Police sirens are sounding for a good reason for a change. A high school band is parading through the neighborhood in celebration of their homecoming festivities. The morning itself is gray but the late model cars and the spirits of the children involved are colorful. And so my spirit is bright as well.
The morning itself looks somber, and perhaps it should feel that way, but it’s not. Last night, my Sister-friend’s mother transitioned after a fairly short battle (all things considered) with cancer. This morning after I am in a state of reflection, of remembrance, and celebration. There’s nothing sad about a beautiful woman being spared the suffering that many live with as various cancers and other terminal illnesses take over their minds and bodies. Mrs. Joan went out in full force, the way she lived.
Me and Michelle have been friends since I was 15, new to the high school and the neighborhood. 19 years later (damn...) I can still see all the moments we shared in our girlhood, traversing that space between being young and wanting to be grown, testing parental limits and exploring the boundaries of the areas we were actually allowed to be in. Our mothers, though they never spent time hanging out with each other, knew their daughters were safe in each other’s homes. The rules looked and sounded different but essentially did the same thing-Kept us in line.
My fondest memories of Mrs. Joan are those that involve she and Michelle talking. Even when we had sleepovers at their house, Shell still found a way to be with her mother, and we were often invited to join them. Mrs. Joan took us in because Michelle had and that was enough for her. We sat on the edge of the bed in Mrs. Joan’s room, teetering on the edge of their “thick as thieves” relationship. It was beautiful and strange all at once because my mother and I had more boundaries for each other. My mother was saving the friendship for something called “possibilities” when I got older. For the time being, in those years, I was to be clear she was the mother and if I survived that experience, we could see about this friendship thing. It was something she was willing to sacrifice to ensure I got the lessons she wanted me to have to make it through womanhood with or without her. Without her never actually crossing my mind. Mrs. Joan and Michelle were the rocks in their pockets that kept them grounded, mother and child or not.
Shell and her mother had their own rhythm. It was calm at times. It was loud at others. It made no sense, and all the sense in the world. It had its own language as well. Pig Latin flowed out of Mrs. Joan’s mouth like it was her native tongue. At work with her, she’d speak of some co-worker as being “Orny-cay, orny-cay, oh so orny-cay!” I couldn’t get enough of it. I felt included when she spoke it to me, excitedly trying to give it back with some semblance of fluency lest my membership card to their very tight circle be revoked. I grew up under Mrs. Joan, with Shell, influenced by the same messages my mother sent but with different words.
Mrs. Joan was always well-coiffed, made up and suited. The only time she wasn’t “together” was when she woke up in the morning. Like magic, she never appeared the way some of our other mothers did, in jeans and sneakers. She reminded me that motherhood didn’t have to dull you or erase your presence in the world. She was Shell’s mother and more. She has passed that on to her own daughter, my Sister-friend, who got started carrying this legacy forward before the torch was officially passed. Now Shell is a beautiful mother of 2 even more beautiful daughters who also amazingly exude this strength at very young ages. Shell is an educator turned entrepeneur who is still about the business of supporting children. Shell’s daughters, and the children of her 2 older brothers, are blessed to have known their grandmother’s example instead of just hearing about it. We are all blessed to have been shined upon by Mrs. Joan’s star. Our lives are better for it.
Rest in peace, Mrs. Joan. You will never be forgotten.