Her name was Sharon. Few of us know her last name or each other’s for that matter, but that has never been important.
We meet most mornings dressed for combat, little or no makeup, hair uncombed in my case, and that’s why I love it there so much. It’s the neighborhood “Y” and if your shorts are too long or your outfit outdated, no one cares.
Few of us are close friends, we don’t call each other on a regular basis and it’s little more than a wave if we see each at the grocery store in town. And I’ve always kind of liked that too, in an anti-social sort of way. We come together for an hour each morning and then we scatter, no heavy conversations, no commitments.
Sharon always stood in the front left of our cardio and strength classes, always took a bike a little closer to the door in spin. I did not know how old she was exactly and for a long time, like everyone else, not much at all about her.
Then one day when we were standing around making small talk before class, she mentioned that she had read something I had written. And on another day she casually mentioned that her husband had been in the radio business (never bothering to tell me his professional name, which would have tipped me off seeing as he is a legend in Chicago broadcasting).
We talked more and more after that, before class, standing in the parking lot afterward. I told her about my children and she told me about hers and her grandchildren.
I’ve always admired the women older than me in our classes, sweating along with those in some cases 20 and 30 years younger. I’ll look at them and wonder if I’ll still be coming at their age, if I’ll still be capable of keeping up. They all look terrific but you can tell they are long past worrying about their abs or their thighs.
Part of the reason I don’t talk much at the “Y” is because I am such an awful morning person, stiff and sleepy and in no mood for chatter. But I think I’ve gotten better over the last few years since meeting Sharon. In fact, I probably bug people now, asking who has seen the latest “Biggest Loser” and other important questions.
And maybe I’m imagining it, but I’ve noticed much more of a community feeling around the place over the last few years. I stand around before class and in the parking lot after a lot now. I groan with the others in the middle of a particularly excruciating hour. I look for my pals and notice when one of the regulars is not there.
Whenever Sharon missed a week or two, I never thought much about it because she and her husband enjoyed some wonderful vacations and always filled me in when she returned. And then her good friend Peggy told us Sharon was sick, that it was leukemia.
I kept meaning to get her phone number, to do more than send a group card. But Peggy gave us updates every so often, enough that were optimistic that I went on my way after class, immersed in my life, sure I would see her soon, front row, left side.
And then I saw Peggy this week and she was crying. It wasn’t good. Sharon’s condition had been deteriorating rapidly.
She passed away on Wednesday.
And I realize there’s no such thing as casual acquaintances.
Not at our “Y,” anyway.