Friday, September 15, 2017

Lee, part III

Luckily for me, Corinne Conti is a relatively unusual name. Had her name been something like Kathy Smith, a whole chapter would be missing from my story. I started with Googling, of course. I didn't have to do any more than that because Google brought a bunch of hits. One of them--for Blaine Conti--came with a phone number in Washington state. I figured Blaine might be Corinne's husband's name, but no. It was her name, her legal name.

I called, and she couldn't have been nicer. She sympathized with my plight. She hadn't been in contact with Lee for years, and she felt bad about that. Corinne had a young voice filled with warmth and enthusiasm, and I didn't realize until she told me that she was 85 years old. Her age, coupled with recent heart surgery, explained why she repeated questions several times. She suggested I contact the police and ask them to make a welfare check on Lee. I was reluctant to do this, knowing Lee's feelings about privacy. Corinne said she was quite familiar with Lee's feelings about privacy, and understood why I said I'd leave that option for last. But I realized the only address I had for Lee was a rented mailbox in a storefront. I asked Corinne if she knew Lee's physical address. No, but she knew the street Lee lived on. If only she could remember it.

A day or so later she did remember it, and called to tell me. With some creative Googling I got the name of another tenant in Lee's apartment building. A little more digging revealed that he worked in a restaurant--so one morning I called the restaurant. What a thoroughly nice guy! It turned out he no longer lived in Lee's building, but his brother did. He would ask his brother about Lee, and one of them would get back to me.

By this time my son had jokingly called me a stalker. It does make you think about how easily we (and our neighbors) can be found.

Lee's upstairs neighbor emailed me to say he and his wife had knocked on her door, but she didn't respond. However, he said another neighbor noticed Lee's car going out regularly. So she must still be working.  I felt enormous relief, as this was not the news I'd expected to hear. But after a few days the relief was tinged with hurt, puzzlement, and even a bit of anger. How could my dear friend, who knows me so well, who means so much to me and always said she felt the same, ignore my pleas and leave me hanging like this?

An answer--the only one I'm going to get--came weeks later, when Lee's therapist called to tell me she had died. She said as Lee's cancer had progressed and she had to quit her job she withdrew more and more, shunning contact with anyone. Her car had been used by the caretaker she'd hired.

I've always said if I were sick in the hospital I wouldn't want visitors other than my family. One might say Lee took this to extremes, but then her need for privacy was always somewhat beyond the norm. If we'd talked, we would have talked about her illness. We'd have had to. She was probably tired of talking about it, tired of thinking about it, tired of trying to accept the inevitable end. But would she not have drawn any comfort from me? Have I been through so much that I used up all my comfort on myself? I always made Lee laugh. Does that not count at some point? 

In the end, I was able to do one thing: I wrote Lee's obituary. I was glad no one else wanted to take it on because I wanted to do this for her, and I knew I could do it well. In the process, she and I connected with every word.


Julia said...

What a touching story. You were a true friend right to the end.
Hugs, Julia

Julia said...

Sorry for the very short comment Susan, I was called away. I'm sorry that you were too late to find your friend alive. I wonder what pain made her retreat in her shell like that. Having cancer is such a lonely road and it helps a lot to have close and caring friends that cares. I must say that you have left no stones unturned and that you did everything you could to reconnect with your friend. It must have been a bitter sweet moment for you to find out what happened.

Hugs, Julia

Susan said...

Thank you, Julia. Yes, the whole journey was filled with mixed emotions. Now I just miss her.

Helen said...

Wow, beautifully written and so moving... and also so puzzling in a way. People can be such mysteries. Thanks for sharing this story, Susan.

Susan said...

Thank you for reading and appreciating, Helen. And prodding. Procrastinitus Interruptus hasn't been active for some time, but I'm hoping you'll tell me you're blogging somewhere else (and will tell me where).

Indigo Bunting said...

This is an incredible, intriguing story. I'm sorry you didn't get to be back in touch, and I love how here you express all the crazy emotions around not hearing from her. Beautifully written. Where was her obituary published?

Susan said...

It was in an Alaskan newspaper. I was sent a clipping without the paper's name. I sent you a FB message, IB.

Mali said...

Susan, I was poking through your blog this afternoon and discovered I had missed this story. It is beautiful and sad and perfectly told. Like IB, I would have loved to read her obituary. But if Lee was private, then I understand it is hers, not ours to ogle.

PS. You're quite the sleuth, aren't you?

Susan said...

Mali, I've often thought I would have done well working behind the scenes in various kinds of detective work--but not out where I could get hurt. :-)