Tonight I’m going to say goodbye to my first friend in Somerset, Mrs. Dustie Maguire. I’m thinking about how I’m going to accomplish this as I make her going-away cake, a triple-layer carrot with vanilla frosting. It’s going to be hard. It’s going to be brutal, actually. But if anything makes life any easier, it’s got to be icing sugar and cream cheese.
I met Dustie on a houseboat for a hospital recruitment party when I decided to wear a strange khaki dress that made me look like I, a), was possibly asexual, and, b), might embark on safari at any moment. Dustie worked with my husband, who I believe might have told her I was badly in need of friends and, apparently, wardrobe help. So that night, she presented herself to me with a big, shining smile and an offer of friendship.
Because I was extremely shy and unsure back then, the ball didn’t really get rolling until a few months later after I learned Dustie had had an appendectomy and I sent her a get-well card. After that, we made a date to, of all things, go jogging together, something that seemed to make perfect sense in its planning stages but turned out to be a rather ludicrous way to get to know someone. You know, because you can’t really breathe so you can’t really talk.
Still, we must have had a nice enough time (I think I passed out from heat stroke somewhere in the middle) because we kept getting together. Jogging graduated into pump class at the Y, which graduated into walks, which graduated into going to the same parties, which eventually graduated into just going out for lunch together, where she’d almost always get Ruby Tuesday’s baked potato and salad bar.
From the get-go, Dustie bowled me over with her overwhelming thoughtfulness. Six years later, she still sends me thank-you notes. She decorated our yard with patriotic flair after I received my American citizenship, then bought me a bracelet shaped like Kentucky and stamped with the word “home.” She brought me dinners when I was sick. Came to the hospital every day William was in the ICU. If I told her I liked her dress, she would buy me one too. If I told her I liked her cheetah-print heels, she would run out and get me a pair. After I got married, she went into my closet and single handedly put together my wardrobe for my entire honeymoon. Sorted by day. Complete with jewelry. Which she made me promise I’d wear.
The most touching thing she ever did happened a few months after my dad died. Since she worked for the hospital, she knew there was a 5K Heart Walk coming up and suggested we put together a team in honor of my dad, who died of a heart attack. Dustie tragically lost her dad when she was just a little girl, so she knew what that grief felt like and how to make it better. The night before, she came over and we made red ribbons to wear out of an elaborate assortment of craft supplies she brought. The day of, there she was smiling and supportive. To this day, Gabrielle still wears a t-shirt from that walk to bed at night.
There just aren’t that many people out there who are like that, you know? Endlessly thinking about how they can make your day better. Running around and literally taking their jewelry off their wrist because it will look nice with your outfit. Happy to celebrate your highs, there with the right advice when you need it, crying with you when you’re crying. At first, I didn’t know how to accept all the kindness, not knowing how I would ever pay her back. But the thing about Dustie is she doesn’t do it for return favors.
That’s probably, in a way, why Somerset is losing her. Actually, who cares about Somerset, why I am losing her. The company she works for luckily knows a good thing when they see it and she has received a promotion so big I don’t even think she can believe it. To put it in perspective, she is going to be flying across the country in a private jet. She is able to enroll her two adorable daughters in a preschool so prestigious they’ll have the option to learn Mandarin. The sky is literally the limit for Mrs. Dustie Maguire. If ever there were a lesson, it’s that kindness, tirelessness goes a long way.
Still, moving isn’t easy. Her mom is here, her life has always been here, and Nashville, where she’s moving, can seem daunting. I haven’t heard from her too much this week, and I know when that happens it’s because she’s sad and grieving. So tonight I’m going to eat the hell out of this cake, swallow every last crumb of my sorrow, so I can smile and wish her well with no tears. Because if there was ever a way I could give back to her, it’s to send her off with all the strength she’s given me.