Sunday, February 17, 2013

Her name was Martha (In the Category of Mean What You Say.)

I shouldn’t just tell Phil this, everyone should hear about my friend, Anne Cheney.  I’ll hook you all up with a copy of her poem, “They Speak To Me,” from Dead Snakes, Cats, and the IRS: Poetry of Rock and Rebellion.* (Mellen Poetry Press, 1995) as soon as I get permission from Anne’s brother John, her literary executor.  I can get #52Weeks of blog material out of my relationship with her, no problem. (I probably won’t.)
Anne (right) with Theresa Gillespie at what would be the last Grateful Dead Concert at JFK. Anne took her entire Literature of Rock and Roll class to the show as a field trip. 
I intend to write a memoir about her, and I need to quit stalling and get to work on it, because God knows my memory is not improving with age (although it is still damn good). Anne died on December 17, 2001 at around 9:00am. I was rubbing her feet at that moment, because I had heard that the soul leaves through the feet, and a good foot rub helps the passage. Anne had breast cancer (again), and it had metastasized to her lungs. We all knew the repercussions of removing the ventilator. I had not intended to be there when she died. I had said goodbye the day before. I kissed her (with permission…one did not just touch Anne Cheney); later, at home, I got stinking – I mean stinking drunk.

My husband let me sleep in the next day, and explained things to my boss (we worked for the same company then). I came to around 8:00am and called the ICU to basically see if we were done yet. Nurse Kelly, who had been with us for all 15 horrible days of this asked if I was outside the door…could she buzz me in? I said I was at home. She said, “you need to get here.” When Nurse Kelly says, “get here,” you get there.

Mike was already there -- had in fact been there all night (you’ll get to know Mike better another day…if you own a copy of The Wedding Crashers, he’s the handsome, tuxedoed wedding guest laughing in the background as the principle chick says good bye to some little kid at the end of her sister’s wedding). Pink Floyd was on the boom box. Sisters Edith and Rebecca were there too (Anne was the oldest of eight children). As Mike put it, “we’re nearly done here.” I started rubbing her feet (something she would never have allowed under any living circumstance) and told her it was okay to go. Hardest fucking thing I have ever done, telling my best friend it was okay to die. It wasn’t okay, but there was no other path away from the pain. The cancer had spread fucking everywhere.

Nurse Kelly called it, and I left for Anne’s house to finish the obituary I had started on her computer the day before (after saying goodbye, but before getting stinking drunk). On my way out of the ICU, I saw Anne’s ex-husband, and probably only true love, waiting to get buzzed in to the ICU to see her. He had just missed her. I did not have the courage to speak to him; I was barely holding it together.  I made it to my car, threw up, and got in. Ironically, Pink Floyd was on the radio, “Wish You Were Here,” a song I still love but who’s meaning for me has changed for-fucking-ever.

Anne’s brother John (who is Anne with a penis, and the world is a better place because he is still in it) invited me to meet him and a few other Cheney sibs at the church to help plan the funeral service.  The priest suggested the passage where Martha berates Jesus for not being there to save her brother from dying, and John chuckled. “Perfect,” he said in his slow, honeyed Alabama accent, “since that was her name.”

“Excuse me?” I didn’t understand. John’s eyes widened.

“You don’t know?” He shook his head, laughing. “I knew she hated the name, but I figured she’d at least told you.”

“Told me what?”

“Her name was Martha. Martha Anne Cheney.”

Have you ever had a best friend, one you’ve known for 12 years? Twelve. Years. Are you sure you know their name? Because I did. And I didn’t. And she actually lied to me about it once, the bitch. Everyone in her family had a middle name. Hell, brother, John West Battle Cheney has two, and it puzzled me why the firstborn did not have a middle name. “Mother didn’t feel like it.” That’s what Anne told me when I asked.

“She blacked it out of her yearbook, everywhere.” John said. “I can’t believe you didn’t know this.” (I checked this…she had…I had thought the black lines were ways to punctuate her name in the list of names for every club she was in.)

For the record, gentle reader, it was too late to correct the obit, but if I could have, I would have outed her as Martha, just out of sheer annoyance. I contented myself with knowing that before I knew her name was Martha, I had already gotten one up on her. When we could still talk to each other (Anne was intubated in the last two weeks of her life…our long history of heart-to-heart talks had ended early) she told me to put her in the black dress for her viewing, but I put her in the pretty turquoise blue one instead, buried her in it, and there was nothing she could do about it. (To date, this is the only perk I can find to losing one’s best friend to breast cancer…I got to win one.) And I overhead many visitors at the funeral home commenting on how glad they were that she wasn’t wearing black. In life, Anne wore black often, because she believed it was slimming, but she was a wisp of herself (all 4’9” of her, though she swore she was 5’) at the end. Cancer eats everything.

Anne was hilarious. I promise, the posts about how she lived will be much funnier, but even in death, that she could still surprise me -- is one of my favorite memories.

*Anne's entry in the Library of Congress leaves her birth and death date erroneously open ended, an error that none of us is in a hurry to correct. It's comforting somehow.

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