Disclaimers, sort of: This story *does* speak of loss and death but it is not ABOUT that. I don't think it is dark or painful to read. I hope not. It is also not fiction. I guess I should apologize for that but this is what the muse told me to write. Feel free to give it a pass.

Why I Say It So Often

by Sam Ruskin

Sometimes a person comes into our lives so quietly we hardly realize they are changing it forever. That is the way my friend Cheryl entered my life: quietly, without assumption or demands. She did not, however, leave either my life or me as she found us. I will be forever grateful to her for that.

I began college late in life, compared to most. When all the scholarships and grants were being strewn in front of me after graduating high school, I was ever so certain my path lay elsewhere. My church told me I *should* get married, raise some kids and "serve my God". Ever the one to please others and wanting to be loved and accepted, I sent polite thank-you's to the colleges and set out to do what good Mormon girls do. The trouble was that I was NOT a good Mormon girl. Nope. There was a battle of epic proportions raging in my soul. No matter how hard I tried, the little girl who *really* lived here was determined to be heard. SHE wanted no part of the path I tried so valiantly to trod. Much to my shame and regret I managed to silence her for a very long time. Which, now that I think about it, probably explains a few wild outbursts over the years. LOL. She is hell on wheels when she is pissed off.

Skipping past the juicy stuff that filled the decade from high school graduation to the day I started college, let me just say this was a time of awakening for me. My marriage had blown up in my face and after picking up the debris and wiping the charred remains of my spirit, I decided to go back to square one. The hell with what I *should* do. I would go back and do what I wanted to do to start with: go to college. I was living in southern Ohio at the time so I settled on Miami University. I met Cheryl Pate the day I registered for classes.

I was nervous and felt out of place as I looked around at all the young men and women fresh out of high school. I began to seriously question my logic. Was I nuts? I was too old to do this now. Such were my thoughts when an attractive girl with dark hair sat next to me and smiled.

"Hi," she said in voice that was soft and warm and inviting, like her eyes. "Don't mean to be rude but you looked kinda lost. My name's Cheryl. I'm a nursing student. We have to take some of our classes here this year. Psych and Interpersonal Communications. You?"

"Sammie. Yeah, thanks. I do, really. I think I feel like Methuselah at a christening." I introduced myself.

She laughed right out loud, holding nothing back. "That's funny. And totally wrong. I happen to teach Sunday School classes at our church and," she winked at me, "Methuselah was a man. A very OLD man. Totally wrong image."

In a matter of only few minutes, Cheryl had taken me from petrified to laughing and relaxed. That's the way she was with everyone. As it turned out, we had three classes together: Psychology 101, Interpersonal Communications and Anthropology. She took the last one just because it interested her. Cheryl was like that. She was full of energy and curiosity and such a genuine love for life she was a pure joy to be around.

Over the next three years we spent a good deal of time together, in classes and having lunch or studying sometimes. I learned how much her family meant to her and how protective she was toward her little brother. Because of a lot of issues that came up in our Communications classes, I also came to realize she might be the least judgmental person I'd ever known. My God, she actually *worked* at it. Not judging people, I mean. She was no saint though. I certainly saw her blow a gasket a few times.

I can still see the flames shooting from her eyes the day our Communications professor came to the defense of a young man in our class who had just admitted to being gay. Several jerks in the class made inappropriate remarks and the prof, Maggie Munro, was pissed. After giving a tongue-lashing that would have made Julia Sugarbaker proud [though she did not exist yet] she spun to look at the rest of us: "Any of the rest of you been eating bigot stew?"

Most people laughed. Cheryl was outraged at the attack on the kid and barely heard the joke. We talked about that for weeks. She really was revolted by one person's ability to be cruel or unkind to another. I remember thinking at the time she was like the song "Vincent" and terribly out of place here.

During the summer after our third year of college Cheryl and I lost touch. She was busy working and getting ready to finish school and I was just busy. One evening I was reading the newspaper and an editorial sucked the air out of my lungs and burned my eyes. It was a letter from Mr. Pate thanking the brave paramedics who tried so desperately to save his young daughter, her brother and his wife. He praised them for their diligence in never giving up and their humanity in the way they treated his precious Cheryl during her last minutes in this life. He called them true heroes and said his wife and son were doing well thanks to their quick and efficient response. This man, in his grief, wanted these strangers to be assured they had done all anyone could. My breaking heart went out to him, to his entire family.

How had I missed the original article, the news report? How could such a beloved friend be gone and I did not know it? Then I looked at the date mentioned and remembered the nightmare that had awakened me and the gentle voice that soothed me back to sleep. How could I have been so blind? One of my best friends passed from this mortality and took the time to tell me goodbye. Yet, I had blocked it out.

That's when I felt the gentle presence in the studio apartment. Cheryl Pate left my life as she entered it: with love, acceptance and more human kindness than I had ever known. Like everyone who knew her, my life was touched by her sweet spirit and musical laughter.

Whether it was intentional or not, I may never know, but Cheryl's departure burned onto the canvas of my heart and soul a gift I will always treasure. Never again would I let wait until tomorrow the words of love I feel today.

Sometimes, a person comes into our life with more whisper than shout. Thank the gods I was listening that day. Cheryl, wherever you are ...thank you my sweet friend. You gave me the courage to be who I always was......and you never even knew it.

{As a special notation I would like to tell someone something. *This* is why I say it so much...get used to it. <wink> Yes, my protecting panther, I mean YOU.}

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