To the Departed

Dear Elaine,

You won’t see this, but hello. I miss you on your fasting days with a McMuffin tucked in your bag of supplements because you were going to live forever God-willing-inshallah. Three days without food and you still answered the phones cheerfully and printed every email for the files you had me make sense of one summer nine dollars an hour and copies on the machine in a room with one window sealed shut and no air because it used to be a closet.

I miss you, Elaine, your smile sparkling white despite pots of coffee the color of your eyes and hot pots of tea and the university cups you insisted we all buy out of the departmental budget because we were a team after all – a family the way we worked together those nights when the events were catered and the microphone was faulty and we had to introduce the new head of the department so he could rasp out in his strangled, wheezing voice something reassuring, but not as reassuring as you reading the messages on Dove chocolate wrappers once we unwrapped those sweets we deserved. Deserved. Look at all we put up with, not that you were saying anything bad it’s not right to gossip but The Lord knows and anyone could see that the way those high and mighty pHd candidates talked to us was, well, it was.

Once you told me to read all the incoming PhD applications even though that was nowhere near my job description of redirecting phone calls, ordering office supplies and duplicating syllabi. I learned one of my best friends was a genius and another was a failure. It was like rifling through their laundry piles and examining their soiled underwear. You never said why. You just wanted me to know. You did explain about the box of Bic Atlantis pens you ordered a case of when I said they were my favorite: when you find your favorite pen, you stick with it and use it forever and that’s why you were giving me the key to the supply cabinet and the space to make sense of it like the file cabinet and the payroll stubs and the emails you kept copies of because you just couldn’t trust computers.

What I wouldn’t give to duck my head with you and whisper about Jesus the way you believed in him and how you were saving yourself for the right man. How at forty-seven you still believed God would match you up and despite the hot flashes and multiple mentions you were near the end of menopause you knew you would have kids by your body. You may have. I read an article not long after you passed about a woman who carried her grandchild. You might think that unnatural. You might whisper that Jesus works in mysterious ways. You believed in miracles. You believed in me.

I visited you in your last days. The cancer had grown inside you the way your hair never would on your head and I remembered you looking at
my hair all those times and saying I had a GIFT to the point I almost cut some off and gave it to you. That ten pounds you’d been fighting was more than lost and lost again. There was no cheek in your smile. You were a skeleton around the teeming mass of worms conceived in your womb. I gave you a card. I took the picture on it myself. Inside it read goodbye in the best way I knew to say it. I wanted to give you chocolates so that you could read the wrappers and hope, but the scent was too much for you. My card told you goodbye, but you still had thoughts of a miracle. Jesus was going to turn this around. you were certain. At peace without making peace, and I suppose you didn’t need to. After all, you had already given your life to Jesus. But, my God, you wanted to keep living.

At your wake, I didn’t look at M when she spoke into the microphone because she was struggling not to cry and I was crying already. We held each other after and she stared at the baklava your favorite shop donated without wrapping any up to take home like you would have insisted which for M is a big deal. She has another baby you know. Go ahead and say it. Jesus be praised. I have another baby too. A beautiful girl you would coo over if you could meet her and I wish you could because she would love you like I do and my oldest son does because I told him about you. I told him you always smiled and wore red lipstick and that you bought me chocolate candy.

I visited your Facebook wall today. Do you have Facebook in Heaven? Like so many of my Friends, you haven’t posted in years. I saw someone wished you a happy birthday. Another year older. An exclamation point to punctuate he has no idea you are gone. You are still alive in the interworld. Do you have birthdays in Heaven? Are you traveling like you always wanted to? And what is the Facebook policy for those who have passed on?

I wanted to send you a Message in case you have internet in the afterlife. I wanted to tell you that I love you and I’m sorry because I was so afraid. So afraid. I said goodbye too soon. You didn’t say goodbye. I didn’t return even though you were up the road from my house and I passed the hospital nearly every day. I might have if I had known what a hole in the world there is without you. We lived in the same town and spoke only year to year, but you were alive, energetic, vibrant.

The last I saw you was on a poster and in your friends’ eyes at your wake. They put out the napkins and lined up the chairs and brought out the nicest podium. A line of department heads from over the years spoke about working with you. They tripped over their timing. You usually took care of that. They stared at the chairs until your old assistants lined them up, me among them. (By the way, we didn’t have nearly enough.) They ordered baklava from your favorite shop. We took turns at the faulty microphone introducing you to the world you left behind. We ate from the buffet tables, and I stood in the place where you often leaned next to the coffee pot to see what you would have seen if you had organized this event. For a moment, were you with me? Did we tsk together? They did good, Elaine, but you would have done better.



Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

0 Discussion to this post

  1. Melissa says:

    Oh, how I am crying. I miss her too. Isn’t it strange, after all these years? Sometimes I’m walking and something reminds me and I cry again.

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  2. fyrdraca says:

    Damn, but that just hit me hard. I really miss her too.

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