Saturday, October 01, 2005

My friend Lea

My friend Lea died one year ago today. Last year it was a Friday. The Tuesday before we had eaten lunch with her, and that afternoon she had a stroke. My boss and I went to the hospital and we saw her wheeled through a corridor - she looked pale and withered, it was such a grim and unforgettable sight. That night I went to my boss' house and helped her kids with their homework while she made dinner, and then I walked home in the rain and wept in the dark. Nothing really changed over the next few days - Lea did not regain consciousness and it kept raining. They said that even if she did wake up, she had lost her language skills. This, for a woman who had been a professor of English and a poet. She thrived on words, on grammar, on the fine points of our language, like no one else.

On friday morning I came in late to work, because I had to pick up a tuxedo for a big banquet that night (a banquet to which Lea had dedicated a great deal of time and effort). I breezed into the office, tux in hand, and went back to my office. Tara came in and told me I should sit down. I said no, immediately knowing why she wanted me to sit and also being irritated that she was being so stereotypical. "Just tell me," I said as I reached up to hang the tuxedo. She told me Lea had died that morning, and I dropped the tux and it crumpled into a pile on the floor. I squatted down there and stayed for a minute and then hugged Tara. "It's ok to cry," she said. "I know," I said. She was talking like a Hallmark card.

I went to see my boss who had to keep doing banquet planning, even though she was devastated, and we couldn't even talk about anything. We just had to keep moving forward. That day I wept in my office a bit but that was all. And that day it stopped raining for the first time all week, since she had slipped into wherever she was.

That night, after the banquet, after everything, I walked home with my tux in a bag and cried as I walked. L came down and took care of me that night, and I felt utterly broken and defenseless. I slept in her arms and I woke up at some point and we made love, and oddly enough I thought of Lea at the time and felt that it was good - this was the most alive I could be, and I wanted to honor Lea's memory by living.

I think of her all the time still, and we kept Lea's spirit with us through the rest of the year. I dreamt of her once and felt such a sense of peace when I woke up. I was able to say goodbye and speak to her - in the dream I was an inconsolable mess, and she was calm and friendly, warm, vibrant, happy. It was the goodbye I wanted.

So now it's been a year. The weirdest thing, maybe the saddest thing (certainly the dumbest), is that for her memorial, someone forgot to proofread the program. Instead of noting the date of her death October 1, 2004, it was listed as October 1, 2005. And now here we are. One year later and: I remember her voice, I remember her friendship and gentleness, I remember the sense of unfairness at her sudden departure. She walked a rough road - mistreated by men, ravaged by illness, aged before her time. But she was a kindred spirit to me in some ways - a reader, a lover of the Delaware shore, a woman who embraced the city as her adoptive home. I think of her a lot and maybe that's only because death places those we miss in high relief, but she was a friend to me and she knew a lot about me.

The summer before she died, Lea sent me and my boss a postcard from Cape Henlopen, where she and her sisters had gone for vacation. It read:

Hello Lavinia and Michael,

We are camping about a mile from this breakwater. Gorgeous days, great campfire meals, star studded evenings. We are in paradise. Michael, I've been collecting info for you on the young and hip life around here.

I may never return, so carry on! Going for a swim now.

Ciao, Lea

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