No, this isn't a story about Charlotte, though she really wanted to tell it. She's still trying to work up a good argument. But the truth is that I was there and so I really need to tell it. The characters are all friends who once worked together. And as you'll see, this is a story about love . . .
Chapter 1 - Renie Rae is dying
It hurts like crazy, and I'm having a hard time with it. I can't imagine that anyone who knows Renie isn't. To know her is to love her. To know her is to be loved by her. She's quite remarkable that way. She quite remarkable in many ways.
Among her gifts is this: She writes the way an angel sings. Lyrical, effortless, buoyant. She once lived in a cabin by a lake. I got over my fear of still water there, sitting in an big black inner tube, my feet and bottom skimming the surface of the cool water, my head resting on the inflated ring, just soaking in the summer sky and whispering trees. Reading Renie's prose feels like that. It carries you, mesmerizes you.
Renie has written a novel, a picaresque novel. Others who have written in this tradition are Cervantes with Don Quixote and Twain with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I don't say this lightly: Renie's work is a classic. One day you'll have the opportunity to read it. I hope you seize it.
Chapter 2 - Jacqueline gets an idea
Jacqueline came to see me as soon as she learned about Renie's diagnosis, a rare cancer that invaded her liver and grew lumps there, an inoperable cancer with limited treatment options. Cure was not one of them.
We sat in my yard, speechless.
Then Jacqueline asked me what I'd do if I found out I had terminal cancer. I can't remember what I said, but I do recall that she looked at me like I was nuts and said: "Wouldn't you want to publish your book?"
I have a speculative fiction novel in the works and Jacqueline is completing an amazing memoir. I'm stalled out. Jacqueline is on fire. I could see an idea germinating, and when Jacqueline gets an idea, something big is about to happen.
Chapter 3 - HospiceThe past few weeks have not been good ones for Renie. She hasn't been able eat or drink much, and her body has grown weaker and weaker. The time came for her to make a decision about whether to go for intense medical intervention, which would essentially make her radioactive and untouchable. Or not. Renie chose not.
Hospice care began last week. I had the good sense to answer the phone last Thursday, when Renie's beau, Ben, called. He asked if I could sit with her that afternoon, which I did. I hadn't seen her since she told her story at Common Ground Meditation Center one chilly evening earlier this year. You'd never have known how sick she was then. As always, she glowed.
She was still glowing last week -- in spite of the weight loss, the exhaustion, the pain, the waiting. She drifted in and out of sleep. And when she spoke, her voice was tired and fading. There was no mistaking it: Our beloved friend was dying.
I called Jacqueline.
Chapter 4 - Jacqueline, Nancy, and Eileen pull an allnighter
Jacqueline had seen our friend a month earlier, when the two brainstormed about how to get Renie's novel published. My name came up as someone who might be part of a team whose combined energies could take up where Renie's was slipping away.
Now, slippage was happening faster than we expected. And Jacqueline's idea was born.
Jacqueline started making calls. I tracked down contact information for Nancy and Eileen, two graphic artists who had also been part of the crew that once worked together years and years ago. Jacqueline called and Nancy instantly agreed to design the cover. Eileen, hundreds of miles away, took the inside pages, some 300 of them. Kinko's did the printing and binding. Nancy and Jacqueline checked a "press" proof at 4:30 am at Kinko's. And by 10 am, 16 "limited editions" of Renie's book were printed.
Renie didn't know yet.
Chapter 5 - The author gives her blessing
Via e-mail, text, and phone calls, Jacqueline "convened" the team of 13 people who were committed to seeing Renie's book published. It occurred to me that we should seek Renie's blessing on this endeavor. So I made a little scroll with words to that effect and listed the names of "Team Renie, The Book Edition."
Ben, a mighty protector who has faithfully guarded Renie's need for rest and quiet, arranged for Jacqueline and me to bring the books and our request to her. Jacqueline carried into Renie's room a tower of soft-bound books, while I followed with the scroll, a book of poetry, and a candle.
The look on Renie's face when she saw her manuscript in true book form simply defies description. I can say the room seemed to expand with light. At first, I don't think Renie realized her novel was actually inside the covers.
And then she opened it.
Ben was trying his best to hook up her hydration IV when Renie's tears came. She, with her wry sense of humor, pointed out the irony. And we laughed. Jacqueline noted that the novel had the most beautiful love-making scene she'd ever read. And we laughed so more.
When the guffawing slowed, I brought out the scroll, we lit the candle, and I choked my way through the reading of the official request for Renie's blessing to allow us get pursue publishing her book. She looked stunned. I suggested she might like to respond.
"Abso (expletive deleted) lutely," she said.
She didn't have the strength to sign the copies, so we asked if she'd touch each team member's book and bless it. I read a name, Jacqueline handed her a book, and Renie lovingly pressed each limited edition to her heart and spoke her blessing. Margie, her friend from college, wrote down the words and placed them in each book she was handed.
We all needed hydration by the time Renie blessed the last book -- for her son, Noah.
Chapter 6 - What will come
Team Renie, The Book Edition, will meet as a book group in January. We will discuss the novel of our beloved author and divvy up assignments.
In the meantime, we will continue our love vigil for a beautiful woman whose luminous spirit has filled and broken our hearts for good.
Chapter 1 & 2 image by Kathleen Kimball-Baker
Chapter 3 Image by notsogoodphotography
Chapter 4 Image by elyunque
Chapter 5 Image by nancysmets
Chapter 6 image by Oliver Beattie