Sunday, August 17, 2014

Louise Is Here

Bonnie’s cancer returned with a vengeance exactly one decade after it nearly claimed her life in 1995. As the months wore on, we both suspected that taming it a second time was unlikely, and so Bonnie began the legal process of setting up a trust for her two kids, her living will, and her estate executor paperwork, all of which I would manage upon her death. We candidly discussed her impending fate, laughed about all the crazy good times we’d had together, and spoke of her two kids, then 17 and 20.

She felt good about the stability her son, Chris, seemed to have created in the past year: he was dating a loving and grounded young woman, held a steady job at Boeing, and had removed his lip piercing and added long-sleeved shirts to his professional wardrobe to cover a plethora of tattoos. It was Christine on whom most of Bonnie’s trepidation centered. School wasn’t her thing, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life professionally, and Bonnie worried that her death would be much more difficult for her daughter to weather.

At the end of a visit with Bonnie in July of that year, I made her promise to hang in there until after I returned from a long-scheduled two-month family sabbatical in France. Her mood was lighthearted as she said, “Don’t worry; I’m not going anywhere yet.” Weeks later, at the Denver airport, I made one last phone call to her before boarding our flight to Paris. “Go!” she admonished. “I’ll be here when you get back. Promise.”

A month later I was lying on a massage table in Provence while the therapist—whom I’d been told was also somewhat psychic—worked on my body, which still suffered the residual effects of a near-fatal illness five years prior. She spoke very little English and my French was limited to the ability to order wine, ask where the restroom was, and say please and thank you. Needless to say, conversation was minimal.

Lulled into a state of complete relaxation, ­­­Colette broke the silence of my massage by saying, “Louise is here.”


“Louise. She is here.”

“Pardon? Je ne comprends pas." 

“Louise. She is here, how you say, ‘her spirit’—it is here. She bring to you love. You must bring to her love aussi.”

“But I don’t know anyone named Louise,” I said, wondering why my relaxing massage was being interrupted by what felt like a woo-woo snipe hunt.

“I do not know why, but the spirits, they use the number two name.”

“The what? The number two…the middle name?”

“Oui oui. Yes, the middle name. They use it to speak with me.”

“Huh,” I said. “I don’t know anyone whose middle name is Louise.”

But the massage therapist was adamant. “Louise is here. She bring to you love. So much love. You must give her love.”

So what’s a girl to do? I sent this seemingly imaginary Louise love and enjoyed the rest of my massage, albeit with a little less relaxation.

I returned to our rental home in Mazan, went about my day and waited until it was morning in California so I could make my weekly call to Bonnie. It was only 7 am on the Pacific Coast, but Bonnie had always been an early riser, so I wasn’t concerned about waking her. Our mutual friend, Kelli, answered the phone, her voice weary.

“Bonnie passed away this morning, Lauren,” she said. “Her mom checked on her about an hour ago and she was already gone.” We spoke for a few more minutes before saying our good-byes.

An hour later, a thought popped into my mind: Bonita L. Young. How many times had I seen her formal name on the reams of legal documents I’d signed months earlier? Always Bonita L. Young. Never Bonnie. And never more than “L” for the middle name. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember if Bonnie had ever actually told me what her middle name was. I immediately dialed her number again, and this time, her mother, Iva, answered. I offered my condolences before asking, “What was Bonnie’s middle name?”

“Louise,” Iva said. “Why?”

One of Bonnie's favorite words was "believe." You could find it lurking throughout her home, spelled out with large metal letters on the mantel or woven into a throw pillow on her favorite reading chair. For Bonnie's memorial service, I decided to add it to an enlarged photo of her, which I knew was one of her personal favorites. Believe! it shouted in both word and image. 

If ever there was a situation that prompted me to believe, it was that moment lying on a French massage therapist's table as she told me Louise is here.