I pulled this out of my journals. We had to say goodbye to our beloved dog, today. And this prose reminded me of another place and time. I imagine our dog with many friends and family now, including dear Catherine.
A week before I met Catherine and was greeted by her four little ones—their faces a blush and small mouths encircled with remnants of the faded pink of popsicles—I’d dreamt of a dark-haired lady guiding me from one room to the next of a colonial-style home. There we had walked together, with the glee-filled echoes of children’s giggles fluting down the staircase.
In real life, I would meet Catherine a week after my dream, during my last years of college, and find her house to be much the same as my vision, with the elements of joy and laughter spread out evenly throughout her dwelling like mortar across brick.
I lived my time under Catherine’s roof as a summertime nanny, arriving in the morning and returning home to my father’s after suppertime. It was strong, where Catherine lived, unbreakable in most ways. But nonetheless a house embellished with slight hints of life’s imperfections; just enough of the ordinary everyday hassles, such as minor quibbles and forgotten appointments, for the common visitor to feel at home. The house was always a buzz, with children and parents busying themselves with hobbies and responsibilities. As it was, there didn’t appear to be a single space in Catherine’s house that wasn’t occupied with life. Even a colony of honeybees had once attempted to live out their days between the master’s bedroom walls. I’d been there, with Catherine, to hear the echoing of a thousand buzzes through the aged plaster.
That was one of the many days we’d laugh in astonishment together over the oddities of life. We shared a certain connection, the two of us, as our meeting wasn’t by chance but preordained—while I’d had my dream, Catherine had been told, in an answer to prayer, that a kind and good young woman was coming to take care of her children. Because of our shared faith in God, and various other commonalities, through the years Catherine and I became fond friends, a relationship liken to a favorite aunt and beloved niece. It was our unshakable close bond and ongoing shared confidences which made her death all the more painful.
When I initially heard of Catherine’s illness, I was a public school teacher of my own right, and had bid goodbye to the nanny position some three years prior. I rented a little apartment about twenty-minutes up the hill from Father’s house, and drove down on Sundays to attend church at the downtown cathedral.
On a mid-morning summer day, during the last minutes of church, I discovered Catherine was ill. After hearing the news, I immediately drove over to Catherine’s house, in midtown, to find an answer, expecting, for the most part Catherine had been laid up with the flu or a head cold. What I would discover instead, would be the biggest shock of my life, not so much in the news, but in the way the finding played out. There had been no warning or pre-empt; but then, with the coming of the news of death, no amount of preparatory time would seem enough. Still, the way I first heard of Catherine’s fate had been a reincarnation of the days with my mother’s boyfriend Ben, in the way I was to be knocked of my feet with the wallop of words.
On my arrival, I found Catherine’s husband Adam seated outside the house atop a flight of stairs. There, alone, he was leaning forward with one hand on his forehead and his tousled white hair shadowing his face.
I approached innocently enough, stepping up the stairs, while calling out and waving a cheerful “Hello.” After my words reached Adam and he lifted his head, I stood still, waiting for his response. But nothing came from his end but a cavernous scowl.
In return, I stammered for words, not managing to say a single thing.
Adam remained silent and moved his head from side-to-side, leaving me to feel as if I’d spoken when I hadn’t.
Needing to speak, I continued consciously, superseding the growing lump in my throat. “I heard Catherine was sick,” I offered, a part of me thinking words would erase the silence and bring the man, I knew well, to speak.
But my words did little, except to cause Adam to sit up tersely and change his gray eyes from vacant to disturbed. My body then took over, letting the shuffling of nervous feet and trembling of hands preside. Seconds later, Adam barked, and where he had once seemed frail and distraught, he now seemed born-again into an enraged warrior. “Yeah, she’s sick all right!” he shouted, setting his eyes past me down to the barren street below. “She has an inoperable brain tumor and will be dead in a month!”
I tried to maintain my balance, with legs I could no longer feel. My only thought was this had to be a nightmare. Adam continued cursing God and His wrongdoings. My eyes widened in astonishment.
Adam finished with a huff and then hung his head low to the ground. Placing the palms of his hands on his face, he said in a muffled plea, “And she won’t take the treatment, won’t do anything to buy a little more time with us.”
Swallowing hard and focusing on Adam’s knees, I asked in a meek voice, “What treatment?”
“They can prolong her life by a year, if she took the medicines, but she won’t. She said she doesn’t want her last days to be like that. I don’t understand her. Why does she want to leave us?” Adam glared up at the sky and shook his head again. Pushing himself up off the step, he slowly stood up without purpose or want. With heavy steps, he ambled down, turning once to wave me away.
My eyes reached out ahead to the high front porch, then back to Adam’s hunched back, and lastly up to the clear blue sky.
A minute later, when my feet had found their way to the doorstep, Catherine answered appearing as lovely as ever, perhaps paler and a bit tinier, but still beautiful. I couldn’t yet catch my breath enough to fashion words.
Catherine, only five-feet tall, and dressed in a slim, plain black sleeveless dress, seemed more my little sister than elder. Finding her warm brown eyes, I smiled weakly, searching for what to say.
In greeting, Catherine’s mouth folded into a light smile. I pushed myself forward, passed the threshold, lost in my own mind so I’d thought to be entering a different realm. Inside, Catherine wrapped the weight of her arms around me and drew me in close. Behind us, her youngest, eight-year-old David, closed the door.
The words came then, soft and waving, as we both told of our sadness—Catherine’s utterance shaved with tears and mine in trembles.
“I am so afraid of dying,” she said, whispering in my ear, as three of her children watched us from behind a shadowed corner. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.”
I could barely hold back my own sputtering of tears, and was only made brave by the sight of little Ruth’s wide blue eyes. I’d never felt so entrenched in grief.
“Sit with me,” Catherine voiced softly, leading me into the living room with the familiar touch of her smooth palm. “Stay,” she whispered.
She would live a year, even without the medicines, but the disease would take its toll on her, invading her faculties, and leaving her a hollowed being, with much of her golden spirit long departed before her physical vessel. I’d see her twice more, and in doing so, wish I hadn’t, for she preached irrationally about God’s grace and the angels waiting for her everywhere from a platform of a much withered and depleted mind.
An older, less-vulnerable me, would have visited dear Catherine frequently and held her hand through the immuring days; instead, the damaged girl I was, chose to escape her emotions by forging a new relationship with a man she didn’t even like. By becoming emotionally entangled in a newfound person, I was able to cloak the encroaching loss.
A week after Catherine’s passing, I had a dream.
I found Catherine fully healed and at peace, standing outside a yellow school bus. She stood in line with many people, of variant ages and heights. I was there as well, dressed in my night clothes, and appearing much the same as in walking life—only lighter and happier. Without hesitation, I politely squeezed into line and stood directly behind Catherine.
As I stood there waiting, Catherine turned around and greeted me with an understanding smile.
“I think I’m dreaming,” I whispered.
Catherine nodded. “Yes. you are, Darling.” She then placed her tender hands on my shoulders. “Child,” she said, facing me full on. Her smile enlarged. Her eyes bright. More beautiful than I’d ever seen. “This is not your time. Not yet. Not now.”
I shook my head. I did not want to hear those words. ”Please,” I asked. “Please, please,” I begged.
Catherine smiled. Embraced me in her warmth. And then slowly let go, still holding me with her brown eyes. Then she smiled once more, a knowing smile, before turning around and taking her place back in line. Moments later, she stepped forward, walked up the stairs, and entered the bus. Slowly the door closed. The sound of closure echoing in my ears. Everything around me then disappeared. The line, the bus, even the landscape. And I was left standing, surrounded by the unknown.
Rest in everlasting peace, Sweet Scooby. Look for my friend Catherine. She’s waiting for you.