Our fights were rarely over anything serious, but a result of taking ourselves too seriously. I recall one time in particular that was silly. We were on our way out of your apartment with friends to go to a favorite restaurant on Union Street. You were leading the group and I was holding up the rear.
One moment I could see you and the next you were missing in action. You must have stumbled on a step, but from my vantage point it looked like a trap door in the floor had opened and gobbled you up, and I laughed.
You didn’t see the humor perhaps because you hadn’t seen it from my vantage point. You were furious with me for laughing when you could have hurt yourself, and as hard as I tried not to laugh, I couldn’t stop. Your feelings were hurt and you refused to speak to me throughout dinner.
When we got back to your apartment and our friends departed, you went to your bedroom, locked the door, and went to bed. I pleaded with you from the other side of the door, but every time I tried to be serious and apologize to you, I saw you on the stairs, vanish as if by magic, and I giggled.
I slept on your couch that night and by morning I was able to keep my composure and apologize.
What is interesting to me about that fight and why I’m sure I remember it, is that we both acted out of character that night. It was you who rarely took herself too seriously and me who couldn’t stand to be laughed at. Stella always said it was the contradiction that made a character believable.
On another occasion, you were on my case about something and I said, “You suffer fools gladly,” and I paused for effect. “Unless I’m the fool.”
You nodded and asked, “Do you want to be a fool I suffer or the one I don’t?”
You were a pip, Catherine, and I miss the hell out of you, and I worry that you might be feeling well rid of me because you fell in love with my can-do attitude and my resilience, and I’m lacking both now—
Oh, wow, is that you?
Sitting here just now, writing to you, I felt your presence. I had put my pen down and was staring at your crystal that sits on the desk, sparkling in the shaft of morning sunlight coming through the window. And suddenly, I felt you standing behind me and I turned around, expecting to see you.
You believed the white quartz crystal had the power to heal you. I wanted to believe that also, but I had read too much on stage IV ovarian cancer.
Still, I tell myself often, every time I look at the crystal, that perhaps it hasn’t failed you. You are alive. I just can’t see you.
I catch myself looking for you and listening for you, and then I remember you are not in the next room. I saw them put you in the blue body bag and carry you down the stairs. And once I am over that shocking reminder, I return to the feeling you are in the next room and I tell myself your spirit is there.
I have managed for six weeks to hang onto the belief that the spirit you are lives on, and not just somewhere, but here, standing behind me moments ago. And then I begin to worry that I’m deluding myself. The truth is Catherine, I don’t know what or where you are.
I look at your crystal and remember the night you thought you’d lost it, and I feel our desperation again. You were sure that if you didn’t find the crystal, you were not going to survive the cancer.
We had gone to the park after your chemo treatment to put a pleasant ending on a difficult day. We laid a blanket down on the hard ground and had a picnic under a large maple and walked along the path circling the pond. When you tired we shook out our blanket and walked to the car. You didn’t realize until we got home that the crystal you kept in your pocket at all times wasn’t there.
You insisted I not drive back to Pittsfield to look for it. The sun was setting and there was no hope of finding it in the dark.
So, two weeks later, after your next chemo treatment, we returned to the park and were dismayed to see the trees nearly bare. Their leaves covered the ground, hugged the trees’ dark trunks, buried the pebbles on the path to the pond, and were floating on the pond.
A few leaves fell onto our shoulders as we stood forlorn under the tree where we had our picnic. You said we would never find the crystal, but you were the first to begin the search. You headed for the path around the pond while I stayed to search the area where we thought we had spread our blanket.
I followed you with my eyes as you headed away from me, your shoulders rounded and your head bent, taking slow steps as you searched the ground.
And I closed my eyes and spoke to the invisibles saying, I can’t do this without your help.
Minutes passed and I waited. I stood perfectly still, waiting as I do for words when I write.
After a while I felt a nudge on my back as gentle as the wind in my hair. I took a step and then another and another and another until I was more than twenty yards down from the tree.
I stopped when my legs felt heavy, knelt down, and cut through the carpet of leaves with my hand to the damp ground. Something hard and cold lay there. I wrapped my fingers around the crystal and raised my arm to wave to you and holler, “I’ve got it!
Many years earlier, living in Columbus, Ohio, Allyson was biking home from campus after work and her work keys fell from the basket on her bike. She was the first office manager of The Leadership Foundation without a college degree and knew she was on probation, so when she unpacked the basket and saw the keys were missing she panicked. Five miles of road was too much ground for us to cover at sunset. We went to bed.
In a dream I had before dawn, I saw the keys under the ground cover at the corner of a yellow stucco house on King Street. I woke suddenly from the dream, threw on my jeans, and jumped on my bike. Several miles from home, I found the house with the pachysandra along the walk. I jumped off my bike, letting it fall to the ground, and reached down into the leafy plant.
I don’t think I ever told you about that, and it seems odd of me that I didn’t tell you the day I found your crystal unless I didn’t want to spoil our moment with a story about another.
What did you never tell me, Catherine? What did you forget to say or thought you couldn’t say? What don’t I know about you that was too personal or painful or perhaps too difficult for me to hear?