The Visitation started at 2 pm. I didn’t go. I knew this morning I wouldn’t be up to the 45 minute drive into the city to attend. The snow and cold have kept me confined to my farmhouse in the country now for weeks. When you already suffer from anxiety, driving in these conditions can be nearly impossible. Today of all days I wish I could push myself to venture out, but I can’t. Today I should be there to pay my respects and say my final goodbye to the only person I ever considered my mentor. Instead, I sit here this afternoon wearing my pajamas and penning my thoughts to you about her. My hope is that these words will find their way to where she is and she will know just how much she touched my life—albeit over such a brief period of time—and how much I loved and respected her.
I met Chris in the late 1980’s through my older sister, Nadine. Chris and Nadine’s sons were best friends. Introductions between me and her were made after Nadine realized Chris’s passion for writing and thought she would have something in common with me, her little sister. It was the first time I’d had the opportunity to share my enthusiasm for words with another person and actually be understood. At that first meeting I felt a sense of finally belonging. There before me sat another person that was actually able to comprehend what it felt like to be me: I had a voracious appetite for reading books. There were a dozen ideas for storyline’s at any given time going on inside my head and I couldn’t get them down on paper fast enough. Any emotions I felt usually found their way onto paper in journal form, poetry, or short stories. But most important, and the thing we really bonded over, was that I wrote, because I couldn’t not write. Till that moment I had felt alone with this obsession; a square peg surrounded by a lot of round holes I knew as friends and family. Finally, finally, here was a fellow square peg.
I look back now and see the timing of when Chris and I became friends as divine intervention. I had recently lost my mother, was a 27 year old woman with an 8th grade education, had two small children I was trying to raise while being married to an abusive, alcoholic/addict. I didn’t have but two pennies to rub together and no hope that things were going to get better. When I met Chris I found more than just a fellow writer; I found a friend to commiserate with, a mother who comforted and consoled me, and someone who made me believe I was smart, pretty, talented, and deserving of better things for my life. It mattered little that she was thirty years my senior. If anything, it cemented our bond even more. I became her protégé and she my mentor.
Chris’s husband was a police officer that worked the night shift. She preferred to keep the same hours as her husband did, so you would usually find her busy writing away at the kitchen table well into the wee hours of the morning. I, too, did most of my writing at night when it was quiet and my children and husband were asleep. That was the motive behind her inviting me over to her house that first time to join her. We were on the phone, I was preparing to lay my children down for the night, and she suggested I come over so we could write together and critique each others work. One night quickly led to another, and another, and before long it became habit that I should slip out of my home and into the darkness each evening, drive the mile and a half to her house, and spend the twilight hours lost in conversation with her, scratching away on our yellow legal pads; laughing and sharing tear-filled stories. She never failed to amaze me with her wit, candor, compassion, and talent. She reminded me of wise, old, gypsies I’d seen in movies as she spun tales with me and told stories about things she knew that I’d never heard. Those evenings with her were magical. At a time when I needed something, someone, she helped me escape from the pain of being me.
Ironically, my controlling husband was supportive. The one and only thing I give him credit for to this day is that he always believed I could write. He supported my writing back then, I can only assume today, because he believed if I could do something with it that it would be our ticket out of poverty. He even went as far as buying me a new outfit so I would blend in when she and I went to an event for writers the Omaha Press Club was putting on. There I was walking next to her feeling shaky and a bit out of place, while she breezed through doors ahead of me as if she were the main attraction and she attended these things everyday, wearing her dark cloak of a coat over a meticulously selected outfit. I so admired her audaciousness. I wonder if she ever realized that. If I could have aspired to be anyone back then, it would’ve been her.
As it is, most good things usually come to an end. So it was with these late nights I spent with her. The abuse in my marriage having gone on for way too long, eventually escalated to a point that I was no longer able to bear it, nor afraid to be alone, and I found the strength to walk away. The end result was that I suddenly found myself a single parent of two young children who desperately needed their mother present at all times, and busy applying myself so that I could get my GED to increase my prospects at finding work to take care of my kids. Calls between Chris and I became more and more infrequent as I found myself avoiding answering the question “Are you still working on your manuscript?” each time we spoke. Eventually the calls stopped altogether. She went on living her life, and I struggled to live in mine.
I’ve thought of her often over the years. Many times I’ve made a mental note that I need to stop by her house the next time I’m in the city and say hello, but by the time I do so the reminder has long since slipped away and been forgotten on my crowded list of have-to’s and I never got around to it. Now I never will. Now all I’ll ever have are memories of a time that seems so very long ago.
I googled her name. I was hoping to discover that she eventually achieved her goal of someday being a published author. I always thought she was a wonderful writer and felt she deserved it. I found one book “Dangerous Inheritance” that was put out in 2003 that listed the unique spelling of her name—Christena Dieatrick—as its author. I believe it was hers. She would’ve been 70 years old when it was published. I smiled.
Today I am honoring her in the way she would’ve been the most pleased by: I am writing.
Rest in peace, beautiful gypsy. And thank you…for everything!