I just never know where my dreams will take me.
Literally or figuratively.
The car was stuffy and unseasonably hot for spring, and somehow this was all Margaery’s fault.
From the backseat I could hear the gentle tinkle of a tiny glass jar colliding with something, probably a forgotten ceramic coffee cup tossed aside in a fit of morning madness.
The low-level buzzing noises, which had almost subsided into something that could be ignored, escalated into an indignant rage.
Was the lid secure? Was it really?
I grit my teeth and began rehearsing in my head all things I would tell Margaery upon my arrival, with relish and a great deal of choice curse words.
A week ago, I had received a thick envelope in the mail.
Margaery was getting married.
Never mind that I wasn’t married or about to be any time soon. Margaery was always the one who neatly paired off her Barbies two by two–first with Ken dolls, then super hero “action figures,” and finally settling with the Amazon Wonder Woman as the ultimate match.
Sweet, silly, dreamy Margaery.
No one was quite sure what exactly was going on, but we had each received an ornate invitation with Margaery’s distinctly beautiful calligraphy looping over the thick creamy paper:
Come one, come all.
It is happening.
The strange thing was that none of us knew who he was.
With Margaery, it could be either one.
There was also a unique set of requests attached to each card.
Nonny was asked to bring a vase of marigolds.
Jacqui was asked to bring a bag of fresh lemons.
Zeke was asked to bring a roll of yellow ribbon.
I got bees.
Ever since I stepped on a bumblebee hidden in the grass at the age of three, I have been afraid of any kind of insect that stings. Any? Let’s just say all bugs. If it whirs or flies, whether it’s spreading Ebola or simply something commonplace like salmonella, I hates it.
I stared at Margaery’s invitation for a long time, turning it this way and that, trying to find a hidden meaning that was not asking me to overcome my deepest, darkest fear.
But there was none, and the old-fashioned script was quite clear: Please bring the bees.
The meticulous instructions directed me to the San Francisco National Cemetery. Goosebumps shivered over my arms.
I was now fairly certain that a wedding was not what we had been invited to attend.
We met Margaery at the gate, and she waved off all our noisome questions by simply strolling away with a smile on her face. Having come this far, we followed her, grumpy and uncomfortably unprepared for this twist in an already exhaustingly strange day.
“You’re not getting married?” Jacqui asked, direct as usual. She was hot and had that cranky, itching for an argument look on her face.
“Well, I’m dying,” Margaery replied serenly. “That’s a marriage, of sorts. Depends on how you look at it.”
That shut everyone up.
“Why aren’t we out having a drink?” Zeke asked. To me, this sounded like the most reasonable request I’d heard all day. There were a thousand lovely pubs to visit in the city.
“Oh, there’s a grand shindig planned at my place,” Margaery replied. Everyone sighed with relief, shoulders loosening with that heretofore hidden tension.
“Why are we here?” Nonny asked, gently. She was truly the kindest of all of us.
“To set you free,” Margaery said with a laugh, spreading her hands wide.
I was not amused.
I was free enough.
I had things to do.
And if this was a joke, I was revving to desecrate this sacred place with a blue blaze of choice profanity.
Then Margaery told us about the cancer, as we strolled between the headstones, and we all went cold under the warm California sun. The cancer that had metastasized and spread all blackly unknowing into every cell.
It was too late, too late for any procedures or chemo or miracle drugs. I looked closer at Margaery, noting the soft thinness of her skin, the fragile bones of her wrist. Her fashionably high cheek bones suddenly seemed stark, gaunt even.
I had known Margaery ever since her parents moved in down the street and she accidentally stole my bike. When she discovered that we had the exact same model, down to identical scuffs near the kickstand, she blushingly apologized and offered me her whole allowance that she has been saving for a bike basket.
Instead, we went together and picked out a basket for each of us.
Mine had white daisies.
Hers had pink carnations
And that was that.
Friends, forever–through elementary and then middle and high school, through braces and the occasional boyfriend and cliques and clubs we never quite fit into. We met Nonny at our freshman dorm in college, and Jacqui and Zeke followed in philosophy classes.
We were all we needed, through Nonny’s fairytale marriage and nightmarish divorce, Jacqui’s hard fought climb to a partnership at her job… Zeke and I were rather underachievers. I still felt I could change the world through public education, and Zeke simply never left his house, wrangling code from home for some big corporations that kept him happily supplied with meal delivery and lattes.
As we sat around my best friend’s future grave site, we talked about things we had let lie too long between us.
About how work doesn’t measure happiness. Jacqui went first, making a small pyramid with the lemons where the headstone would go.
About hidden love, the kind none of our parents would approve of. And Zeke unspooled the ribbon and looped it around the lemons, tying the ends into a bow.
About how hiding from the world after a deep hurt doesn’t heal the damage. Nonny arranged the marigolds artfully amidst the beribboned yellow fruit.
And, finally, how much fear holds us back. I looked at the now sleepy bumblebees, trapped in the glass jar. I had seriously considered skipping this entire event, solely due to this last strange request. With a sigh I put the jar with Margaery’s other symbolic offerings, then looked back over my shoulder at all of them, my closest friends
“You don’t seriously think I’m opening that, do you?” I asked. They all laughed, and Nonny stood up, then Zeke and Jacqui and finally Margaery. We grouped into a warm awkward hug with too many arms and someone’s skinny hip digging into my plush middle and all of our hearts in the right place.
As we left the cemetery, I caught sight of a groundskeeper. I told him about the jar of bees and asked him if he would take care of them. He nodded, entirely complacent. In San Francisco, it was probably not the strangest thing he had ever heard or seen.
Margaery had set us all free today, with her kindness and introspection, bringing us together to remember who we are. No one should remain imprisoned after that.
Not even bees.