Can a day be both normal and not normal all at once? On Sunday I shaved my head (not normal) and joined friends at the beach (normal) even though I thought I might get nauseous and have to turn around and go home (not normal). Our friends Doug and Laila and their daughter Maddie planned a feast (normal) to which we contributed nothing (not normal), then proceeded to defy nature (normal) by cooking a delectable salmon dinner over an open wood fire on the beach. While some might hesitate to proceed with plans for a cook out on the beach when conditions turn out to be 40 degrees with 25 mph winds, Doug and Laila were not the least bit deterred (normal). Doug unfolded his shovel and unloaded the wood; Laila found the firestarter (to avoid accidentally burning the car registration like last time). The beach was empty its entire length (not normal) – that’s how cold and windy it was – nobody walking, nobody fishing. Maddie and Julia emerged from a sheltered, sunny spot on the dunes uttering in disbelief how cold it was where we were near the water. No matter how their SUV was angled, the vehicle would not block the wind (not normal), and no matter on which side of the fire you sat, a smoky vortex spun off and made a beeline for your eyes (not normal).
Laila kept the salmon moist by dousing it with marinade. She added portabella mushrooms around the edges of the grill because she knows I am operating under a breast cancer induced psychotic mission to eat mushrooms at every opportunity (not normal). Doug managed to lift the perfectly cooked salmon from the flames with a 2-pronged fork (impossible). Fletcher watched and worried (his new normal) about whether this feast qualified as part of a low microbial diet that I am supposed to follow. He inspected each piece of fish for doneness until Doug may have thought of stabbing him with the 2-pronged fork. Because I was otherwise useless (not normal) I was the first to eat. In spite of the wind the food was still warm, and scrumptious. Grilled salmon, marinated veggies, rice*, cucumber salad and toasted pita bread. Not a single grain of sand. I had seconds. Afterward someone made me a s’more.
We joked about how Doug and Laila would do on that survival show “Naked and Afraid” and I secretly thought that in some dooms-day scenario I hope they let us in their shelter. They are a team that seamlessly works together to “get ‘er done” in the face of adversity, whether that adversity is unruly weather or a friend’s illness. Maybe what I appreciated the most is that my own adversity was somehow marginalized that afternoon. My anticipation of nausea faded in the cold wind. Although there was an extra blanket, there were no kid gloves. I could go the beach two days after my chemo infusion and freeze, smoke in my eyes, with the rest of them. I could eat the best meal going in New Jersey that night. Even if I had no hair. Even if I wasn’t particularly helpful this time. Doug, Laila and Maddie made things seem normal even though they’re not normal right now.
The following morning I woke up crying, thinking about Sunday. I can’t explain other than to say how glad I am that they are our friends.
*Truth be told: Laila did not cook rice over the fire. She cooked it at home and heated it over the fire in foil. She’s not a thaumaturge!