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They Disappear so Quietly

Moving out of the house I've occupied for the past decade, I had to practice discernment as I attempted clutter elimination. Looking around every room, every day, I labored over what to discard and what to keep, what was necessary and what was excess. During the three-month process, I gathered scattered pottery pieces and in the closet rediscovered beautiful watercolors a friend did for me in the early 90s.

We collaborated on a children's book about elephant conservation in Africa; she did remarkable paintings of the elephants. Just before Hurricane Andrew hit us in 1992, I took the draft to Miami Metrozoo as a gift, hoping they could publish it and use it for fundraising to stop African elephant slaughter. The hurricane surprised all of South Florida by refusing containment along the coast and instead brutally impacted southwest Dade County where Metrozoo is situated. I remember the news reports of demolished aviaries that freed hundreds of rare birds. Metrozoo was at the center of ground zero.

Months later I contacted them; they had begun zoo repairs, but the offices were disheveled and destroyed with no traces of our manuscript anywhere. This was 20 years ago, long before everyone had access to desktop publishing. I think I did my typing on an old all-in-one Apple and saved the text on a floppy disk (remember those?) I lost through my own disorganization. So the book vanished.

I began teaching in Miami, moved to southwest Broward, and saw my friend Pat, the artist, a few times to buy some pottery from her as Christmas gifts. She was a gifted potter who lived on a rustic property with an art studio complete with kiln. Her specialty was firing masks of her face and sculpting parts of her body which then became furniture bases. She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which slowed her down, at the same time Jacqueline Onassis was being treated for the same disease. I saw her once after chemotherapy, and she assured me she was in remission and doing well. I had gone over to her house once to do meet both of her schnoodles (shnauzer-poodle mixes), Monet and Dali, cute little girls. Then I got married,and moved again, and you know how that story ends. We lost touch. Ten years later, I'm divorced,looking to reconnect with old friends. Finding her paintings inspired me to contact her.

I decided to look her up on Facebook a few weeks ago, but she wasn't there, so I began searching newspapers for mention of her art, thinking perhaps I'd locate a gallery showcasing her work. What I found instead was her obituary. She died in 2002.

My lesson is simple: Don't let time be the great destroyer. Hold on to your friends. They disappear so quietly.

Please enjoy these beautiful watercolors by Pat Sladek.


Janet M. said…
I know this too well. Reaching out each day to tell friends that I love them. I want my last words to be like Mom's to Bill, "I love you too, boy".
The watercolors are just lovely. Maybe now, you can write a story based on the Hurricane and the lost manuscript. Maybe now, you can use the "elephant memory" of the original as a springboard.
Elephants Survive and Live a Long Time. So will Pat's paintings.
Lisa Shaw said…
I know you understand, J. And you never fall short, letting us know how how loving you are. We could learn from you.
Carol Romine said…
Lisa, the tears began flowing as your words ended and the watercolors began. What a beautiful tribute to the essence of your friend, captured in her view of nature. And what a lovely way to share her essence with we who are your friends. Lisa, I am so very happy we found each other again and promise to hold your words in my heart as I pass through the rest of this lifetime so that I may never lose physical sight of those who hold a place within the borders of my memory and my heart. I love you, Lisa...

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