…be the light…
Not quite 3 years ago, when I was first working in the city, I met a young woman named Alice. We were waiting in line for food one lunch hour. I was in the flush of new job excitedness. The service was slow. She was in line in front of me, and I, emboldened by my flush of good fortune tossed out a comment meant to elicit a laugh. I got a small smile and we had slightly awkward conversation. Then it was her turn to order and I turned my mind to what I wanted.
As I got my lunch and turned to leave, determined to take my lunch back to my desk, I saw her sitting alone and there was something….I will never know why, but I stopped at her table and said something to the effect of “I was wonder….I’m just going off to eat by myself…if you’re not expecting someone, would you mind if I joined you for lunch?”
She kind of lit up and nodded and made room on the table for me. We talked for the best part of a half hour…not about anything in particular…just the sort of small talk strangers do when they meet. We exchanged names, discovered we both worked nearby and I discovered that she had an older sister who had a medical condition of some kind.
For some reason, I offered her my business card and told her that if she ever needed to talk she should give me a call or she could email me. Then I went back to work. Alice wasn’t a pretty girl and I got the impression that she’d been told so repeatedly. She had a beautiful smile that she hid behind her hand. Her voice was musical and she had a great laugh…but she did not fit conventional ideas of beauty.
It was almost two weeks later that I got an email from her. She asked if we could maybe have lunch together again. I agreed. Over the next little while, we had lunch once or twice a month. I learned a little more about her. Some of it she told me, some I deduced by her behavior. It was maybe 6 months into this friendship that I got a call from her just as I was going to bed. We talked for almost two hours about next to nothing.
It was only a few weeks later that she told me that she’d been planning to kill herself, that she called me with the knife in her hands and my laughter and warmth made her put it down.
Two more times in the last nearly 3 years, she called me as she was sitting with the means to end her life. The last time I wasn’t sure I had talked her down when we finally hung up after 5 hours. But I got an email later that day saying she was seeing her doctor, so I was relieved.
I wouldn’t say I knew her well. I never met her family, though I knew that she felt as though she was a burden to them, especially her mother, because she knew her sister needed their mother more. I knew how she liked her coffee and that she loved chocolate and caramel, that like me she loved getting postcards and snail mail. I have dropped a postcard to her in the mail often, and sometimes I’ll write a little note on a post it, stick it in an envelope and send it to her.
I wouldn’t say we were good friends. I never spent more than an hour in her company in person, our conversations were never very deep or meaningful in content and we often went more than a month without even an email.
The day after I had learned that Alison Jessop had passed from this world, I got a phone call from her phone number, but it wasn’t her voice on the other end. It was her mother. She asked who I was and why my number was one of the five her daughter kept in her phone. I learned that Alice had left a note for her mother, apologizing for being such a problem and that now Delia (her sister) could get all of her mother’s attention…and then she had taken a bottle of pills and gone to sleep.
She hadn’t called, and believe me, I checked. She had just decided she was done hurting, done hunting for the light in the vast darkness that swallowed her.
Yesterday, when I got home from work, there was a card in my mailbox from her mother. The note inside said that she had found a box in her daughter’s closet labeled “Box of Happy” and inside it was every postcard and post it note I had ever sent her, along with odds and ends of other things. There was also something Alice had left and asked her mother to send to me.
In the card was an envelope. In the envelope was a post it note. It said, “Thank you. Goodbye.”
Kindness Matters. It matters so very much.