Friday, April 6, 2007

"Friends are Friends Forever"

Today I want to write about our friends Ann and Kenny - or Kenny and Ann; One of those blessed couples where TWO did become ONE.

My husband Steve and I were "couple" best friends with Kenny and Ann. Kenny was my husband's best friend and his wife mine. Our children were and are still very close. We went every where together, they went with us to take Kris to West Point over 10 years ago. We spent a few days in NYC beforehand and he knew the city so well from business trips that showed us the time of our lives. "Goo for yo famwy" - that's the forever memory from the restaurant in China Town when Kenny told the waiter to just bring us whatever he thought we'd enjoy. "I make it goo for you famwy!" Another day the boys went to a Yankees game and the girls went shopping on Fifth Avenue. And on and on. Kenny and Steve would go to see Kris at WP -- always timed around those Yankee games. Kenny even met my now daughter-in-law before I did.

Kenny's job necessitated a move to South Florida seven years ago. At that time my heart felt ALMOST as if I was dealing with a death. It was at least three years before I made myself drive down their street (a few blocks from our house). Even though they moved only three and a half hours away and we saw each other now and then and talked on the phone, it just wasn't the same.

This past Christmas holiday we were all out having dinner together when Ann announced, "We're moving back!" Unbelievable! Fantastic! Great! I told her I felt like I'd won the lottery -- I was THAT HAPPY! In January Kenny starting working in Plant City again; the rest of the family to move back at the end of the school year. They'd been house shopping several times, though their prosperity had definitely out grown our neighborhood. My husband and I talked about the fun we'd have with them here again and how much fuller our lives would be.

But(isn't there always a "but"? and usually a big one), we got a phone call. Kenny was on life support. We immediately drove the three and 1/2 hours (in about 2 I think) to the hospital where Kenny was in ICU. All the children were there except the two younger ones (6 and 9), Kenny's parents, his sister from New York, local friends. We took turns going back to see him but he was usually so sedated that he was unresponsive. When he did open his eyes and saw both of us he jerked his head back in surprise -- he probably thought "I must really be sick if they are here."

Everyone left except for us, Ann and the children. At 5 a.m. the next morning we followed the ambulance transferring him to a teaching hospital in Miami where they could "save his life." Ann, her oldest daughter and I spent the nights in the ICU waiting room, and our days too but with his parents and some of the other children (did I mention there are six of them?).

Kenny couldn't communicate because he had a respirator tube down his throat. He'd try to talk but we couldn't understand him. One day he was trying to tell me something and I said "are you trying to tell me that you love me?," and he nodded "yes" - though I'm sure he was trying to say something else. Another time he grabbed my husband's hand and held on tight, looking into Steve's eyes for several minutes. I think he was trying to say "take care of my family, buddy, I know you will."

Steve spoke at the first funeral in South Florida; I don't know how he managed it but he did wonderfully. He stood before hundreds of people he did not know and spoke about "My Friend Kenny". (They always referred to each like that. Steve would say to me, "My Friend Kenny called" and likewise Kenny would tell Ann, "My Friend Steve called.") Steve also spoke directly to the children about their Dad, what a wonderful person he was, a great man, husband, father, friend, and how his legacy would live on through them and the many others he had such a powerful, positive influence on.

Kenny was 47 years old. He is buried where he wanted to live -- in Plant City.

A week after Kenny's funeral, Steve lost his job and, of course, his company vehicle. We only had one car and then one income. Ann and her oldest son gave us the car they no longer needed. How much better friends could there ever be? It's my "love mobile" and every time I'm in it I feel the love of this beautiful family. My nickname for Ann has always been Annabelle and since this was their son Andy's car, I've named it "Andybelle".

I've never been one for visiting graves, not even those of my own parents. But I stop by to "see" Kenny about once a week. Though there's only a temporary marker on his grave, right next to it is Steve's Yankee cap (a gift from Kenny). I'd never known of a friendship between two men as unconditional, strong and supportive as that of Kenny and Steve (or Steve and Kenny). I don't think I ever will again.


Butterfly Wife said...

What a wonderful friendship you have there. Very moving. You had me on the brink of tears. Thanks for sharing.