My late boyfriend Joe was blessed with four brothers and four sisters. He often told me he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Many times I accompanied him to the family home, and there, I’d see more formal family portraits than I’d ever seen anywhere. Sometimes, I saw just the parents, sometimes sibs and parents, and other times, the many nieces and nephews were also included. Joe confided in me many times that because he used a wheelchair, photographers didn’t know what to do, how to have him posed. The family, with nine kids, needed two rows, at least. Photographers invariably put him in the front row, seated. He told me, though, that he’d rather have stood if only he could do so comfortably.
I remember one photo in particular. This was taken when the kids were younger, and even before Joe and I met. Rosemary is standing in this photo, off to the side. I think she was a teen. Her smile was so broad that I knew it was genuine. No “say cheese” needed.
Joe told me that Rosemary was his pet sister. Maybe since she was so much younger, he enjoyed spoiling her, as older brothers rightfully should. He had a pet name for her: Roses. You know how I feel right now? That she was just as precious and just as sweet.
When Joe and I first started dating, that is, we went from “very good friends” to a lot more than that, we avoided the dreaded “introductions” for as long as we could. Those meeting with the “potential future inlaws.” I suppose both of us foresaw awkwardness. Joe was shy in a rather cute way, and I myself was far more reticent than I am now. I can’t even recall the very first time I met his family. But I recall the first time he met mine.
This was on a Friday night, that is, for us, Erev Shabbat. I was amazed at how well things went that night. I figured my dad would be all full of reserve over my dating a goy, that is, a non-Jew. However, that’s not what happened. Both of my parents were rather taken with Joe. My dad knew right away that this wasn’t going to be yet another extremely short-lived relationship. My dad saw Joe as exceptionally polite and cordial. I recall his definitive gesture when my dad offered him the traditional glass of wine. He held his hand out. No. An automatic gesture. As if, as they say, it were a hot flame. There was no awkwardness over that, either. My dad was one to respect such wishes.
The subject got around to family. Who were the people in his life, where he came from? He didn’t hesitate to say with pride, “Seven eights Irish Catholic.” And the other eighth? Joe said his mother had done research and found out that this part of the family came over on the Mayflower. Then, he recited the litany of his siblings, in proper order. I’m sure he’d had plenty of practice over the years.Girl, boy, boy, boy, boy, girl, boy, girl, girl. For a time, his mother had to change four kids’ diapers. He said having four boys in a row meant a bit of hell-raising. My parents listened with fascination. Why did the kids get named their names?
Since Rosemary was the next-to-bottom on the pecking order, he mentioned her next-to-last. I remember exactly what he said. I recall that his whole face lit up as soon as he spoke those words. He said, “Rosemary is the prettiest of all the girls.” He went on to speak with pride of her advanced education. She knew many languages, he said.
I recall how proud Joe was when Rosemary landed a job at a large local TV network. She later pursued her PhD. Funny, though, he alway said her degree was in philosophy, but it wasn’t. She studied international relations, and traveled to Greece regularly. Joe loved her husband, a native of Greece. I recall that the two of them, the minority sinners, were always sent to some remote corner outdoors to smoke together. This served to draw the two men closer. The lepers.
Like his parents, Joe had many family photos all over his apartment. These included the kiddies, too. He called them “rugrats” rather affectionately and everyone in the family called him “Joey.” In 2003, when he passed away suddenly, I recall those photos still stuck on his fridge with magnets, and also in frames in his living room.
This was a hard time for me. Joe’s family reached out. A couple of the boys gave me their email addresses and phone numbers. But it was Rosemary who truly took me under her wing. We met for coffee many times, and also spoke on the phone.
I’d say 2008 marked the time things got bad for me, the year I was assaulted by my neighbor. I was too ashamed to contact Rosemary, didn’t want to admit that life wasn’t so great. Moving down the street made my life even worse. I didn’t want to be a downer to anyone. I recall one Christmas she wrote to tell me their father had passed away. I felt very sad. I think this was after I moved. I must have called or written, but I cannot recall. I didn’t hear from her after that, and I was too embarrassed to call. I often wanted to, though, especially when Joey’s birthday came around each year.
My whole life has changed, for sure. If you’d asked me at the time I last spoke to Rosemary that all this stuff would happen, I wouldn’t told you you were nuts. I knew Rosemary spent a lot of time in Greece. So would my move here to Uruguay be such a surprise? Probably not.
My speech for the electroshock protest will be broadcast in many cities and also I believe will be played in Nuevo York for a day-long radio broadcast against ECT. The protest is tomorrow, May 16. I will be participating locally, too. My Spanish has improved and I feel much more confident conversing, or trying to. My narration features Joe, actually. In fact, it’s a love story called “Sweet Evening Breeze.” This is the name of one of our favorite songs, sung by John Mellancamp.
I decided to contact Rosemary today, on the one-year anniversary of my arrival here. But how was I to do this? There’s no such thing as the White Pages anymore, and I don’t think anyone can get anything useful out of 411, can they? So I went online to look.
I thought I found her, and was about to contact her via social media, but I decided to Google again to see if I could maybe get a phone number. And there it was. Rosemary died only a couple of weeks ago, suddenly. The obituary didn’t say how. Maybe I just shouldn’t wonder. Fast-growing cancer? Car accident? Anything can kill us in an instant.
But no, Rosemary wasn’t a candle in the wind, certainly not a person you’d think of as easily snuffed out or fragile. She was daring and bold, quick-witted and sometimes, funny. I’ll never forget the warmth and love she showed me when we lost her brother. Not only that, she was a completely enjoyable person to hang with.
I was just going to call her, if only I could find her number. Isn’t that always what happens? You tell yourself it’s just the right time to contact a person with whom you haven’t spoken for a while. That is when you find out the news.
I wanted to tell her I still miss Joey, that I still cry over him quite often. I often wonder what he’d say if he knew I’d left the USA. But do I really have to wonder? He is still with me just as much as ever. As if we are still sitting in that van of his. Forest green was the color of that van. I remember when he told me, rather excitedly. I recall many things.
I wanted to tell her, as I have for quite a while now, that at the time of the ten year anniversary of his death, he came to me. I know this in my heart, and I even recall that moment. He was The Visitor.
But where was that visitor? Gone. Yes, he came for me, but left without me. My life goes on, and I have work to do.
Did Joey come for Rosemary? I don’t know. If so, he took her with him. I recall my dog died right after Joe died. I guess it was time for him to come for that pet sister of his, the one he spoiled, whom he called “Roses.”