Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Memories of Friends

Once in a while thoughts of an old friend from various parts of my life will suddenly awaken in my mind. It happened a week ago. I am not always aware of what triggers such a memory, but when it does I reach for my computer.

Sharon Mills and Me--Sunbelt Tournament 1984
I met Sharon Mills in 1983. We became quick friends after becoming members of the UNC Charlotte’s men’s basketball cheerleading team. It was a fun year though not one of my best academically. I was more dedicated to my social life and cheerleading through which fond memories were made: the UNC-C exhibition game against Wake Forest University, the overnight trip to Jacksonville Florida for a game against their university’s team, hanging out with the basketball players--making Sharon and I feel small in the presence of such tall people (I am 5'2" and as you can see in the photo on the left, she was shorter.), performing at the opening of a cheerleading competition at Carowinds amusement park and getting the full experience of the park for free, and of course there were the many hours of practicing our routines.

I am on the end on right. Sharon is beside me.
Eventually we both left cheerleading behind and took a break from college. I moved back home with my parents; she found a job in Charlotte as an assistant manager for an apartment complex on North Sharon Amity Road. Not too many months later, I received a call from Sharon. She was looking for someone to share the expenses of her two-bedroom apartment. I quit my two jobs, bought my first car and headed to Charlotte leaving my childhood home for good. If not for Sharon, the people that have become a part of my life’s adult story would have been so different.

Sharon was patient with me as I began the transition from carefree young adult to a more responsible one. A transition I went through slowly causing me to fail miserably at being the best roommate ever. This was made clear to me on the day she very directly, and somehow tactfully, let me know I was neglecting some necessary cleaning. I vividly remember her placing a toilet brush in my hand, leading me to my bathroom, the one that our guests used too, and asking that I clean the toilet. I never thanked her for that.

We had good times together: creating green faced alien-beings wearing black trash bags for clothing on Halloween, driving places in her new convertible, socializing with friends, waiting on tables together at the Hungry Fisherman, and singing songs by the Eagles. We even ventured into dog ownership. She got a new puppy, and at the same time someone gave me a puppy. That was an exciting time until the day her sweet dog had a seizure. The puppy was taken to the vet but never made it back. Her precious puppy had been exposed to distemper before she brought the puppy home. My puppy on the other hand remained unaffected and became a chewing monster. Not exactly sure how our friendship survived that ordeal, but it did. 

Sharon eventually fell in love, and I went to live with some friends in the neighboring apartment complex. We saw less and less of each other as often happens when one friend falls in love and gets married--relationships change. That is what happened to ours.

In the early 90’s, I heard from Sharon. She was divorcing her husband telling me, “If I can work, take care of our son and handle everything else by myself then why am I married?” We spent some time together going to a few clubs, but it was short-lived because this time I was the one who had fallen in love.

After my twins were born in 1994, my husband and I moved away from Charlotte. Around 1998, maybe 1999, she found me and gave me a call. I caught up on her life—married again and had had another son--and she caught up on mine. At the time, she was moving to a property she owned in the Winston-Salem area. As our conversation came to a close, she gave me the number where she worked so I could call her sometime. The years passed too quickly. I never called her adding to my list of regrets.

As the internet began playing a bigger role in my life, I tried to find Sharon a few times over the years. For whatever reason, I couldn’t. I would google her married name, her maiden name, her husband’s name and found nothing until a week ago. I typed in her maiden name which was Mills and added a new word with it, the city name where she went to high school. Why these were the magic words I don’t know, but there she was, Sharon L. Hutchens. (Hutchens was her married name.) It was her for sure--went to UNC Charlotte, had two sisters, married to Bobby Hutchens and had two children. All the names and places matched. It was her obituary.

She was 45 years old. She died six years ago, and I was just learning about it. Damn.

What made the story worse for me was Sharon had died of breast cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer the same year I was, 2005. From what I can tell, she was metastatic that year. Whether she was ever diagnosed with early stage disease is still unknown to me. She died on Tuesday, December 22, 2009, one month after my recurrence and stage one diagnosis. For a week now, her death has caused me such sadness. Sadness that I didn’t pick up the phone and call her. Sadness I didn’t know she was dying. Sadness I wasn’t there to offer comfort somehow for a disease that often leaves a person feeling alone.

From there it was easy to get more information. Her husband had worked for Tony Stewart of NASCAR fame. Her youngest son was 11 at the time of her death and was involved in racing cars as he is today. Her oldest son was a freshman at North Carolina State University, now a graduate and living in Texas.

In 2006, a friend of Sharon’s, Michelle, created a group to raise money for Susan G. Komen’s NC Triad Race for the Cure. She and her friend were considering names to give the group eventually deciding on the Pit Lizards. For some background information, in case you are unaware of this term like I was, Pit Lizards is a term used for the young women who hang out near the racing pits vying for the attention of their particular flavor of NASCAR driver--akin to the groupies of the music world. Sharon and her friend thought it was a funny name so it stuck. You can find information about the group here. Sharon became an active participant and supporter of this event receiving the Susan G. Komen “Survivor of the Year Award” in 2009.

Because of the internet, I learn things about friends and acquaintances I would never have known. Some of it good and some of it bad. I learned of Sharon’s death adding to the bad, but I also learned some good. I found her boys on Twitter and Facebook. The pictures I saw of them were of their smiling faces--proof that life goes on and happiness comes again despite such profound sadness.

I have been grieving about Sharon’s death and it isn’t lessening. It will in time I know, but I keep thinking how impossible it seems that we both would come to the end our lives with a stage IV diagnosis of breast cancer. All week my mind has been traveling back in time, re-experiencing the experiences and emotions I had while she was in my life. Memories keep us tied together. I am grateful that Sharon is tied to mine.


  1. Dear Lisa -- You have me in tears. Knowing a friend is dying or has passed away is difficult enough... but to find out of the death when you were simply trying to reconnect, breaks my heart. What a gift you were to one another over the years, meant to be friends and to create the beautiful memories you have of her. And, let me say one more thing Little Missy. Seasons do change ... but I'm too old to let seasons strip me of my friendships. YOU ARE MY FRIEND and you are stuck with me forever! xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

    1. Yes. Sandie, you are not hesitant to pick-up the phone or send an email or Facebook message to anyone of your friends whenever the mood hits you. I am always afraid I might bother someone. That is not you. For that I am grateful.

  2. This is so sad. As if you didn't have your plate full of undesirable emotions already....I'm so sorry.
    Maybe she didn't tell you because she didn't want you to worry or be sad for her. Just a theory.
    Your family down here loves you! We want so much to hear good news from you. Later, I'll try to sit down and write you a note to update you on my Lisas cancer journey.
    Good luck. Keep being strong.

    1. Dale, I am grateful for all of your support. Private message coming your way via Facebook.