My friend Barb died last week.
She was a fencing friend—one of those people from the opposite coast who I saw only at national tournaments. She was also one of the people who taught me how to run tournaments in the first place. In recent years, though, due both to her illness and the fact that we were both most often hired to chair, we didn’t work the same tournaments all that often, so I didn’t see her nearly as much as I’d have liked to.
Barb was a New Jersey girl through and through—you could hear it as soon as she opened her mouth. She was funny and generous and ferociously competent, and never someone you could mess with. But boy, could she mess with you.
A few years back when we were co-chairs (along with Tanya, I think) for a Summer Nationals, she got me good. She’d known for years that one of the major reasons I started working bout committee was that I couldn’t tolerate watching my kids fence—the suspense and the fact that I couldn’t do a damn thing to help them in their bouts made the experience far too stomach-churning for my taste. Working BC I could keep track of how they were doing without that close-up attention that was so nerve-wracking.
So there I was, up on the BC stage working on something or other, and Barb suddenly said, “Mary, turn around—you’ve got to see this!” I turned around, and there was Christie, fencing on the strip smack in front of the BC. “NOOOOOOO!!!!” I said. “I don’t WANT to see her fence!” But once I knew she was there, I couldn’t not watch. I don’t even remember what event it was or how Christie did that day, but I’ll never forget the evil glee Barb took in having arranged for Christie’s bout to be right there where I couldn’t miss seeing it.
I keep thinking now of a couple of years ago, when I was brought in to be “emergency back-up co-chair” for the Junior Olympics. Barb’s mom had died the Friday before JOs, and nobody knew for sure whether she’d be able to make it to JOs or be able to handle it once she got there.
She came, of course, and handled things with aplomb. When people kept wondering how she could even consider being there under those circumstances, she just said, “Mom would have killed me if I didn’t come just because she died.”
I can almost hear her now, laying into any of us who might—even briefly—consider dropping something we’d meant to do because we were grieving for her.
She made it hard for us, though. Wherever Barb was, she was always fully present—it was impossible to be unaware that she was around. And that was a great and good thing.
It will be impossible to be unaware that she’s not there anymore.