Letters to Catherine Excerpt: Extraordinary Friends

Catherine was a real person. I like to think that Stevie was too—but it’s been a long time since I was that girl. A lot of life has happened since then. Writing this experimental novel was cathartic and enlightening. I miss Cate, and I got closer to her during the challenge of getting our relationship down on virtual paper. Catherine had a host of physical disabilities that prevented her from doing most of the things I took for granted; I was bogged down with emotional baggage Cate never understood. But there was a depth to our friendship that seemed to make all of those issues less important. Problems were for ordinary people, and Cate and I were anything but ordinary friends…

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April 16th, 2008

Dear Catherine,

I never really knew how much you understood.

I wish there was some way we could have known. It’s important to me that you know who you were, and what you meant to other people. The neurologists said that all those seizures damaged your brain, and affected your memories. You had so many seizures that I wonder if you have any memories left at all.

Wherever you ended up.

I want you to have a record of your life—in case you never get those memories back, so I decided I’d write it all down for you, hoping my words will imprint the universe somewhere, and you’ll know…

8:04 a.m.

I am putting on a black lace chemise, and searching for a gold cross I suspect I’ve given away. I’m not Catholic anymore, and I’m an adult now—an adult who never thought she’d set foot in a church again. But I have to go today. I am the eulogist. And it’s you. You know damn well I wouldn’t do it for anyone else but you, Catherine.

These pants are wrinkled, but I have no others that would be appropriate. I can hear you chuckling to yourself as I put them on. Your mother will notice, but I don’t have time to iron. Truthfully, Cate, I don’t know how to iron. When I lived at home, my grandmother ironed my shirts on a tea-towel draped over a drain board, but I never asked her how. Now, I’m twenty-four years old, and still don’t know where the water goes and which setting to use for cotton vs. silk.

I think the strict routine of the mundane was what has kept your mother clinging to this side of sanity for all your nineteen years.Your mother would teach me, but she’s a little busy. Maybe in a few months time, I’ll bring over some blouses and we can have a go. I know it must seem strange that we’d be able to talk about such a mundane thing right now, but that’s the way things always were between your mother and me. When I was raising Eliot, and Maggie was raising you, the thing we most appreciated was being able to talk about normal things. And also, talking about the crazy things too, like they were normal.

Which they were, to us.

I haven’t spoken to her at all, Cate. I’ve wanted to call her so many times—the woman who could have been my mother, but who is burying you, her real daughter, today. It’s just that there are so many things she has to do. I have my marching orders, and I’m busy—supposedly writing your eulogy. To tell you the truth, I’ve spent more time at Winners, sorting through racks of clothes, trying to figure out what is appropriate to wear to a Catholic funeral mass. There were a few times when I almost took out the phone. I know Maggie would have dropped what she was doing.

Hey Missy, what do you need?

She always does that for me—stands in when I need a mother and don’t have one. You’ve never minded sharing. But at the last second, I just couldn’t do it. I was afraid she’d get in the car and come down to the mall (half just to escape the crowd at the house) and I would have to look at her, and I couldn’t stand to see her crying. To feel, in that easy way we moved in and out of each other’s thoughts, the very completeness of your absence.