Today is my friend’s birthday, but I can’t wish her well because she’s not here. This makes me sad, but the saddest thing of all is that she died of breast cancer before she turned 30 years old.
She would be 43 today. Normally I wouldn’t announce a woman’s age, but it’s not like she can yell at me for it.
Some of you may remember I wrote about her earlier this year this when I finally gathered the nerve to attend a Relay for Life event for the first time. That might sound odd, but Tina Simonet’s death and Relay for Life were in some strange way tied together for me, and it took years before I was willing to cowboy up and participate.
I wrote in June about the day Tina called to tell me her cancer had returned. It was, in usual Tina fashion, a silly story involving roller blades, a Connecticut lawn and a big hill. And the discovery of liters of cancerous fluid around her lungs after two years of being cancer-free.
Some people will tell you where they were when Kennedy was assassinated, when Reagan was shot, when the twin towers fell…I can tell you I was in my basement sorting laundry (why is it always about laundry?) and tossing tiny people jeans in the washer when Tina called.
Because a birthday should be a happy day, I have to tell a fun story about Tina. I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for the last 20 minutes trying to decide which one to tell. It’s tough decision — there are quite a few. After all, our moms tossed us in the same playpen when we were babies, so she was a huge part of my growing-up years.
OK, I’ll tell you about something Tina could not do, and that was tell a joke. She always managed to mess up or forget the punch line. It always struck me as funny that she grew up to be a morning drive disc jockey on Top 40 radio stations. When we would talk on the phone, she would ask me to tell her jokes she could use. Most of them she had me write down and put in the mail.
One day when we were both in elementary school (we went to different schools until high school), she and her mom stopped over and she was all giggly about a joke she had heard. The moms went off to do boring mom stuff, like talk about Tupperware and vacuums (hey, who really knew what moms did back then) and Tina and I headed up to my room.
“I’ve got a great joke for you!” she said.
I sighed. I knew where this was going. She’d get me all caught up in a long story, I’d wait in anticipation, then she’d get to the last part and pause to think about it. Soon, she’d mumble a few words under her breath trying to practice it, then blurt out a word or two, stop, try again and finally paraphrase the punch line in a way that had most people staring at her with a confused look on their face.
“Tina, you can’t tell a joke,” I reminded her. Less than tactful, but hey, she was my good friend and we were 11.
“No, I got this one,” she said. “I even practiced on the way over and mom liked it. She laughed.”
“She had to laugh,” I stated. “It’s a mom rule.”
Nothing would dissuade her from the joke, so she launched into a story…
The little people named Trids lived at the bottom of a hill. Each day, they would try to climb the hill to the well at the top, and a big troll would pop up and give them a kick. The sad and thirsty little Trids would roll down the bottom, dejected.
One day, they decided to ask a Rabbi from a nearby town for help. The Rabbi willingly walked up and down the hill, and was never approached by a troll. He reported to the Trids that the troll had obviously moved on and they could now reach the well. Exited, the Trids all grabbed buckets and headed up the hill toward the well. The troll popped out from nowhere, and whap, whap, whap, kicked the Trids down the hill.
The Rabbi watched in puzzlement, then approached the troll.
“Why did you always kick them, but you didn’t kick me?” he asked.
“Silly Rabbi,” the troll replied. “Kicks are for Trids.”
Yep, it’s a groaner, and you have to know your breakfast cereal characters, but Tina was thrilled she could remember the punch line. She didn’t just deliver it, she shouted it triumphantly. For some reason, I remember her fixation at the time with how unfair it was that nobody would let the dumb rabbit have any of their breakfast cereal. That is probably why she remembered the joke.
My daughter delivered the punch line almost the exact same way when she was in second grade. I obeyed the mom rule and laughed. Then called Tina, who obeyed the friend-with-kids rule and laughed along with me.
Tina admitted to me a few years later that she had tried to use the joke on the air, but had forgotten the punch line. I laughed even harder. Damn, but I miss her.
I’m not sure why this has never occurred to be, but it strikes me as appropriate that Tina’s birthday falls during Breast Cancer Awareness month. Ladies, remember to do self-exams. Gentlemen, remind your ladies to do so. When you see the little pink ribbon on products and merchandise, give a little toward breast cancer research.
And anyone who gets the chance, do my friend Tina the honor of telling a kid the dumb Trid joke.