Friday, September 18th, while I was inline skating at Poncin Hewlett Athletic Park, Jim stopped me. “Did you hear?” he asked me.
“Hear what?” I asked.
“Do you remember that lady that used to walk here?”
“Do you mean Kathy?” I asked.
“Yes. She passed away,” he said.
“Passed away,” I repeated. “How? When?”
“I don’t know but I’m going to go to the wake.”
“Thanks for telling me,” I said as I skated away.
I hadn’t known Kathy was ill. It had been months since I heard from her. I kept trying to get together with her but she never had enough time. I thought she wasn’t really interested in being friends. I gave up but kept thinking I should call.
When I got back to the house I called First Baptist Church and asked if the rumor was true. “Yes,” the woman said. “We are very upset about it.”
“Do you know the funeral plans?” I asked.
“Calling hours and the funeral will be on Wednesday at the funeral home next to the church.”
Sunday Ken, Kathy’s second husband, called early in the morning while I was dressing for church. He was upset when he realized he wasn’t the first one to tell me of his wife’s death. “She was well loved by many people,” I said. “The news spread fast.”
We talked for thirty minutes. “The doctors,” he said, “kept saying she needed to eat but at home she was eating.” He then told me everything she ate before going into the hospital. But it was too late. Ken’s deep love for his wife couldn’t fix the damage done by Kathy’s first husband. She had aged early. Her back was bent. She lived in fear. She grazed but seldom ate a full meal. She remained underweight. In the end her electrolytes were out of balance. She had a heart attack and died the day she was to be discharged from the hospital.
Victims of abuse struggle their whole lives. On average they die younger than those who have been well treated. One of the lingering effects for me as a survivor is I never know who is or isn’t a friend or ally. I expect abandonment. When Kathy stopped calling I assumed she was no longer interested in being friends. When Ken called I realized he regarded me as his wife’s friend. My eyes filled with tears as I set the phone in its cradle.
I remembered meeting Kathy approximately four years ago in the early hours just before dawn as I stretched before my skate at the park. Kathy was a newcomer to the park who unlike the park veterans chattered gaily as she walked the path stopping to introduce herself to everyone she passed. “Do you know Jim?” she asked. “He walks here too.”
“Oh, the old man,” I said.
“Who is that guy walking the golden retrievers?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“I’m going to find out,” she said. In that way, Kathy turned strangers into the early morning exercise club. Soon we were talking and joking as we passed each other on the trail.
Kathy entered my life at a time when I was friendless and hungry for connection. As we exercised in the park she told me she was a retired chemistry teacher and was widowed and remarried. She often praised her first husband but once she trusted me she told me he had been an abusive alcoholic. As a Christian Kathy didn’t want to speak ill of the dead. On Tuesdays Kathy frequently traveled into Stoughton near my office to visit her mother and the graves of her late husband and father. Despite numerous invitations she never joined me for lunch. I also tried to get her to go with me to book club. She didn’t want to go out at night. Finally as I skated along side her near the basketball courts I said, “Don’t you have time for friendship?”
“Of course I do, Miss Margaret,” That was Kathy’s affectionate way of addressing me. It was a compromise. I wanted her to call me by my nickname but after learning I held a doctorate in psychology she refused to address me without an honorific. Doctor was too formal so she called me Miss Margaret.
A few days later on Friday she finally came over to my house for lunch. She brought her own sandwich. After we ate we sat in the living room talking about faith. Kathy told me about her friend who was a nun in the convent in Plainville.
Kathy invited me to her husband’s choral concert to be held at Immanuel. Fearful she would learn about me from my enemies I asked her not to believe everything she heard about me. Kathy wasn’t interested in the church gossip. She encouraged me to come any way. My husband and I went despite my fears. Kathy greeted us and had no problem being seen with us.
In May 2007 things took a turn for the worse in Kathy’s life. She was in a major car accident. I went to visit her at Rhode Island Hospital and then at the rehab center in Boston. It was then I became aware she didn’t like to eat. Mary at the park had commented once on how Kathy’s back was curved and bony and wondered what was wrong. I suspected anorexia.
After her discharge from the hospital Kathy would occasionally stop by with gifts for my newborn grandson or to show me her new car. She supported my book, Not of My Making by attending my book launch party and buying copies for herself and family.
The last time I saw Kathy was about a year ago when I returned from my church trip to The Museum of the Russian Icons. She had an article about bullying she wanted to share with me. She also had concert tickets. I couldn’t go this time. Conflicting obligations. I am sorry now that I didn’t make the time. I thought I had more time. I didn’t.
When I skate at the park I see Kathy in my mind’s eye greeting everyone and encouraging me as I practiced my spin stop.
“You’ll get it, Miss Margaret, I know you will.”
My eyes filled with tears as I set the phone in its cradle.