Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Raising a glass to Janice

They think I remember her because she died, but that's not it. I remember her on New Year's Eve for a different reason.

I met Janice through an online writing course nearly 19 years ago. We became friends. She didn't have many; she had a lot of physical ailments and ... let's call them quirks. She didn't bathe enough, she loved cats too much, she talked to herself even when around people, she believed in elves and ghosts and aliens, and she would get too close to people she was talking to. Mostly she was lonely and lived too much in her head. She had been physically and mentally abused by her father, who was dead but deserved to be alive and suffering torments. Her mother was a quiet ghost of a person.

Sometimes I found being her friend difficult when she would wander to strange and dark places I couldn't follow, but let's be honest, I have my own list of quirks. I learned to be her friend on the days when she could let me and to give her distance when she needed it.

She had been ill and was diagnosed with cancer. The pain did a weird thing: it grounded her in this world like nothing else -- no medication -- had ever done before. She was alert, funny, articulate. The voices in her head were finally quiet. 

The cancer ravaged her. She had no money, and the care she received was mostly minimal. I learned my intense dislike and distrust of doctors and hospitals during this time.

One December afternoon, she was particularly sharp and started talking about her life and her parents, what she had hoped for, how life had tricked her at times. I listened as she slowly ran down. She was quiet for a long time and then she said, "Stephen, did you know that I was in Times Square once?"

I didn't, of course. "When?"

"I was there with all those people," she said. "All those laughing, dancing people. I watched the ball drop. The noise ... I was alone." She stopped for a long time. I thought she had fallen asleep, but then she said, "And in all those thousands of people, I turned and saw my old high school boyfriend."

"Wow," I said. "The odds against --"

"He was alone, too," she said. "And he walked over to me, and we kissed for ever and ever."

Her voice sounded weak. She was getting tired. I stood to go.

"And we married and had lots of children," she said. "We live in one of those old Victorian houses in Maryland like in Good Housekeeping. We're very happy." She turned her head and looked at me. And in her eyes, I saw that she wanted me to believe that for her.

"I'm glad," I said, trying my best to not cry and not doing it very well. "You're a lovely couple. Love the kids. Alan is so good in math. And Elizabeth is beautiful."

She nodded, smiled, and went asleep.

If this was a story, she would have passed away then, a gentle going away, but this isn't a story. She lived three months more, and the last two were a nightmare. They couldn't give her enough pain medication. She was either unconscious or writhing in pain. Her mother told me that it was a "blessing" when Janice finally died. I guess that's the word to use.

I kept this story to me. I wrote it in my journal. I think of her, less as the years have passed, but every New Year's Eve, I raise my glass to her and her lovely life with the love of her life. They have lots of children, you know, and live in a beautiful Victorian house in Maryland.

Just because a dream isn't reached doesn't mean it's not beautiful. Even though I know it's not true, I want to believe she's in Maryland, happy finally. It's as much comfort as I can manage at times. The world runs on facts, but we live on belief and hope.

Anyway, my wish for you is that you have a wonderful New Year's Eve, filled with love and laughter and contentment. I hope the whole year holds that for all of us. God bless you and keep you.

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