When you slow down long enough your life finds you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked, “How did you go from the hallways of Saturday Night Live and casting CBS daytime to hospice?” Obviously there is a story behind my answer to that question.
Everyone has a story about how they end up where they are, but I’ll keep mine short and sweet. Circumstance, happenstance and a very special person transformed my life almost 20 years ago and ignited a passion that I’m now living.
After leaving New York City, I moved back to a small town outside of Raleigh, NC, known as Garner. I fell in love for the very first time with a boy that happened to be a Garner police officer. His dream was to one day become an FBI agent.
I refer to him as “Apple,” for many reasons.
Our relationship was full of respect, love, laughter and adventure. He opened new doors to different ways of thinking. He exposed me to movies such as “Down the Rabbit Hole” and several books by Stephen Hawking. He rarely watched television and read all the time. He loved good food, cooking and rock climbing. He changed me in so many ways.
When he was accepted to the FBI Academy, he chose to dedicate his time to becoming the agent he dreamed of as a child. We mutually agreed to briefly halt our relationship; making promises to reconnect after his graduation. With professional aspirations of my own, it made perfect sense.
Our last weekend together was magical. I remember clearly driving away in my Jeep Wrangler heading east and watching his Del Sol disappear in my rearview mirror as he drove north. I felt overwhelmed and grateful at the same time. I was so thankful for the emotions I was allowed to feel toward another human being. I was not afraid because I knew in time we would be together again.
That was the last time I saw him. There were no cards, phone calls or emails after that last magical weekend. What I thought was a pause in our relationship allowing both of us time to obtain our individual goals was actually a break-up.
I was haunted by the small town of Garner after he left. Memories of our relationship replayed in my mind every time I passed a restaurant or movie theater. The questions lingered. Nothing at all―not even a phone call or email.
In search of a major change to jump start my life again, I packed my things and moved to the eastern coast of North Carolina in 1999. I chose the coastal town of Wilmington hoping to work once again in the film industry.
Wilmington’s film and studio opportunities were on hiatus when I arrived, so I took a position with a hospice organization overseeing their volunteer program. It was a temporary position―or so I thought.
My life seemed to be gaining traction. I was working full time, living at the beach and meeting new people. It had been five years since my relationship with Apple had ended with no correspondence.
A few years later, a co-worker with hospice asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding and I reluctantly accepted. At the age of 34, I was not interested in purchasing a dress I would never wear again. I was also not interested in being portrayed as the mid-thirties spinster in the wedding party who had not found her soul mate, but out of love for the bride I did it anyway.
The night before the wedding, I arrived late to the rehearsal dinner. Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, The Oceanic restaurant at Wrightsville Beach can be magical in its own right. Running in, I picked a random table and struck up a conversation with a lovely group attending the dinner. They were strangers to me.
Making small talk, a lady next to me mentioned her husband used to work for the police department in Garner, NC. Without much pause, I said, “I used to know someone that worked for the Garner police department.”
She asked, “Who?”
“Apple,” I responded as casually as I could.
“Wow,” she said as she continued to eat. “Now that’s a sad story.”
My mind began to race. Was he killed in the line of duty? I chose to not say a word and let her share her next thought.
“He died,” she said.
“He was in love with this girl in Garner,” she continued, “and broke up with her and never told her that he had cancer. He died in hospice care only 18 months later.”
I was completely paralyzed. I don’t recall much after that moment, but I do know I managed to reach out and grab that woman’s arm.
I looked her straight in the eyes and said, “You’re talking to the girl.”