Today would have been my friend Rachel’s 67th birthday. She stopped getting older when she died of cancer this past December, age 66. She so wanted to see Donald Trump impeached but she didn’t quite make it. She died on the 14th. He was impeached on the 18th. I hope against hope that she got the word.
Rachel and I were colleagues at the Martha’s Vineyard Times a few eons ago. She was in production, typesetting ads, and she was the first person I knew who was computer-adept enough to customize her terminal with sound effects. These included a one-liner from Baby Sinclair, of the early 1990s TV series Dinosaurs, that cracked me up every time I heard it: “Mama say don’t talk to fridge!”
Rachel left the Vineyard for Vermont long time ago, but thanks to Facebook we managed to keep in touch. It helped that we were in more or less the same racket, i.e., freelancing in the publishing world, she as an indexer, I as a copyeditor. She was also a therapist, and an avid crafter (more about that in a minute).
Last October she made her last trip to the Vineyard. We met for lunch at the Little House. I knew her prognosis was grim and was surprised by how Rachel she was. She said she felt pretty normal but tired very easily, which was why she was only seeing a few people while she was here. I was honored to be one of the few.
She was sorry that she wouldn’t get to meet Tam Lin in person, having watched him growing up on Facebook. When I remember Rachel, animals are always in the picture, especially cats, birds, hens, and horses. For a while on the Vineyard she was the live-in manager of a cat sanctuary in Chilmark. She was devoted to animals in general, and particularly to the ones she cared for. Not surprisingly, she was a longtime vegetarian.
When we met for lunch, she gave me a necklace she had made for me, and a “sky stone.” The necklace was for keeping, but the sky stone was to be passed on when I was ready to let it go, either by giving it to someone or by leaving it in a place where anyone could find it. For now I’m holding on to it.
It’s happening more and more often, that friends and acquaintances pass on before they reach the age that I’m at now, and not as a result of war or other violence but from illness. I’m not now, and never have been, likely to die in war, or even from other forms of violence. I’m very likely to die of illness or other physical infirmity, and the older I get, the more likely it is to happen.
And the luckier I feel that it hasn’t happened yet.
So on Rachel’s birthday I’ve been remembering, humming, and singing a song I’ve known for a very long time: Holly Near’s “It Could Have Been Me.” She wrote it for a commemoration of Kent State — May 4, 1970, which for me, a student activist of not quite 19, was an “it could have been me” moment. She’s added verses over the years, but this may be the first version I heard, in the mid to late 1970s. “It could have been me / But instead it was you / So I’ll keep doing the work you were doing / As if I were two . . .”
Rachel didn’t live to see Trump impeached, but I did. And the work continues.