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December 15, 2003

Telephone

"Hi, it's Chris."

There's silence at the other end, but then it's not like I'm expecting her to say anything.

"I just wanted to let you know that I'm thinking about you. I've been thinking about you a lot these last few days."

The silence continues.

Self-conscious, I begin to stumble. "I'm just hoping you're feeling better. Or at least comfortable. I guess that's maybe a little unlikely. But I hope you're feeling OK. "

No answer.

"I just want you to know that I'm really glad you're in my life... very grateful. Thank you. I love you." I lapse into silence.

There's a rustling sound at the other end, muffled as if by blankets. "Chris?" It's Kim, who's been sitting with her. "Yeah, I'm done. Thanks, Kim." We speak softly for a few moments and hang up.

These things turn around so swiftly. Six weeks ago her email to me was clever, teasing, the person I've known these past few years. Now she lies nearly inert in hospital, fluttering eyelids as friends read Joyce and email and poetry. Weeping at a list of names of her friends, read to her slowly on the phone.

Six weeks ago she was fearful but determined to face the chemotherapy. Complications set in. Now we wait. Kim emailed us, saying if we wanted to say anything to her we'd better call today.

So I called, and - for the first time - told her I loved her. It's been true for a while, and I wish to hell that was enough.

She's been my friend for six years, is it? Maybe five, maybe seven. We'd let months go by, and then send each other two notes a day for weeks on end. She introduced me to Philip Larkin, Corelli. She ridiculed my interest in Philip Glass but allowed as how Arvo Pärt wasn't all bad. She was unfailingly gracious and thoughtful, and kept her temper like a leashed jaguar. Most of our correspondence is lost to computer crashes, periodic binges of housecleaning. I never thought it would matter. I'd post something slightly deft online, and shortly thereafter her chuckling email would drop into my inbox. Trivialities, mainly: pleasant moments in a long year of long days, and they weren't what I missed most when that last crash took all my email. I never thought that would be all I have of her.

That, and the catalog of Usenet posts, the memory of how her voice sounded, and the poetry on her website, one stanza from Tony Harrison above all:

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

a bit later: Dr. Madeleine Judith Cecelia Page died today in Philadelphia, just before 11:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

Posted by Chris Clarke at December 15, 2003 08:10 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

Thanks for sharing this with us, Chris. Peace be with you.

Posted by: jenny at December 15, 2003 09:12 PM
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Tonight ungathered let us leave
This laurel, let this holly stand:
We live within the stranger's land,
And strangely falls our Chistmas-eve.

So many friends have gone before us.

Posted by: dale at December 16, 2003 05:46 AM
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I'm so sorry. You are having a rough week, aren't you? I hope you can take some time for yourself, whether that means spending time with friends or going on a long hike alone. Pax.

Posted by: Rana at December 16, 2003 11:09 AM
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I've been reading your blog for a while, but not posted a comment before. I have tears in my eyes from reading that. Peace to you, from a complete stranger.

Posted by: andy at December 16, 2003 02:45 PM
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Oh, Chris. I'm so sorry.

Posted by: beth at December 16, 2003 06:05 PM
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Chris,
My thought are unclear, a mix of selfish saddness and uncomfortable smiles of days past.


Take care of yourself,
Dina

Posted by: Dina at December 21, 2003 11:00 AM
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