Friday, January 08, 2016

Showing Up

If he hadn't been late to pick me up from work, I wouldn't have walked through the field. I wouldn't have seen the Dandelions and I wouldn't have thought about wishes. He was late though, and I did walk through the field and I did think about wishes. I plucked a full white puff from the ground, made a wish and blew with all my might to be sure the wish came true. 

The wish I made was a simple one, and not for me. It was a wish for Jessie, that she was doing well at that moment, and happy, at peace. That's what I wanted, doing well, happy, at peace. 

He was all apologies when I got into the car. Not a problem, I told him, it was a nice walk and I made a wish for Jessie. I reached for my phone to call her. No answer. I called her cell phone. No answer. Perhaps, I thought, she's in the bathroom. I heard the whisper from the wind; she always has her cell phone with her. In a sock, with her cash, pinned to her bra. 

Sadly, and regretfully, I did not pay attention to that whisper. 

Jessie's biggest fear was that she would fall and be unable to get up. It happened before. She'd call me, 911, a neighbor. We'd get her up. She had a caregiver, provided by her insurance, but the caregivers -- all of them -- were for the most part without any use to her. They did not cook, didn't clean very well, occasionally stole from her, didn't show up or showed up late without calling. Jessie would get to know and like the individual, would help with bus money or groceries when needed, but would sadly realize she was being taken advantage of and call the Nursing company to request a different caregiver. Another equally desperate but uninterested one would show up in a week or so. The Nursing company knew me all too well. I'd call, complain, explain, take numbers, get promises and then dammit I'd have to call again because nothing would change. 

Her daughter and I had fought before. What was best for Jessie had to be what was most convenient for her daughter. It was never in Jessie's best interest. Many a facility, nurse, insurance agent got familiar with me, as Jessie would say "please talk to my real daughter." I fought and negotiated on her behalf. Her daughter was always too busy. 

The problem was that Jessie's daughter was angry.  Her daughter was angry that she was adopted by a "maid." Her daughter was ashamed of Jessie. I was proud of Jessie and her daughter was not. We were, to the word, at odds. I loved Jessie; her daughter resented. I bought for Jessie, her daughter stole. I gave, her daughter took. 

Her daughter broke her heart. I loved her heart. 

When her daughter called the next morning, she was matter of fact. She "just" wanted me to know that Jessie died that morning. The caregiver found her.  

Heartbroken as I was, I didn't believe her daughter for a minute. I knew then as I know now in my heart that Jessie died the day before. The day she did not answer the phone. The day when, again, a caregiver did not show up. 

I went to her house that afternoon, as soon as I could compose myself and drive there. The house was full, her daughter holding court seemingly drinking the attention, dry eyed and laughing. The caregiver came in, they hugged, and she said that Jessie was fine when she had seen her Monday night, but this morning, she found her in the bathroom slumped over. This morning was Wednesday. That caregiver never showed up for work on Tuesday. I gave her a look of pain, anger and knowing better. I locked eyes with her and quieted her. But I bit my tongue. 

My lifelong friend died alone with her biggest fear, that of falling. Because someone did not take their job seriously enough to show up. I cut through their laughter and I said goodbye. Jessie's daughter said she had something for me and left the room. She returned and handed me a watch, said that Jessie was wearing it when she died. She said Jessie had always had it and was sure that she would want me to have something. The watch was a Timex Day Glo that my friend had given Jessie a few months beforehand. 

I spoke at Jessie's funeral service. She was there before me in a beautiful pink casket. I held hands with and cried with her sister, brothers, fellow church goers, auxillary group, nuns, friends and cousins, Aunts, nieces, nephews. All of them spoke of Jessie's love for me, of our friendship. I quietly tucked into her casket, under her right arm, a gold rose that my father had given me years ago and a silver earring with my grandmother's initials engraved. My grandmother adored Jessie and the feeling was mutual. My father and Jessie had the same heart. It was fitting, if not exactly orthodox. 

Standing at the podium, above Jessie's earthly body, with broken heart, shaking hands and steady voice, I read Maya Angelou's poem, "When Great Trees Fall." 

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

When great trees fall

in forests,

small things recoil into silence,

their senses

eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,


gnaws on kind words


promised walks

never taken.

Great souls die and

our reality, bound to

them, takes leave of us.

Our souls,

dependent upon their


now shrink, wizened.

Our minds, formed

and informed by their

fall away.

We are not so much maddened

as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
dark, cold


And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill

with a kind of

soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.
When I finished, I took a deep breath. And the people there applauded. The words reached them and they clapped and stood and rejoiced! They knew me and they knew our love, my sweet Jessie and me. I was hugged and kissed and asked to send those words to this one and that one. 
I felt that I did Jessie right that day. I loved her sister and her brothers, I cried with the best of them. I followed the hearse to the gravesite and was pulled to the front row by her sister. I dropped roses on her casket and I sadly, desperately, said goodbye. 
I stayed there at her grave because I had nowhere to go without her. I stayed and cried and then I walked away. But I keep my dear friend right in my heart, where she has always been. 

Wednesday, January 06, 2016


I can't write unless or, I don't know, until my head listens to itself or my heart or the subtle scratching at the door that says to line up my words and march them through my fingers and out into the fresh air. When I don't write it's as if I'm sitting a child in the corner and ignoring her completely. For days, weeks, or in this case over a year. Poor ignored child sitting in the corner. Let's get her out, shall we?