Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Leanne Longcrier: Diamond in the Rough

The news engulfed us, like the fire that consumed her car.  In the early hours of Sunday May 3, 2015, Leanne's car had crossed the median divider and gone off the road.  My first thoughts were of her burning to death as she thought of the two young children she would leave parentless.  Later, when news reports indicated that she had struck two trees before wrapping the car around a third, causing the car to burst into flames, I reasoned that she must have died on impact.

Information came to me in bits over the course of Eden's first birthday party.  First, a message from Lynn:  "Call me if you can."  A few moments later, one from Chris:  "I heard about Leanne.  Wow. :-(" The ominous tone of the messages caused a shudder down my spine, but I convinced myself that they must be benign.  "She finally did it," I thought.  "That prude finally cut loose and she must have got drunk before her shift.  Lynn needs me to come in to work, but I can't."

Then, another message, this time from Shane: "Happy birthday to Eden.  I'm sorry it's such a sad day also." Something was wrong. I urgently Lynn, who must have been fielding a number of urgent phone calls that she wishes she'd never had to take or make.  When she didn't answer, I called Shane. As the phone rang, as Shane answered, as he began to preface the news, I looked at Timothy, sitting on the couch, the only adult in the room, and I knew that he knew that whatever Shane was about to tell me was terribly, horribly bad.

"The car went off the road, and I guess she didn't make it."  The words hung in the air. I looked at the knowing look in Timothy's eyes.

"I have to go."

"Are you okay?"

"I - Yes.  I have to go."  As a matter of formality, Timothy asked "What happened?"

"Leanne's dead."

Over the course of the next couple of hours, with our party guests chattering and munching on the last bits of food, I learned that Leanne's body had been mangled and burned beyond recognition.  Her medical records would need to be obtained the following day to confirm her identity.  Later reports revealed that the police could not even confirm that there were no other occupants in the car, it had been crushed so severely.  Friends told me they had driven by the accident site that morning, unaware that it was Leanne's car that had been split like a banana by the tree, causing them to lift up a prayer that the driver had at least gone quickly.

For three days now Leanne's friends and co-workers from The Wright Place have been wrestling with the news.  The glaring, unspoken lamentation of an outsider looking in might be the tragedy of a woman who was so beautiful having been so disfigured in her death.  The lack of information as to whether alcohol was involved in the accident which occurred at approximately 1:30 AM has caused ignorant speculation as to what kind of mother this dead woman must be.

I'll tell you what kind of mother Leanne Longcrier was.  She was the kind of mother who left at just after 5 AM, five mornings a week, to report to a company where she'd worked for over ten years, because the job provided health benefits to her children.  She is the kind of mother who, two years ago, took on a job working an additional two shifts a week to give her daughter and her son, whose father had passed away when they were both quite young, a good life. If you knew Leanne for ten minutes, you knew that she had two kids, a boy and a girl. If you spoke with her even a minute longer you knew that her son Michael wanted to go into the military, but a part of her hoped he would get over it because she didn't want to lose him, and her daughter Gabi wasn't sure but she maybe wanted to be a lawyer, but in any case, both kids were going to college, because that's why she was working so hard.

Rick and Lynn had to have been slightly out of their minds when they hired her, undoubtedly.  She is the kind of woman who never made sense as a bartender.  She didn't drink, she didn't swear, and the dirty jokes told by the dirty old patrons and the dirty hardened bartenders all went over her head.  She stuck out like a sore thumb around there, just as her absence does today.

"Leanne, you need to do some things for yourself," I would often tell her.  "Your kids are growing up.  They don't need you around as much anymore.  You need to get your own life."  She'd smile and look at me with doe-eyes and it was plain on her face that she disagreed.  How I regret those words now, even while I thank God that on this occasion, she had left her children at home.

For the two years that Leanne worked at The Wright Place, she never quite fit in.  She didn't change, as so many of the bartenders that I've seen come and go over the years, and even as I have.  She was the same woman the last time she walked out of that door as she had been the day she walked in.   I think that's got to be why we all came to love her so much.  I know that's why her death has rattled our community so.  We had all known a lot of somebodies, but we had never met anyone like Leanne, a sparkling jewel among the rough.

Just days before her death, unknowing that we wouldn't see her again, someone summed up her place in the bar: "She can't poor a drink for shit, but you just don't care."  You can find booze just about anywhere.  There was only one Leanne.

A Go Fund Me Account has been established to raise funds for Leanne's burial:

Her children are young, ages 12 and 13, and have requested a traditional casket and burial for their mother. Any funds that can be raised for this burial will enable the family to reserve the funds from Leanne's life insurance policy to be held in trust for the children as they grow up.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From the Iris

"I think it's a weed."

"I think so too," I agreed, scowling as I stared up at the near 6 foot tall stalks growing in my new-to-me garden.  "I'll never be able to get those out of here without leaving a big hole."

"I'll remove them," Marcos assured me, "but first I want to see what happens when they bloom."  There were multiple buds at the top of the stalks, ready to burst.  Sure enough, the next day the scarlet blossoms had emerged to be admired.  I sent a picture to Marcos, who did a google search for the name of the plant.  "They're called hollyhocks," he later informed me.

"And it's a weed?"

"No.  People buy them and grow them.  Those other stalks over there," he said, pointing to another bunch of five stalks at the south end of the yard, "those might even bloom in a different color.  They come in lots of colors."  A week later I was still surprised by the large pink blossoms presented by the hollyhocks.

We've been in our new house for two months now, and surprises in the garden await us at every turn.  It's a veritable paradise in continuous bloom.  The snapdragons, a favorite of mine, have withered away in the dry Bakersfield warmth of April, with a promise to return again when the weather is more favorable.  In their place some of the more drought-resistant, heat tolerant shrubs and plants have begun to flower.  Tufts of lavender grow fuller and more purple every day.  The three bougainvillea climb their trellises, their pink petals reaching for the sun, falling and carpeting the ground to make way for fresh new petals.  A cluster of fortnight lilies have made their appearance.  There are more varieties than I can identify, with new ones cropping up with routine.  Though our grass has struggled with the local watering restrictions, the flowering plants have remained resilient.

With the blooms have come the humbingbirds and the bees, peppering the space around the plants. Hummingbirds hover in the air, saturated by the possibilities. Honeybees and bumblebees dance among the blossoms. I was recently stung for the first time in my life, and Marcos was stung the very same day, leading us both to worry about Eden.  We'll have to instruct her soon that though the garden is beautiful and appealing and even tempting, it presents a certain danger when we're not careful, a lesson I suppose that will require a lifetime of reminders.

Longing for a touch of the yellow house, I bought a couple of irises.  The irises, which first bloomed for me in my third spring at the yellow house, came to symbolize for me a sense of surprise and newness as I found my post-baby loss, post-divorce self.  Their bold purple evoked a hope in me that had been smothered to but an ember among the ashes of the life I've left behind.

My thumbs are anything but green and I don't find much promise in the new irises.  The irises in the yellow house would have bloomed by this point. . . Except that they haven't.  When I make my weekday drive by the yellow house as I take Eden to daycare, I stretch my neck for signs of the irises, but even their proud stalks appear wilted this spring. Perhaps they've left with me.

Maybe my new irises will bloom, and maybe they won't.  I hold out a tentative hope, but have learned that they do best when I just stand back and let them grow as they will.  With or without the irises, all around me a lush Eden grows, bright and fresh and continuously changing, seeking a delicate balance of love and support without overbearing.  The garden is a gift I hadn't anticipated and I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibility.  I know that maintaining its beauty will require a series of trial and error, learning when to plant an a perennial and when to give up on an annual and where the sun hits and when and constant lessons in how to keep the bursts of color reappearing year after year.

Trial and error don't seem like the best ways to manage the care of the gifts that I've been charged with, but they are the tools that I have. While I don't like to be unsure, and I don't like to lack a book to consult for a guaranteed answer, I know that I love the hope that bursts from the promise of the flower's bud.  I love every stage of growing, from the first appearance of the tender green sprout to the stretching of the stalk to the forming of the bud to the unveiling of the petals. Even with its dangers and uncertainty I'm enjoying every day of my Eden with a heart that sprung anew from the iris.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Heartbeat Song

I watched the blank screen with still breath, waiting for the signs of life. 

"There's no sack.  There's no heartbeat."  I looked at Ben with horror, searching him for a different answer, as though he could right this hideous wrong.  "These things just happen."  I recall that the doctor had more to say, but every word was cold, her lack of compassion chilling.  

My first child was gone.  I would never hold him or her, never see his or her face, never even hear his heartbeat, silenced on this earth. 

The absence of that first child remains the greatest absence in my life.  The unanswered questions fill my days and have left me with an ever-present longing.  I suppose it was because of the miscarriage that one of the most vivid memories of my pregnancy with Gabriel continues to be November 8, 2010.  That was the day I went for my first pre-natal visit.  I was surprised that they would be able to pick up a heartbeat then, and the nurse practitioner warned me that at that early stage, I should not be disappointed if they could not.  When the Doppler quickly picked up its sound, and its sound filled the room, the tears spilled uncontrollably from my eyes.  That sound was the answer to a prayer.  That memory could never be taken from me.  Not even anencephaly could rob me of that moment.  When I think of that pregnancy, its ups, its downs, its heartache, my mind always comes back to that day when I heard my son's heart beat for the very first time.

Tears of joy have been forced from my eyes with the sound of Eden's heartbeat too, and last Monday, when I heard a heartbeat for the first time this pregnancy.  There's nothing in this world like that moment.  There is nothing like that sound.

Looking back, I suppose I overreacted when, last Tuesday while at work at the bar, I saw the blood.  My mind flashed back to that day back in May 2010, when the miscaige began.  With barely a word I gathered my purse, murmured to the day shift girl that I had to leave, and walked out of the door.  I'd never done that before and my mind felt conflicted, even as I drove across town with the aching in my abdomen, wondering if I should turn back and finish my shift.  If my fears were being realized again, there was probably nothing that a doctor could do.  But I had to know, and I had to know that night, so I kept driving and checked in at the Urgent Care center where I was immediately triaged, then informed I was likely looking at a three hour wait.

I was joined shortly by Marcos, and together we waited until we were among the last three patients to be called.  My mind knew why - All the doctor could do was check for status, but he couldn't "fix" anything.  Even while my heart pled with God, my brain began preparing for the loss and planning what unpregnant Andrea would do with her weekend, defending me from another hurt that might just shatter me.

We were called back to a room sometime around midnight, and were immediately told by the doctor that in 50% of cases where there is bleeding during the pregnancy, the result is miscarriage.  The odds did not seem to favor me, but even when they have, I have a history of ending up on the wrong side of them anyway.  I began saying my goodbyes to my unborn child.

He did a Doppler scan.  Nothing.

"We'll do an ultrasound."   Marcos and I were led to another, brightly lit room.  I was given a hot sheet by a sympathetic male nurse who said, "I know it's cold."  I thought back to the cold of the room five years ago, and the empty screen, as they seated me for the ultrasound.

The doctor began opening drawers and cabinets.  "I can't find the gel," he muttered, presumably to himself.  "Where's the gel?"  He looked out into the hallway, my anxiety growing with every second, and called, "Where's the gel?"  The male nurse returned and located it for him.  I could feel my body shaking under the hot sheet as he squeezed the warm gel across my belly and applied the ultrasound wand.

Immediately, I could recognized the shape of the tiny baby that I had seen for the first time just the day before.  "We have cardiac activity."  The doctor pointed at the screen at a pulsating blur.  At almost the same time, the tiny stump of an arm moved.  I could see the skull, bright, white, with some dark shading where the baby's soft spot will be until sometime after its born.  My body relaxed with relief, tears falling and sobs coming uncontrollably from my mouth.

The bleeding, never as severe as what I experienced during miscarriage, stopped the following day.  The abdominal cramping, never anything more than what I have experienced with every pregnancy, no longer triggers alarm.  I followed up with my nurse practitioner the following day, and she seems to think everything is fine. At 12 weeks, I have begun to feel the earliest flutterings of fetal movement.  We seem to be over last week's hurdle.  I've told my parents, close friends, a couple of co-workers, but have otherwise wanted to gloss over the moment until now, when I feel safe.

It is one of the earliest signs of life, one of the things that makes us alive.  My heart beat for 28 years but I never had a heartbeat song until the day someone else's heart beat inside of me.  This is my heartbeat song.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

These Dreams. . .

Sean pulls into the back parking lot of Charly's and I hop out of the passenger seat.  I know this can't be happening, but I let myself melt into the moment, fewer and fewer these days.  We walk through the back door, through the short hallway that leads to the bar.  Cheri is standing at the well, pressing a cigarette into an ashtray.  I am taken aback to see her here.  She is short and heavy set, but her smile, always truly dazzling despite yellowed, rotting teeth, is now bright white and symmetrical - perfect.  I think I know what is happening, but it is confirmed when, in the corner of the bar I see Nick, James, Krystal, Amy.  They've all got just one thing in common.

They're all dead.

My hand is clasped in Sean's and he pulls me along to a barstool.  "It's fine.  Just sit down."  His deep voice strikes me, and I nod obediently.  I am confused.  "You need a drink," and again, I nod, and instantly Gabriel is walking across the bar towards me, clasping a beer in both hands.  He is 19.5 inches tall, but he skillfully sets the bottle in front of me and squeezes a lime through the neck, then beams at me proudly, like he's been waiting for years to do this for me.  I finally find my voice.

"What are you doing here?"I demand, and his lower lip quivers, stabbing me with immediate regret for how I've handled this reunion that I've longed for.  "Come sit with Momma."  He slides from the bar to stand on my lap, turns himself around, and sits on me, pulling my arm securely around him.  I stroke his bandaged head and tilt his face up to kiss his forehead and my heart throbs.  I rub his slender arms and legs, my chin resting on his head, and I feel like I can stay this way forever.  This is the closest to whole that I've felt in so long.  

The door opens, and Elliott walks in.  Gabriel leaps from my lap, hoists himself onto the bar, and runs to Cheri, who hands him a drink for Elliott.  Beside me, Sean reminds me of his presence with a nudge. "I'll be right back."  He stands.

"No.  No, don't go.  Stay right here."

"I'm just going to the bathroom."

"Don't go. Please."

"I'll be right back."  He cups my face with his hand.  It all feels so familiar.  I watch him walk away, through the doorway, until he disappears behind the door.  I brace myself for the feeling of helplessness that will soon swallow me.  The sound of the gunshot does not surprise me. but I can still feel it all through me.  I sit, my voice caught in my throat, and scan the barroom for comfort.  Only then do I notice that James, Kim and Krystal are all staring in the same direction, a fresh bullet wound in each of their temples dripping down their necks. Amy is lying with her face on the bar, unconscious, and Nick is reaching for her, a syringe hanging from the crook of his elbow, a tie-off wrapped around his bicep.

I don't want to be here anymore.  I'm not done.  I miss them, I miss them all, but this is not what I thought it was.  This is no Heaven.

I begin to wonder. where are the old people?  Where are my grandparents, or Jack or Sue and the others who died of natural causes after a long full life?  That is what I want.  I don't want to be here.

Then I feel a tug at my sleeve.  I turn.  Gabriel is looking at me with the grey eyes that I have missed every day since he's been gone.  It's my job to care for him, but I'm looking to him to save me.  "Momma, it's Eden."  My mouth drops open.  Tears fill my eyes, spilling onto my cheeks, onto Gabriel's arm still clinging to my sleeve.  I can hear Eden's babbling through the static of the baby monitor.  My eyes remain locked with Gabriel's as I teeter on the edge of consciousness, knowing that I must wake up to tend to my daughter, but reluctant to leave the son I can only hold in my dreams.  He leans in to kiss my wet cheek, and I close my eyes until I can't feel him anymore.

When I wake, the hollow in my heart is visceral and real. Just as I allowed Sean to lead me through my dream, I follow Eden's cues, which prompt me to put one foot in front of the other. I navigate another day in the life of a woman torn between Heaven and here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Closing Doors

It all happened so quickly.  In mid-December Marcos and I met with a loan officer to get pre-approved for a home loan.  By the weekend after Christmas, we were viewing homes.  We'd seen four, and were on our way to the fifth when Marcos said, "We need something to really blow us away."  The four previous homes were as different as they could be, each with their own appeal, each livable, but none of them compelling.  None of them were the kind of homes that made us stop and say, "This is it.  I feel it." Not much for this sort of sentiment, I suspected the day would never come when Marcos would feel that way about a home, but I was confident I would know which house was meant for us when I saw it.

As we walked through the doors of the fifth home that we'd viewed, the feeling flooded me immediately.  I took in the simple entryway, the large living room, the kitchen with its new appliances, still decorated for Christmas with the sellers' own style.  To my left was the staircase, and as I absorbed the whole scene in I imagined, briefly, my 16 year old daughter at the very top, dressed for her first prom.  I saw my future, vividly and hopefully.  As we stood in the washroom before the French doors that hide the appliances I looked at Marcos.  "You never should have brought me here if you couldn't buy me this house."

So began the next two months' whirlwind including an offer, a counter-demand, and an acceptance, followed by the intricate dance involved in closing escrow.  Phone calls with my student loan lenders, letters explaining this and that, all serving as a distraction from what this transition would mean:  Saying good-bye to the yellow house.

I remember the first time I walked into the yellow house that I've been renting for the last four and a half years.  I remember walking through the back door into the kitchen where I met the man who would be my landlord through the many stages of my life that would be packed into the next few years, and introducing myself as Andrea Cude.  I loved the freshly waxed hardwood floors, the simple charm of the bright living room, and the cheerful yellow paint that washed the front of the house.

When we signed our rental agreement, I was secretly housing Gabriel, the child I thought would be my rainbow after the miscarriage a few months prior.  This new location, only three doors down from my parents, felt just right for the changing family circumstances.  I didn't know then how many times I would run three doors down to cry, to mourn the diagnosis that wrecked my world, to ease the emptiness of the house that was supposed to witness my son's childhood.

Within those walls, my child died, my marriage died, and a part of me remains.

Within those walls, hope was renewed, by a positive pregnancy test, first for Eden, then with Rocco Strikes Back.  My faith in love was restored that day in the backyard when I looked up from a book to see Marcos on one knee, asking me to be his wife.

The yellow house had long been so much more to me than just a place I rented and kept my things, and I was conflicted by this change.  I'd brought two children home to the yellow house, and with a third on the way, it was hard to imagine bringing him or her home to anywhere else.  But as we completed our final walk-through of the new house, Eden safely in Marcos' arms, and he stood in front of the vanity in our bathroom and said, "See?  This is where Momma's gonna brush your hair as you grow up," I knew that we'd stepped into our future.

Our last night at the yellow house was bittersweet.  Gideon had to be rushed to the vet's office for surgery, and wouldn't be coming home.  I'd spent my first night in the yellow house with Ben, Gideon, and Gabriel growing in my belly, but my last night there felt very different.  Things have changed.

The new home is beautiful, and everything I would have wanted.  The two weeks since we've moved in have seen their share of challenges.  My dad can no longer come to my house every weekday to pick up Eden for daycare, so now Eden and I must work together to get ready every day.  Gideon is still in the hospital, his healing complicated by a brief homecoming during which the changes overexcited him and caused damage which necessitated his return to the hospital.  All of the nuisances of moving, including packing, address changes, and simply adjusting to a new environment compounded on me.  Already wrought with the emotion of the changes, at some point I just shut down.  I couldn't go back to the yellow house, I couldn't keep packing my things, packing my memories, reducing my son to a box of stuff, and washing away the last four years.  I am so thankful that the man who made me Andrea Lopez took it upon himself to pack up the rest of our things and move them.

Last Friday we said good-bye to the yellow house.  I locked the doors one last time and we dropped our keys in the mail slot for the landlord.  We drove towards our new home.

I still pass the yellow house nearly every day when I take Eden to my parents' house for daycare.  The new house is remarkably silent sometimes, still missing the three-year old feet that should be racing through the halls of the home that Gabriel never lived in.  He is still missing from the dinner table that I share with a man that Gabriel never knew.  I've closed the door on a house, but my love and longing for my son could never be contained.

I miss him.  I miss the yellow house.  I miss Gideon, hospital-bound for two more weeks.  I miss, at times, the life I once had.

But, oh, how sweet this new life is.  Love and Eden and Marcos and I fill our new home.  Zeke and Noelle play happily in their new backyard, that Gideon will love too when he gets to come home.  The walls are still bare and one room waits empty for the arrival of Rocco Part 2. The house is indistinct among the other houses in the track, except that inside it holds the only life that was meant just for me.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

The End of the World

"Congratulations.  Are you having a boy or a girl?"

I took a moment to realize she was talking to me as I stood before a display of baby clothes, trying to decide what my son would wear for his limited time on earth.  The sands were falling through the hourglass as we spoke.  Gabriel's days were already numbered.

Just a couple of months prior, the world had ended.  The world that I knew had burned up and dissolved, leaving in its place a remnant of the earth that was cold and greyed by three words:  "Incompatible with life."  January 31, 2011 was the end of the world.

Didn't she know?  How could she not see?  How was she still functioning as a normal person in this post-apocalyptic nightmare?

All around me, everyone else seemed to be doing the same thing.  They were shopping and laughing and talking on their cell phones, completely unaware that there was no real reason why would should even be surviving.  The sun rose and set every day, traffic stalled, lights turned on and off, but every morning I had to will my feet to leave the bed every day and order them to take every single step.

There are days when life doesn't seem so bad.  Sometimes it even seems pretty good.  But I know that I've simply learned to live among the ashes.

For the last week I've been marathon-viewing season 2 of "Master Chef Junior." As I watched the finale, tears stung the back of my eyes as I watched the 12 year old boy, ultimately the runner-up, who is the kind of boy I imagine my would-be 3 year old son would be like.  Samuel is a pudgy boy with wavy brown hair with a stunning culinary talent.  He spoke with the vocabulary of an old soul and I couldn't help but think that the child Ben and I had created would be much like this little boy. But I would never stand in the rafters of the Master Chef kitchen and watch my son compete for this title.  I would never listen to him argue a pre-trial motion in a mock trial competition.  I would never stand in the lobby of a Los Angeles hotel while he auditioned for American Idol, or sit in the stands when he opened for the Mariners, or watch him receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  I would never even see him ride down the street on the unsteady wheels of his first bicycle.

A world where these things were possible once existed, but it's over, leaving a shell of that world in its place, a world always threatened by the knowledge that everything could come undone in just one day, just one morning, just one doctor's appointment.

I turned to the woman next to me in Target.  "A boy."  She had no idea.  She didn't know.  This was the end of the world.  It ended when I learned that I would have to say good-bye.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Dead Boyfriend Club

I belong to a small, unusual, and undesirable club of women.  I gained entry nearly 10 years ago, when my boyfriend Sean committed suicide, leaving me to wonder all sorts of things, such as how my life might be different if he had not died; would we have stayed together?  What would our break-up be like - It had to have been better than break-up by suicide; even Berger's Post-It note was better than that.  WOuld we have stayed friends?  What is life like for normal people whose 26 year old boyfriends don't shoot themselves?

Having addressed those questions when I was only 23 years old myself, I've lived the last ten years with a simultaneous love for life, weighted by a sadness that is always just sort of present.  I like to think that I love deeper, live bolder, bounce back quicker, and break a little less easily because of that experience.

For years after Sean's death, I felt out of place in just about any crowd.  When Sean died, I remember the way people looked at me when I returned to work at the bar.  They talked to me as though I would shatter with any mention of him, and avoided bringing up his name even to say they were sorry for the loss.  It was easier for them to pretend as though the event never happened, as though Sean's barstool wasn't empty, and as though I'd never seen his lifeless body on the floor of his apartment.  But I couldn't unsee that scene, and I couldn't unfeel what I felt for him, and I was never very good at pretending that his violent, graphic, self-imposed death hadn't left a lasting scar on my soul.

When I returned to law school, looking for work and grateful for every shift that Lynn would give me at the bar, I was surprised to find a new faction of patrons.  I met, one by one, a group of women that had lost their boyfriends or fiancees too.  In my mind I created a bit of an informal club, The Dead Boyfriend Club, and I collected within its membership Natalie, Katrina, and the Amies Montgomery and Hochderfer.  There was something about having the association, whether or not we ever talked about the dearly departed, that helped me to feel less alone.  I felt like less of a freak knowing this freak occurrence had occurred to them as well.

A week ago I was stunned to learn of Amy Montgomery's passing.  Amy, a tiny bit of a woman, had always seemed so much larger than life.  It never really made sense that so much person fit into her tiny body.  She loved deeply, lived boldly, bounced back quickly, and broke a little less easily, much like I had learned to do.  We shared a dark, dry sense of humor, a trademark of someone who's just seen their fair share of dark times.  I'm pretty sure we were the funniest people the other knew.

I know I'm not supposed to talk about the fact that when Amy left Bakersfield, I couldn't wait for her to go.  We'd had a falling out, over something that's none of your fucking business.  I know I'm not supposed to say that when Amy left Bakersfield, she was messy and self-destructive and her death was imminent had she continued on that path and she wouldn't be here today if she hadn't been whisked away to Texas, which is of course, ironic, because she's still not here today.

If I don't talk about that dark time, though, I can't talk about the way she turned herself around.  I can't talk about the beautiful life that she put together for herself when she returned to her hometown of Odessa.  I can't talk about the way I watched her grow and mature.  I can't talk about the way a tiny little girl named Elliott, with curious blue eyes that look just like Amy's, saved Amy's life, and rescued her from herself.

Amy and I reconnected again as only Amy could do - through my dog Gideon's Facebook page.  One day there was a simple message on his profile: "Tell your mommy I miss her."  After a few such messages I dropped my guard a bit and re-opened myself to Amy's friendship, which gave me the pleasure of watching her raise Elliott to be a bright and quirky little girl, just like Amy.

News of Amy's hospitalization spread quickly through the Facebook newsfeed, but even then, I failed to realize how critical the situation was.  Words like "fatal" and "miracle" fell on my deaf ears, my mind certain that Amy and I were going to live to be 100.  And then, an e-mail:  "Amy Montgomery passed away."  Impossible.  Impossible.

Not impossible.

She's been gone a week now, and my mind is still stretching to wrap itself around the fact.  I didn't have words to capture my disbelief, or my grief.  I still don't.  All I have is this story of the ups and the downs and the dark and the light and the crazy, tragic, beautiful parts of this thing that we call life.

It was a good life, Amy Montgomery.