Can’t Beat The Feeling-4th of July 2009

By: pbcmedia

Jul 04 2009

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Friends, Personal


Focal Length:35mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:Canon EOS 5D

I helped her move out of her house in DC when she was getting a divorce.  Her husband stood by the door of their Washington, DC home and I prayed to the baby Jesus he didn’t have a gun.  Happy Fourth of July sometime in the early 70’s.

Decades later, long after I had lost touch with her, I got a call from a man identifying himself as her father. Brusquely, he asked if this was the Pat Coakley who had once lived in Washington, DC.  His voice was remote as if calling from outer space but it was only Iowa.

With equal elan, he asked whether I had been a friend of  Susan (I’ll leave her last name out) at any point in her life?

Well, of course, you nit wit.  (I had begun to remember the tone of some of Susan’s childhood memories of him.)

But, I didn’t call him a nit wit.  I just asked how she was.

“She died,” he said.  Again, said in a voice with so little affect that it might have been one of those computerized synthetic voices.   I was stunned and wanted to talk more but he did not.  He hung up.

I sat with the phone in my hand for several minutes.

Weeks later, I received a letter from TIAA-CREF saying I was the beneficiary of the 30K in her IRA.  The following day I got a letter from a lawyer in Iowa representing her father, Dr. S0-S0, ( yes, you read that right..Doctor So-So) who asked that I consider giving Susan’s father the money as he’d had to cover her burial expenses and funeral expenses as well as some costs related to her illness.

I responded to TIAA-CREF within a few days and took a week to contemplate the other request.

She was a doctoral student in Sociology when I was in DC in the early 70’s and floundering around in a Master’s program in English and selling water beds in a second floor shop in Georgetown.

“Selling” is a bit of a misnomer, for I sold very few and only when the customers could…um…well, when they could wake me up long enough (those water beds were comfortable, let’s be honest) to process their credit card.  I wasn’t exactly a highly motivated retail gal in the early seventies is about the nicest way to put it.

She had been one of my few friends who had come over to visit me after I left DC to work in Germany.  I remember going to the Luxembourg airport to pick her up from an Icelandic flight.  She was tall, willowy, with long, long blond straight hair, smoked unfiltered Chesterfields or Kools, (I can’t remember which) one after another, and had to wear her round wire glasses 24/7 as she was blind as a bat.  She had a chronic smoker’s cough.  Her suitcase was nearly impossible to lift on one’s own.  We had to stagger to the train back to Heidelberg straddling this behemoth between us, each with one hand on the handle.  It was so large and so heavy due to being filled with cans of Coke Cola as she was afraid she might not be able to find any in Germany.

I know.  I know.  Coke is everywhere and has been since the glaciers melted, but when you “need” something like Susan “needed” her Coke,  you can never be too sure so you never leave home without it.

The last time I saw her was after I returned from Germany and was living in Massachusetts.  She had been having a difficult time financially and health wise.  She’d been diagnosed with Lupus.   I flew her up to Massachusetts to have Thanksgiving with me, my boyfriend at the time, and another friend.  I don’t remember all the details now but she ended up very angry and announced she was leaving and going back to DC.  I remember trying to talk her out of it but it just seemed to agitate her more.  She tried to call a taxi to get her to the airport but we had no taxi service in my town.  I drove her to the airport in silence, afraid to say one more word.   When I got back home, I found her personal check on my bureau for the cost of the plane ticket which I simply tore up.

I never talked to her again.  I wanted to give her some time and hoped she see that I didn’t cash the check.   She didn’t call.  When I finally made the call, the number was disconnected.

Over the years when I’d visit the DC area, I’d look in the phone books at the airport to see if there were any listings in Virginia or Maryland as well as DC but never found her name again.

I had subsequently read that medications used for Lupus can often cause emotional roller coasters and felt for sure that this must have had something to do with this uncharacteristic kerfuffle.

At any rate, I called TIAA-CREF and wanted to know if this beneficiary provision was correct.  I wondered if it had been something written at one time but perhaps there had been changes along the line that they had missed.    They told me that annually she was asked to confirm the beneficiary information.

After a week, I decided on my response to her father, Dr. So-So.  I asked her father’s lawyer for receipts for her burial expenses and sent the lawyer a check for those verified amounts.  Then, I donated 5K to the Lupus Foundation and put her father’s name as the co-donor, so he’d get thank yous and reminders in the mail of his “generosity” as well as future requests for donations for the rest of his natural pitiful life.

So,  Susan, this Coke’s for you.  (Alright,  alright…that was a beer commercial but it works better than the 80’s Coke campaign, “Can’t beat the Feeling”, in this instance.

A whole truckload full of Cokes on ice for you on this Fourth of July.

I should have tried harder to find you, sweet troubled willowy girl, and that really is the feeling that can’t be beat.

©Pat Coakley 2009


8 comments on “Can’t Beat The Feeling-4th of July 2009”

  1. A perfect photo to commemorate this uniquely American holiday. And a beautiful, if melancholy, story of your friend Susan (and yes, I suspect she considered you a friend to the very end). I’ve spent many minutes now thinking and wondering about the emotional life of this woman. A real gift from you to her — and the rest of us.

    • Oh, Don…melancholy it is. It has been with me for years. I am glad you spent many minutes thinking about her. She deserved more of my minutes.

  2. oh pat, oh what a story. inner workings of the heart. loyalty, trust, and long silence, the marks of connections, the meaning of friendship, time, space, the eternal whisper of a long lost friend, and the one who never forgets, oh and love, the connection that is never broken regardless of trials, emotions, missed steps, disappearances, even death. it seems Susan would never have expected any less than the whole true heart from you and i can see why. wonderful tribute and memory in poignant contrast to the fireworks filling the sky, i love this story. i have too, a friend, in fact a few like that, people who just dropped away, i relate so much to your last sentence, i am going to consider taking off the mask of laissez faire and making a call

    • Well, if anything can make me feel less crappy it would be if you actually did make a call…trust me on this one…even if the response at the other end is still angry, distant, whatever…you’ll never be sorry you made the call. Let me know if you do, OK?

  3. Wow! That’s a great image for a sad story.

    It always amazes me the choices that we make in how we want to live our lives. Those who say that they don’t have any regrets, haven’t really lived. I’m also amazed at how miserable some people are. I find it hard to believe that a doctor couldn’t/wouldn’t pay for his daughter’s funeral.

    I recently received a small inheritance after having to attend an arbitration after my paternal grandfather died intestate. I can you one thing for sure about the experience, never, ever, get involved with lawyers if you can avoid it. Out of $320K, the lawyers took over half and the rest was split between 6 descendants.

    • Razz, the father’s lawyer knew I had no legal obligation to give them a dime. I knew I had no legal obligation. I’m with you…trouble grasping the hollowness of a father asking for reimbursement..that she had to spend her final days with that presence just flattens me.

  4. So strange, isn’t it, how this piece of your past might have fizzled into fade if you hadn’t received that call. You might never have known how important you were to someone you though shut you out.
    And oh the wisdom of your decisions in handling the finances.
    A very sad, beautifully recounted story.

  5. It’s amazing what impact we make on people’s lives and what you or they remember.
    I consider this a “thank you” note from the past.

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