There’s a girl I knew, in the strange way of the Internet. Named for a flower, she is the daughter of a man I met on a defunct writing site…a man I know only virtually, so his daughter is twice-removed from my reality, but that didn’t stop me from standing vigil from three thousand miles away as the tumors took over and the life slipped breath by faint breath away. It didn’t stop me from weeping when her grief-stricken father typed out the words that made it final and real. It hasn’t stopped me from missing her, the knowledge of her extraordinary presence in the world she tried, with nearly every breath she took, to make a better place for all.
Spectacularly tattooed and impossibly light-eyed, she was an impish, smiling, red-haired wonder of a woman who died at 42, which is no longer a girl but something of the girl was still there, was always there, grinning sideways-crooked out from pictures that captured her only elusively. As a child, apple-cheeked, she modeled for American Girl ads, and yes she was that, but she was also a newsboy-cap wearing gypsy, a unicorn on the subway, a warrior sprite in flight…a heart-of-gold girl with a strange magic sprinkled over her, perhaps by her father, a man who, in narrating her death, wielded a pen like the Angel Gabriel is said to have wielded a sword, spilling forth truth and beauty with such a terrible light you had to avert your eyes.
There is a photo from her hospice bed, her wedding, her right hand clasped by her betrothed as they say their vows, her upraised left hand like a frail white dove faltering for the sky. It is a picture of quixotic hope in the face of despair, of love snatched from the wilderness.
I get afraid, that is my biggest battle, she wrote, just before the end. Then added – perhaps only to soothe our helplessness, give respite to the loved ones looking on (because that was her way) – But I am not afraid today.
She went quietly but not gently. There was pain, the inability to communicate. Surrounded by loved ones, she died alone, as we all will.
As I write this, late afternoon sunlight slants into the window. Outside in the garden, crickets chirp, reminding me of the lines in Charlotte’s Web, that introduction to mortality for children written by E.B. White…..words that clanged in my child’s heart, somehow making me realize only halfway through the book how the story would end, that death was coming, was in fact unavoidable.
The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last for ever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.
I remember wondering what the crickets could be saying; I was disappointed that, in a book about talking animals and spiders, the author didn’t see fit to share this. But now I know. Hold on, they are singing. Hold on to the ones you love, for as long as you can.