At 1:45PM today, an old tennis friend of mine passed away. Two hours before I received the news, I had gotten an email saying that she probably wouldn't make it past the weekend. J was such a fighter; I always thought she would end up kicking leukemia's ass.
J had a strong desire to be the best tennis captain ever. Her earnestness and micro managing could be a bit hard to deal with at times. For the longest, I ignored it because I simply wanted to enjoy the game. Plus, I felt J's strong points outweighed the other petty stuff. Yet for some reason, I often get pulled into sticky situations, which is why I find it difficult to be part of a group of women. Every single group I have been in, there has been some sort of conflict or back biting.
The beginning of the end of our friendship came after a hard fought 3 setter that we lost. The loss had nothing to do with it. It also didn't have anything to do with the unbearable temperature that day, which felt as though the flames of hell were just below the surface of the court. No, the defining moment came when she hit the opposing net person square in the chest with her ball and refused to apologize. That was J and that was how she liked to play. Unfortunately, I didn't share her philosophy on gamesmanship, so it was inevitable that we had to part ways. Despite her animosity towards her opponents, she really did have a deep passion for the game, and I always admired that. The passion, that is.
After the tournament from hell, I went home and downed several glasses of wine. That night, I received a phone call from one of the sweetest ladies on our team, begging me to step in and try to talk to J about another recent flap that was causing division within our team. Filled with wine and anger, I made the call. Wine can create a false sense of bravery, causing you to say things you wouldn't ordinarily say. Things you shouldn't say. I don't remember any of the conversation, but it didn't go well. Forever will I regret that phone call.
The next day she left me a playful voice message that we needed to discuss custody of the Playgirl magazine. On a dare from J and T, I purchased my first and only Playgirl because Brad Pitt was in the issue. We had so much naughty fun analyzing Brad Pitt's slightly out-of-focus, teeny weenie. I let her keep the mag because I was afraid to bring it home. She was more than happy to "share custody" with me. And that's the paradox. J could be incredibly fun and funny when she wasn't trying to win at tennis. That's the J I always loved and wanted to be around.
I never called her back about the Playgirl or anything else. I still feel terrible about it. We could have continued being friends if I had been more understanding, loving, and kind. There were many times I truly missed her friendship and wanted to share something with her, but my pride prevented me. At the urging of a friend, I visited her in the hospital last summer. I was so nervous, but it went better than I expected. I wanted to let her know that I held no ill will towards her and hoped that she felt the same. Although I didn't have the nerve to bring up the past, we were able to have a friendly conversation and a few laughs. Besides, when you're dealing with a deadly illness, everything else seems so unimportant. I do have many good memories of her and those will be the ones I'll remember the most. I only wish I could tell her that.