Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Recently I received a note from one of my best friends from high school. Her name is Melodie Thomas. Back in the day there was the dynamic foursome; Melodie Thomas (formerly Melodie Brown), Patrice Lincoln (formerly Patrice McGowan), Val Patterson (Formerly Val Pappas) and Cheryl Brown (formerly Cheryl Morehouse). We were very tight. These women are a part of what makes me...me. And they will always hold a special place in my heart and in my very soul. We went to Royal High, in Simi Valley, California. When we were growing up there, it was mostly citrus farms and small post war houses and a bowling alley and k-mart. Parts of it were know for its high rate of domestic violence, and in some neighborhoods, a dangerously high water table. Now it is America's most livable city. Of course, none of us live there anymore.

Melodie wrote to me just few days ago to tell me her mother has just passed away from cancer. She knew her mom was not feeling too good. Her mom did not share many things with Melodie. But to know one has cancer and keep it from your loved ones can really hurt. And her mom kept it from her. So, in a sense, she was not able to have the same kind of closure some of us are gifted by our loved ones when we know they are passing. I think the best way to describe how Melodie feels is to share her writing, with her blessing. There are 3 parts. My personal favorite is a portion of the second essay...(part 3). Here is part 1:

"Mom passed away a few days ago, in Santa Rosa. Margie waited more than 24 hours to tell Margo and I because ... who knows? As it turns out, my mother had a PET scan back in April, and they determined that she had lung cancer, which had originated elsewhere, likely in the colon. Mom refused treatment, as recently as a month ago, and said that she had lived a long time, and wanted to go home to die.

She evidently wanted Margo and I kept out of the loop about the cancer, and her impending death.

Margo lives in Santa Rosa and saw her just last Sunday. It was clear that she was not feeling well recently, and that she was bedridden. However, Margo thought that she had had bouts like this before, but had always eventually rallied. For some reason, I just knew that she was shutting down, although I didn't know about the cancer. But Margo didn't have the same sense I did about it, and she is stunned that she didn't see this coming, and angry at Margie for not letting her know, and hurt that she didn't get a chance to say goodbye.

My thoughts are perhaps more complicated. In some ways I made my peace long ago with the conclusion that I would never really understand why she was the way she was. I also finally got to the point where I could say that what she did to us so many years ago didn't really matter anymore. It makes it easier to have some measure of resolution on my side, but it clearly wasn't resolved on her side, and that feels awful. While it is painful to think of how she lived (?) her last few years, it is a relief to think that she is finally at peace.

In any event, it appears that there will be a small, graveside service at Valley Oaks in Westlake Village, possibly next weekend, or early the following week. I will most likely come out, probably by myself. In many ways, I am dreading it, as this family is now fractured beyond repair.

I will keep you posted as to my plans, as it would be great to see you. Perhaps we could meet up at some point while I'm there."

And then she wrote these two essays. The second essay really got me. I have to say. I did laugh at parts of it, which I am sure Melodie would not object to. It is titled "The Girl Who Stole My Dress" and it feels like a short chapter from Harper Lee's one and only novel. It really does:

Thoughts on Mom’s passing
Or, how my mother’s obituary should actually read

One of my earliest memories of my mother is so telling about who she was. I had to have been three or four, as we were still living in Woodland Hills. We were headed out the front door to visit the next-door neighbors, whose son Johnny was my primary, and much-adored, playmate. For some reason, I asked my mother hold old she was.

I can still remember her reaction, and my shame at having inadvertently done something wrong.

“You NEVER ask a lady her age!”, she thundered, her gorgeous blue eyes flashing with rage. And that was that. It was the first of many questions I had about her that would never get answered, at least not directly. After that, any attempts to find out more about who she was were met with either suspicion or hostility. Once in a blue moon, frequently after she’d had a drink or two, but please-dear-God not more, she’d open a window into her past just a crack and reveal a little about how she came to be the person she was.

But those moments were few and far between, and they had to be initiated by her.

The girl who stole my dress

My mother wanted my sisters and I to look our best at all times. As children growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, we could not even go to the drug store without brushing our hair and running a washcloth over our faces. I shake my head now just thinking of it. As a young girl, it was not unusual to have to wear curlers to bed, so that I could be perfectly coiffed the next day.

Clearly, appearances were very important to my mother. She bought us beautiful clothes. There was a store one town over that sold “designer clothes for children”. Nowadays, that would not be so unusual, the recession notwithstanding. In those days, however, that was most unusual. I’m sure we must have stood out like sore thumbs in our largely middle-class town in Southern California, where the fortunes of the local families largely rose and fell with those of the aerospace industry.

In any event, she loved that store and would buy clothes for us there. As I recall, we girls didn’t even go along for the shopping – she’d just come home with some dresses for us, and expect us to wear them.

So that’s how I came to be wearing a lovely purple dress my freshman year of junior high. I came back from gym class one day to discover that the dress was gone from my locker.

Eventually, the 8th or 9th grader who took the dress made the mistake of wearing it to school. It was simply implausible to think that the dress belonged to her. She eventually confessed her theft, and was punished by the school.

However, my mother couldn’t let it rest there. She pored repeatedly over a yearbook photo of the girl, which showed a huge cyst on her forehead. My mother, ever-obsessed with appearances, couldn’t stand it.

In the end, my mother paid to have the cyst removed from the girl’s forehead, and even sent flowers to her as she was recuperating.


She died the way she had lived the last twenty-plus years of her life – hidden away from those who loved her. Why she isolated herself is anyone’s guess. At the end, she had cut herself off from all but two of her four daughters. She gave only one of them the knowledge that she was dying, and the chance to say goodbye to her.

She was scared of life.

She pitted her daughters against each other, yet told us she wished we’d get along better.

She could hold a grudge about the smallest thing forever.

She could be incredibly, ridiculously generous to a fault.

She could be completely impossible.

She never apologized or explained herself.

My high school friends adored her, and still remember her fondly.

She leaves behind a family fractured beyond repair.

But I loved her nonetheless, and feel the ache of the lost opportunities to connect, for us to just know and accept each other. I dearly wish she had given all of us the gift of knowing her more fully.

My heart to you, dear friend. Dear Melodie. I look forward to spending some time with you very soon.

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