“If you text me, Terri, I’ll text you back.” I laughed as I headed for the door. “I will. If you text me, I’ll text you back.”
I first met Tracey at my second Big & National bookstore. She was a cashier, not much bigger than me, with a leprechaun tattoo and a scowl.
If you’ve ever worked retail, you know how it goes: You’re new, so nobody knows you or has much use for you. You have to show that you’re not going to make your co-workers’ lives harder, and prove that maybe there’s some point to you, after all.
Nothing personal; that’s just how it is.
I worked front desk with a bunch of people, among them C. We became friendly pretty quickly—she’s one of those people who others are drawn to—so when Tracey would lope over for some conversation, I tried to join in.
She wasn’t having it. She didn’t say anything nasty to me; she just looked at me like Who are you and Can’t you see I’m talkin’ to C.?
The Bronx accent; did I mention the accent?
C. was my in with Tracey, the signal that maybe I was okay. We talked history and World War II—Tracey read everything she could about WWII—and finally bonded over, you guessed it, cats. She and her girlfriend had a beautiful kitty Sammy, and whenever I asked about him her scowl would transform into this huge, toothy, smile, and she’d show me pictures of Sammy on her phone.
The day she put her arm around me and told me Sammy died, I cried.
She and E., her partner, got Piper, and oh did Tracey love that cat, pouring herself into that kitty. Unsurprisingly, Piper is as irascible as Tracey was.
C. has her now.
Her last name wasn’t Quinn, but it’s what she’d sometimes tell people. I didn’t know her real last name until this past summer, when she went into the hospital for another round of cancer treatment.
But, for whatever reason, she wanted to keep her name to herself, so I’ll keep her alias, for her.
When Tracey got sick, it was E. who told everyone.
E. and Tracey fit together, although you had to get past the “Really?” to see that. Tracey was almost twice as old as E., but it was E. who first hit on Tracey. And E.’s as open as Tracey was wary.
They took such care of each other, and as Tracey got sicker and sicker, E. stayed right there.
They loved each other; they were lucky to have each other.
It was fall when it was determined there was nothing more to be done. A year, maybe.
C. and I trekked out a couple of times to a neighborhood hospital in Queens, where Tracey presided over her room. This table had to be here and that table there, and the chairs just so and don’t mess with the curtains or anything.
When she wanted to move out of her bed she needed her morphine drip unplugged, so I did that. Whenever she shifted, I’d jump up. “Not so fast. Stay away from that plug, Terri. Whaddya trying to do with that plug?”
Don’t ask so many questions and don’t make any decisions for her. She knows what she wants, so just do what she says.
And give her a kiss before you go.
At her sister’s, yesterday, she held court over the chairs in front of the t.v. She was comfortable, she said. She could lean back in one chair and put her legs up on the other, and her nephew’s cat would jump up on her and they would fall asleep together.
I brought her peanut butter (Skippy’s, creamy) and C. brought her cookies and E. helped her into her over-shirt so she could “look presentable”.
Her stomach was hurting her and it hurt when she laughed but she wanted to laugh, so she did. I nagged her about her pain meds, but not too much: Tracey wanted to remember. She didn’t want to go before she was gone.
Tracey asked about Piper and C. mentioned that the cat was, ah, difficult. Tracey and E. laughed. Yeah, that’s how she is. Get a towel, Tracey said, and throw it over her. Something soft. She spied her blue robe. Like this. Take this.
Put your scent on it, E. suggested, so Tracey wrapped herself in it, rubbing her face and hands into the soft blue.
As we got up to leave, she directed me to take the robe. Fold it nice! she demanded.
I went back over to her chair. You want to move this? What about the stuff up here?
Don’t touch anything! (I’m not! I’m just pointing!) Don’t you point at anything!
I laughed. There it is, I said. Now I feel better that you yelled at me.
I hugged her, longer than I ever hugged her, and kissed her goodbye. She hugged C., then got a little time, too little time, with E.
We’ll see you soon, we said. I’d text you, I said, but you never text back.
“If you text me, Terri, I’ll text you back. I’ll text you back.”
She died in her sleep, early this morning. She was there, and then she was gone. Just as she wanted.
Tracey to the end.