We parted ways in 1991, to go to our respective graduate schools, planning to keep in touch. She headed off to medical school in South Carolina with her cats, Oscar and Keisha, and a Golden Retriever, Bacardi, who had been the beloved pet of a friend of mine who died of HIV in 1988. She had taken him in when I could not. In turn, I had taken in Tiffy, the kitty she couldn't afford to risk keeping because of cardiac problems (the problems were real but Tiffy lived to be 21 years old, so there, you EKG machine you, so there.) I visited Cindy in Columbia over a long weekend in the spring of 1992. She was stressed and agitated, but we hung out with her med school roommates, swilled down massive amounts of coffee and browsed in book and antique stores. That spring I had a setback with my health and returned from Texas to Miami, to restart my PhD. I was pretty shaken by the interruption of all my plans. I'd been very ill with severe allergies, battling unexplained giant hives and cold urticaria and then pneumonia due to immunosuppressing steroid treatments. But I came back to Miami, charged full ahead in an environment in which I'd been healthy, and resumed working on my PhD, trying not to be too downtrodden.
Her brief note was a statement to her family that I was the only person she trusted to take care of her pets. In the weeks that followed, I understood why she'd left a stern note. Though I knew her father to be a rather irascible man, her siblings were something of an unknown quantity to me. They proceeded to tell me every bad thing they could about Cindy. That she was a liar and had borderline personality disorder and that she was a nut job and it was so selfish and it was so typical that she'd done this to them. They were glad I was taking the pets so they didn't have to deal with that on top of everything else. My poor friend. Her broken, unhappy life, finally gone and yet still being ripped apart. I wanted to remember the wonderful woman I met on the stairs in 1988. But all they did was rage on. I heard all of it as I helped them go through her things, as I found good homes for her pets, especially for poor Bacardi, who had lost a second owner. But during those weeks and hours that I helped them with her things, I kept living in that moment of discovery, that awful moment, in her room. I don't think I'll ever be able to forget that moment. The image, the scent, the sound. Ah... the sound...
Through the open bedroom window, I could see, could hear, a glass wind chime tinkling in the still brisk wind. It was one of those Chinese ones, with the painted glass. Very reminiscent of the one my grandparents had. For years afterward, I would hear chimes like that and smell death, or at least relive the moment of smelling death. I used to love those chimes. They were like shattered glass in that moment.
It's taken almost fifteen years to get a glass wind chime, the one you see above, which is called "Ice". Of course, I haven't hung it yet. (That's why you get sound from someone else's chimes.) But I am reclaiming glass wind chimes. I need them in my life. They remind me of my grandmother and grandfather and Jeteye and the cats and those languorous afternoons long ago, in spite of all odds. Well, after much reconsideration, let's say. They were a sound of deep comfort in my memory.
Maybe I need comfort, because in the most bizarre way, history is pretty much repeating itself, in a fashion so eerie, it's déjà vu all over again. Because what are the odds that another friend I met in the same year, 1988, at the same university, in another class, would also have lost her mother, been committed for three years as a teenager for her willfulness, damaged horribly, have a strained relationship with her father, brother and sister, have a nervous breakdown in graduate school a year ago, and now be on the brink of the same choices as was Cindy? Only my family and Les Comtesses have heard this sad story because it is just so achingly painful. My friend is so private. There will be no names that sound like her name. No greater detail provided. But here I sit, writing this at 4 am in the morning, sleepless, wondering if any day now, when I go by her tiny efficiency, if this is going to be the time. Her kitty seems to be her sole reason for continuing with her life and I'm constantly talking her out of putting her cat, who is old but otherwise just fine, to sleep. Every day I talk to her, it's about why she should just take one day at a time.
I like to think I'm doing better this time, both with her and with how I'm feeling about the whole thing as a very real and painful sort of déjà vu. I like to think it's not going to end the same way. But as time moves on, less and less of my beautiful friend is there. It's like a lathe is stripping away layer after layer of the person I've known for so long now. She is barely recognizable as the beautiful young woman I met in 1988, who had such brio. But it's more than just that. Tonight when I got there and called out her name, through her open windows, she started awake and said weakly, "The door's unlocked. Just come in."
I froze for a moment, with my hand on another aluminum door knob, twisting, twisting open.
Well, this time, the chimes are mine.