Tracey ‘Quinn’, 1965-2014

2 02 2014

She lied.

“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.


One hand in the air for the big city

21 05 2012

No, I haven’t gone underground again: I had a visitor these past few days!

T. had last visited, with P., a few years ago—they’re the ones who bought me my air conditioner—and had learned that Everything Is Terrible In August; thus, the spring fling.

I took her through the Financial District on Thursday, and while we couldn’t get to the 9/11 Memorial (no tickets available), I did take her to St. Paul’s Chapel, where church workers and volunteers ministered to those who worked on “the pile” in the months after the attacks.

I’ve been to and taken visitors to St. Paul’s a number of times, and the exhibits never fail to move me. Prior to September 20001, it was simply an Episcopalian chapel, open to the neighborhood, and one which sponsored various sacred music events; the experience of caring for the men and women who helped to clean out the wound of the World Trade Center site transformed the church, making it over into place of healing and reconciliation. There is a power to this place, and while I attribute it to the quiet strength of the people within, those searching could probably find their God here, as well.

We wandered around and around the warrens of Wall Street, and I came across this shot of the (admittedly-ubiquitous) juxtaposition of old and new:

Water tanks and towers

That’s the (formerly-named?) Freedom Tower—now the tallest building in New York. Neither the name nor the design is impressive, but yes, this space needed a tower.

Another juxtaposition of old and new, this one near Battery Park:

St. Elizabeth-Ann’s? (shoulda written it down. . .)

A sense of scale:

We grabbed some food from Grotto, then headed over to the park for lunch; afterwards we ambled along the short boardwalk, then slid back betwixt the canyons as we worked our way out of the bottom of Manhattan.

We skirted City Hall and the various city, state, and federal courthouses, standing like sentries below the Brooklyn Bridge. Then into Chinatown and the Lower East Side, where we zipped through the Essex Market, then popped into Economy Candy.

Zotz, I got Zotz. Do you remember those? A hard sweet shell encases a powdery interior—which turns into a tart fizz on your tongue. No Marathon bars, but candy necklaces, dots, ring candy, and Aero bars, along with all of the usual suspects.

Then into Little Italy (gelato!), a swing by the Tenement Museum (we browsed the shop, but decided against a tour), and, for me, a quart of sour pickles from Russ & Daughters, and a brief shared remembrance with the counter-woman of our mothers homemade pickling efforts.

East Village, McSorley’s Ale, Pete’s Tavern—both McSorley’s and Pete’s claim to be the oldest bars in the city—then back to Brooklyn.

The plan on Friday was for T. to wander the west side by herself—she particularly wanted to see the Chelsea Market—then head to K’s place Friday evening for book club. Alas, T.’s allergies kicked up and the wind did a number on her peepers (“I think I got New Jersey in my eyes”), so we bailed on book club and stayed in.


T. got us bleacher seats in center-right for a game against the Cincinnati Reds.

That’s Jeter at the plate—can’t you tell?

We made it through 8 innings under the full sun, then bailed before we both fainted.

I’m not a huge baseball fan, but I did always want to see a game at Yankee Stadium; mission accomplished. (And oh yeah, the Yankees lost.)

Back to Brooklyn and into Dumbo:

Dumbo: A nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

Then we moseyed down Fulton (where T. got her husband a Brooklyn Nets sweatshirt and cap) and Flatbush, ate at Burrito Bar (amazing! lemonade), then hopped the Q back home. Early (i.e., before noon) Sunday, she left.

Her favorite place? The Wall Street area. We’ll go back (or I’ll send her there alone) her next visit.

We had beautiful weather the whole time, and neither of us (as far as I know) got on each other’s nerves.

You’re a good host, she said.

You’re a good guest, I replied.

Just as it should be.