

She loved to hang out at our video store. "Oh, that popcorn smells sooo good, Deb. I'd love to have a bag of that popcorn."

When I offered her the small 50 cent bag, she expressed her gratitude as only Melissa could.

"Deb, what I'd really like is the BIG bag of popcorn. I' m really hungry for popcorn. And your popcorn is sooo good."

How could I say no? I scooped the corn into the grocery-size bag. Melissa closed her eyes and savored the bites. You would have thought I'd given her the world.

And I wish I could have. Melissa had a brain injury at birth that had left her just a little slower and more child-like for her 30-something years. She longed to drive a car, have her own home, get married, and someday have children. I knew that most of her dreams wouldn't come true this side of Heaven.

That didn't stop her from reveling in life. She loved to host parties--especially for her birthday.

"We're having cake and ice cream and Doritos." Her excitement was contagious.

So we celebrated birthdays and Christmas, went to concerts, church events, and shopped at the local Christmas bazaar each year.

Melissa offered to help out at the video store, at least one day each month. The phone rang early--too early on a Saturday morning.

"Hi, Deb. This is your employee. What time are you picking me up?"

And so our routine went. I drove to Melissa's house where she waited outside, always with a bag of special treats. She gifted me with samples of body moisturizer, powdered drink mixes, coupons, candy, and even recipes cut from boxes of macaroni and cheese.

Once we arrived at the video store, we played Melissa's favorite selection of CD's, usually Michael W. Smith and the sound track from Anne of Green Gables.

"This one is a Deb-song," she pronounced while dusting and organizing videos. And she was usually right. I always enjoyed her taste in music.

When it was time for a break, I'd send Melissa over to Three-Fingered Jack's across the street to order lunch.

"Thank you, Deb. Thank you sooo much for lunch, and for my paycheck." Melissa hugged me when I dropped her off at home. My husband Randy and I wanted to give her a little something for her work. In typical "Melissa style", she tucked her check into her purse and then asked, "Will I be getting a raise soon?"

Two years ago, Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer. She seemed healthy and strong, so I struggled with denial.

"I'm not getting treatment." Melissa had rock-solid faith that Jesus would heal her. At her 36th birthday party, I found out that her cancer had metastasized by the time she was diagnosed. Melissa's mother and I hugged each other and wept.

Melissa still insisted on coming to the video store, but she sat quietly in a chair watching movies. Reality crept in. The doctors recommended a mastectomy and radiation treatment to keep her stabilized. Melissa consented, but held fast to her faith. She rarely complained, except when her pain became unbearable. Her courage inspired everyone who knew her.

On a warm October day last fall, Melissa slipped away from this world and into the presence of God. It's still hard to believe she's gone. Sometimes when there's an early morning phone call, I think, Melissa! And then I remember...

I am sooo thankful Melissa was my friend. I believe we'll be reunited one day. I wouldn't be surprised if Melissa is at Heaven's gates to pick me up.

"Jump in, Deb. I'm driving."

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