It's really late and I shouldn't be doing this, but oh, well...
So Mary Beth. The whole gesturing with the kitchen knife thing. Why do we all remember this so vividly? Was it because it was a particularly big knife? Was it because she was the only one of us who could actually afford real food so she was the only one who was ever in the kitchen cooking? Was it because she was almost through with nursing school and should have known better? Don't know. I can see her so clearly in my mind's eye, however.
"Well, you KNOW..." she'd start in from her post at the cutting board, a wise and knowing tone to her voice--and all the time waving that knife around as she joined in to whatever conversation was happening around our little kitchen table. Then she'd reach up and itch the end of her nose with the back of the hand holding the knife, its blade wobbling dangerously close to her face.
The best thing about M.B., though, was her "bedside manner." I'm not referring to how she told other people's boyfriends how she loved them when she answered the phone by her bed while sound asleep. I'm referring to her amazing and uncanny ability to remain calm in a crisis and comfort anyone in any situation. M.B. was born to be a nurse, I'm convinced of it.
Whether it was injury, sickness or some other calamity, the more severe the crisis, the calmer she became. The building could have been falling down around us and she would have greeted us by name with a peaceful smile, a steady voice, a steady gaze, and steady hands to support us.
In fact, the longer we lived with M.B., the more WE began to panic whenever she grew especially calm and serene. Something must be terribly wrong!!
I remember one night her coming into our room in the middle of the night and gently laying her hand on my arm as she quietly and slowly, but firmly said, "Sherry, I need you to wake up." Knowing Mary Beth as I did, I sat up with a start and asked what was wrong. "Don't worry," she said slowly and deliberately, "I just need you to get up now. I need your help with something."
She led me by the hand into her bedroom, where I discovered a hole in her ceiling, roughly the size of a quarter, through which water was gushing rapidly--directly onto Mary Beth's bed--or at least into the wastebasket now sitting on top of her bed.
"I think I have a little problem," she said in a whisper, not wanting to wake the others up. But there was a twinkle of laughter in her eye and soon both of us were laughing hysterically as we scoured the house for more buckets. The others got up and we all scrambled into action--emptying and replacing buckets, mopping up M.B.'s poor bed, and scanning the phone book for an all-night plumber.
Another memory, though, shows the irony of another side of M.B.--she could clean us up with no problem, but she couldn't handle the sight of her own blood.
I remember coming home from class early one day, mid-morning, and finding Mary Beth, still in her bathrobe with a towel wrapped around her head. She was sitting at the kitchen table and playing solitare--madly. She greeted me with a very nervous sounding high-pitched voice and was madly slamming her cards down on the table at record-breaking speeds. She was clearly upset. When I asked her what was wrong, she tried to gather a calm voice, but it trembled uncharacteristically (man, that is a long word!). "Oh nothing, I just cut myself shaving, that's all."
I glanced at the washcloth tied into a loose knot around her ankle, which was propped up on another chair. "Did it just happen?" I asked.
"No, it was about an hour ago or so, I guess."
Cards flying. Solitare had never been played with that much intensity.
"Do you want me to take a look at it for you?" I offered, as I knelt down next to her elevated leg."
"Would you?" Her cards stopped flying and her wild eyes pleaded with me. It was clear to me that she was paralyzed with fear and might have to sit there all day if faced with caring for it herself. The deck of cards wouldn't hold out much longer. It was time for me to act.
Forcing myself not to make any smart remarks about her role as the nurse and what a total chicken-butt she was being, I gently removed her washcloth and calmly cleaned and bandaged her cut--doing my best to imitate her own typical calm and comforting demeanor. She thanked me, hugged me, hopped up and limped to her room to finally get dressed and dry her hair.
It wasn't that bad of a cut, but I knew she was embarrassed, so I didn't bring it up again. Sorry, M.B., for making light of your pain now, but it was pretty funny and it's been more than a decade now, so I'm sure you can handle it.
Mary Beth, Mary Beth...Love you, woman!