59: A Promise to a Friend

59: A Promise to a Friend

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

A Promise to a Friend

My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me.

~Henry Ford

She opened the door to let me in. I hardly recognized her. “Isn’t it ironic? I have been trying to shed ten pounds all my life,” she gasped for breath. “But not like this!”

Actually, she looked like she had lost twenty or thirty pounds. At 5 feet, 5 inches and 80 pounds, she was a shell of her former self. Radiation and chemo had not produced the desired results.

We talked about old times: the fun we used to have growing up in New York City, ice skating in Central Park, window-shopping on Fifth Avenue, and the sleepovers at the apartment she had lived in with her mom. We’d stay up late yakking about our hopes and dreams and boys, boys, boys, ignoring her mom’s nagging to turn out the lights and go to sleep. When we got older we double-dated, sipping wine in trendy little New York clubs and dancing the night away. And we smoked.

Gracefully gesturing with a cigarette in my hand made me feel glamorous and grown-up. I emulated the actresses on the screen as I inhaled and exhaled in what I imagined to be a sophisticated manner.

But now Georgie had lung cancer. She spoke bravely about how she was going to beat this monster. There were new treatments she was going to try.

“My doctor says I will be dancing in six months,” she said without conviction.

I had my doubts.

Before I left, she stopped me at the door.

She grasped me by the shoulders and wouldn’t let go. It was surprising how much strength she had in that tiny frame.

“Eva, please listen,” she pleaded, between coughs. “You’ve got to stop smoking.”

“I will, Georgie,” I replied half-heartedly.

“No! I mean it. When? Give me a date now!”

“Soon, Georgie. Soon.”

She pressed a calendar into my right hand and still held on to my left.

“You have ten days. Mark them off on this,” she persevered, wheezing. “I will hound you, Eva.” She was adamant.

“Okay, I will.” I would have said anything by then.

She let me go only when she had extracted my promise.

We hugged as we said goodbye.

Walking through the parking lot to my car I happened to glance up at Georgie’s window. What I saw shocked me! She sat there with a cigarette in her hand as smoke surrounded her once pretty face. She bore an expression of defeat and despair. Smoking didn’t look so glamorous anymore.

Georgie was still smoking. She had given up on herself but she had not given up on me.

I called her daily to check on her. Sometimes it seemed as if she were checking up on me instead. She was always optimistic about herself but then she’d turn the conversation to me. Had I quit yet?

“Only a few more days, Eva,” she’d remind me. “You promised.”

I reluctantly hung her calendar on my fridge. I was going to humor her. I started marking the days off with an X.

“I’m working on it, Georgie.”

Soon it became five days and then four. I had not intended to go through with it.

I had tried to kid myself. I had pretended I didn’t see the yellowing of my complexion and teeth. I had looked past the accidental burns on my clothing and furniture and the foul odor of stale ashes that pervaded my house.

I had tried to kick the habit. I really had. I tried cold turkey, patches and cutting down. I even went for hypnosis. Nothing worked.

“Someday I will ditch this addiction for good,” I kept telling myself. “But not yet.”

On the tenth day, the phone rang. “It’s Georgie,” I thought, as I lit up a cigarette. I didn’t want to hear her annoying reminder. I didn’t answer.

Later that night I listened to my recorder. “We lost Georgie today,” cried an unfamiliar voice.

My heart broke for my friend. She had lost her battle. Yet she had tried to save me and I had failed her.

It was Friday. I had the whole weekend ahead of me and I was on a mission. I went to bed and stayed there until Monday morning, getting up only when necessary.

I assumed the yoga corpse position. Flat on my back with my hands by my side, palms facing up in soft surrender, I would murmur, “I will not smoke today — for Georgie.”

One day at a time I repeated these words. They worked. So I continued for a few more days and then a few more.

It wasn’t easy but I did it.

Eventually my skin, eyes and teeth became brighter. My wellbeing returned. I was one of the lucky ones. I had fulfilled my promise to Georgie. I said I did it for her. But the truth is, I did it for myself, because of her. I wonder if she knew.

The vow made to a beloved friend held more power than any vow I had made to myself. That was twenty-five years ago. With the exception of one slip-up, I have not had a cigarette since — thanks to Georgie.

~Eva Carter

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