General Non-Fiction posted February 22, 2017

This work has reached the exceptional level
A friendship cut short


by Mary Wakeford

I grew up on N. 57th "Avinyou" as declared in crayon across the inside cover of one of my childhood books. There was one house between the Lewis's and the Martucci's.

Patty Martucci Isely and Laura Martucci Halstead were my very first friends. They are keepers.

Patty died in 2000 following brain surgery, but not before donating her kidneys, liver, skin, and every other viable part of herself to strangers. Her heart remained with her due to medications used during surgery deeming it unviable for transplant. That seemed only fitting, because Patty's was honestly too good and too pure for anyone else.

Every couple of years, Patty's younger sister, Laura, flies in from Ohio.  We get together and reminisce with their older sister Nansi.

Yesterday was that day; three years had passed since our last reunion. I love spending time with them, which is always fleeting. We talk about the old days in the neighborhood. Nansi, a few years older, shares stories that we were too young to remember. Patty, inevitably comes up in our conversations.  She remains close in heart, though it's been over sixteen years since she left us.

The Martucci's are my roots, along with my family and others in our North 57th Avenue neighborhood, dating back to the late 1950's. The Martucci's had a hand in shaping me, as well as the other neighbors on that street.

Our mothers were morning coffee clutch partners. It was Marge Martucci who found my mom down in the front lawn, felled by a broken ankle.  Marge got her the help she needed as my siblings and I were inside, oblivious to Mom's S.O.S signals for help. I'm guessing we were engrossed in Top Cat cartoons on the small black and white TV, or sleeping in that hot summer morning.  The situation gives one an appreciation for cell phones, 911, and good neighbors.

Nansi's memory also included the morning she and her five siblings got in trouble wearing their Sunday best just before leaving for church one Easter Sunday. They asked if they could checkout the new doughboy pool my dad erected on our driveway. The temptation was too great and they all dove in at some point, then paid the price when they arrived back home dressed as five wet noodles. As Nansi told the story, I shuttered at the thought of a potential drowning hole on our driveway beckoning small victims.  
I remember hand-me-down's from their closets.  I love receiving hand-me-down's to this day--clothes, furniture, dogs...

I apparently knew I had a good friend in the Martucci family early on, as often on early mornings they would hear a shallow knock at their front door. They'd open it to find me, aged three or four, hair disheveled and still in my nightgown, clutching my treasured blankie with the satin strip barely intact, sucking my thumb and staring straight away at whomever opened the door.  Mrs. Martucci would say. "Mary, would you like to come in and eat breakfast with us?" I would nod, then take my seat at the Martucci table as Patty proclaimed, "Mary is my best friend."  A few minutes later, their phone would ring--it was my mom inquiring if I was there.  All I can say, it's a good thing I made it past the pool on the driveway.  I was not a swimmer at age three.  

I remember doughnuts. Their grandmother would bring them often. My affinity for doughnuts all these years later remains intact. I brought dozens of Krispy Kreme doughnuts to Patty's memorial reception. 

The Martucci family moved away much too soon, but Patty, Laurie and I kept in touch through letters, cards, and phone calls as we grew up. Patty called me from Virginia the morning of my wedding to wish me the happiest of days, and a wonderful marriage as her own was on the verge of unraveling.

Patty never missed a birthday, anniversary, or holiday. I always had a beautiful card with her handwritten note expressing her thoughts. I was a lousy card sender in comparison. She deserved a better pen pal and Hallmark card supporter than she got with me.

The sisters joined the United States Navy as buddies following Patty's divorce. They were sent to Australia and Hawaii, respectively. So much for enlisting with a buddy and being stationed together. Patty met her second husband while stationed in Australia, returning to Arizona for their wedding in 1988. She met my third child, a baby girl just a few weeks old, at her wedding in Tempe. 

My husband and I visited with Laura while vacationing in Hawaii in 1991, and hiked Diamond Head together.  I didn't have the imagination to see that happening as a child. 

Life can be amazing.  It can also be very cruel.

Patty delivered her daughter, a year later on my daughter's birthday. You might say we've always been on the same wave length. She gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl, a few years after that.

Patty was finally gifted the family she always wanted, but because her first husband wanted no part of parenthood, had been denied her dream well into her thirties.  She embraced her second chance with gratitude and complete emersion.

While on a family vacation in Florida and Disney World in 1991 with my husband and three children, we  unexpectedly ran into Patty, her husband, and babies in the Dumbo line. Imagine that! We were giddy about our luck, and spent the day and night touring Disney World and Epcot together. We closed the park down with strollers, exhaustion, and great memories of our uncanny meeting.

We followed our good fortune with a trip to Daytona Beach the following day where we splashed in the water with our kids and a few jellyfish that took a liking to my flashy white legs.

Patty's husband was stationed in Jacksonville at the time. They made the trip to Disney World not knowing we'd be there the same week, let alone the same day. Serendipity graced me with a memory not even death can extinguish.

Patty and her family moved from Florida to Phoenix in 1999. Her husband secured a position at Luke Air Force Base. She was busy raising her family, as was I--working full-time with a two hour daily commute. Infrequent phone calls dictated our friendship and interaction.

I remember Patty calling me matter-of-factly the day before her scheduled brain surgery, not long after moving back to Arizona. I asked her why she sounded out of breath after the shock of her health news set in. She told me she had just finished mowing the lawn. I'm pretty sure I scolded her, while pleading with her to take it easy.
I was in awe of her courage and calm at the prospect of undergoing brain surgery, and I'm pretty sure I would not have been mowing my lawn given the same circumstances.

But that was Patty. A giver right to the end. She didn't want her husband to have to deal with yard work while taking care of the children in the days following her surgery.

The phone call from Laurie the next evening told of Patty's tumor being much more complicated than the surgeon anticipated.

A second surgery to remove her frontal lobe was going down as my number was dialed. The surgeon alluded to nicking Patty's carotid artery during the first surgery, which lasted beyond eight hours. Following the second operation, Patty's family was told her EEG revealed brain death.

I was devastated for the Martucci family. For her mother in losing a second child, and for Patty's three young children losing an amazing mother.  I prayed they weren't too young to not remember her goodness.

I sat with Patty the day before her body saved three lives directly, and improved countless others with skin and cornea donations. I found it ironic that Patty's skin was used to save burn victims, thirty-three if I remember correctly.

Patty's oldest brother died in a horrific fire while working on his car on the driveway of their home as a teenager.  He and a friend were using gasoline to clean his carburetor when the fumes ignited a nearby gas water heater. Ronnie was caught between the two. It was a horrific scene that no mother or sister should have had to witness and be helpless to stop. Ronnie fought hard for five days before succumbing to his burns.

I held Patty's hand and wept surrounded by the imposing equipment keeping her heart pumping and organs healthy with oxygen before being removed to give life to strangers.

I hoped she could in some way feel my presence and love for her. Brain death was not in the plan for our friendship in growing old, when we would have time to spend together, and not be pulled by work and family obligations.

Patty's funeral was brutal, as any you could imagine. I was toast when her husband read a Winnie the Pooh story from the lectern for her three young children before sharing his own eulogy. The drive to the desert military cemetery in Cavecreek was a quiet one with my mom and my husband. I knew Mom was thinking of Marge, her once coffee-clutch neighbor who had lost yet another child--a burden no parent should endure.

One thing about military cemeteries and services--they are precise and clock-driven. Patty's interment service took place under an outdoor rotunda, then her cremains were whisked away for burial immediately following a few prayers. I remember concentrating on the direction and section the cemetery van drove with Patty's ashes committed to memory.

On her birthday the following June, I drove to the cemetery on the way home from work to leave yellow roses, symbolic of friendship for her grave. I arrived after the business office was closed, so had no reference to find her row or plot assignment. I walked up and down row upon row, horizontally and vertically in the area I had commited to memory months earlier. I searched typewritten labels awaiting permanent nameplates in search of her name as the sun began to set.  I whispered my thought outloud.

"I brought these roses to celebrate your birthday, Patty, but I need you to help me find you."
I felt enormously defeated as I began the walk back to my car.  A few paces later, I looked to my left and BAM, there she was, Patricia Isely. I felt as if she was right there with me, leading me to her again, just as Disney World and Dumbo had led me to her years before.

I sat down on the harsh desert landscaped ground with her. There were no beeping machines, just the setting sun and chirping birds. I told her how much she was missed, how much she was loved, and that I would forever miss my very first friend.


Story of the Month contest entry


The photograph is a combination of a Christmas photo following the birth of Patty's twins, and the one below it is of our daughter's the day of our unexpected meeting at Disney World in 1991. I was living in Arizona at the time, and Patty was living in Jacksonville, Florida. I still marvel that we ran into each other in the Dumbo line.

Her sister, Laura, remains one of my best friend's, and we spent the day yesterday reminiscing. Dinner last night on the patio turned to remembering Patty, which sparked this writing today.

Sometimes, the very best are taken much too soon.
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