It began with news that a woman beloved to me – Nonie – had massive heart failure getting out of bed that morning and was now brain dead. She was not that old, only 59. She’d passed through 18 months of a semi-mysterious illness that infected her lungs, requiring hospitalizations, induced comas, and other exotic and frightening treatments. Last week, she was released home and had a gorgeous weekend surrounded by fair weather, family and good humor. All looked so well. Until this morning, September 1, when she was found, suddenly unresponsive, at home.
With this news, my duties of September 1 were not suspended. Nonie’s fate hung over my head, balanced, like a storm about to break, pushing the barometer low and lower. But, still, there were school preparations that had thrown my “To Do” list into a second page.
We went to the uniform store, the book store, the sports shoe store and the school supply store. I whispered Hail Mary’s in my head, to the woman lying in a bed with her life provided by a pump, attended by a futilely hopeful husband and their gathering children. I was in high activity with a living school child, suspended by the acute awareness of a beloved person dying.
On our 5th stop, Office Max, I reached my max.
“Where are the Erasable, 5 Tab Index, Wide Label Dividers?” I tried silently to focus among my Hail Mary’s, the 8 Tab Insertables, the 12 Tab Thin Margins, the 3 Tab Presentation Top of Page Dividers and the Multi-Colored Labeled, Computer Ready, Double-Pocket Diversified Index Tabs.
In the distance, I heard my rising 7th grader ask for College Ruled Filler Paper.
“We are sold out,” a meek teen attendant whispered, big brown eyes blinking.
“Sold out?” I barked, immediately distracted. “Sold out? Office Max is ‘sold out’ of paper?” I yelped incredulously.
"There's no more," he replied, frightened by my fury, backing away cautiously. "There was an incredible run on the stuff," he added as he turned in brisk retreat.
"PAPER, Office Max is out of paper?" I whined to no one, wondering if Goodyear ever ran out of tires or Kraft occasionally finds it has no more American Cheese.
That’s when my vision went out. In all fairness, I tend to get a migraine anytime I go to more than 3 stores in less than an hour. This young man had no idea I was actually at my 5th stop … and … my Nonie was dying. How could he know?
“Nonie’s dying,” I thought, struck momentarily. “And Office Max has run out of paper.” The fact that I suddenly could not see made sense.
Later, at home, my 12 year old son tried on the dress uniform Oxford long-sleeve shirt we’d bought for him at Stop Number Two on September 1. It was suspiciously tight across the chest and buttoned right over left.
“Mom,” he yelled, appalled, “you got me a girl’s shirt!”
He was right. Somehow, in the chaos of the uniform store and my Hail Mary’s for Nonie, I’d snagged and bagged a small women’s Oxford instead of the manly, man Medium Male Oxford. We searched every closet, every ready-for-donation bag, every telephone number which might give up a dress shirt for the morning, and came up dry.
“I will not,” he warned, “wear a girl’s shirt tomorrow.”
Worn, torn and blind from a day I thought could not get possibly worse, I laid down on my bed … to think. Somewhere, in the middle of a Hail Mary for Nonie, I remembered. I had a shirt. I had a shirt from my long-dead father … hanging pressed, old-cotton thin, in my closet, red JEM initials on the pocket.
“Here’s one of Dad’s old work shirts,” my brother’s note accompanied the strange, soft package that arrived two years after Dad’s death. “I thought,” my brother wrote, “you might like it.” I’d hung it in my closet, among my blouses, shirts, T-tops, unwilling to say “no”, unwillingly to let it go.
“Try this,” I piped to my desperate son, “try this shirt. See if it will work.” And I added to my Hail Mary for Nonie, a Hail Mary for my Dad.
Liam walked out of my closet, wearing the soft, well-fitting shirt initialed JEM, and we both broke into tears. The next day, Liam started school in my Dad's shirt ... and Nonie died.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.