“Well, darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable/And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear/I wrapped my fear around me like a blanket/I sailed my ship of safety ‘til I sank it/I’m crawling on your shores…” – Indigo Girls
On my birthday this year, my Pledge Sister in Pi Sigma Kappa, Myrica Michelle Cook, called to leave me a message for my birthday. The message turned to sobbing as she shared with me that the doctors had just diagnosed her with ovarian cancer. I didn’t call her back. I messaged her on Facebook to tell her how sorry I was, to tell her that I was praying for her. Because I couldn’t find the voice to say those things physically. I had turned 50 that day and Mykee, as her close friends called her, had just turned 51 the month before. It wasn’t fair. But nothing about cancer ever is, I guess. We stayed in touch via Facebook. I didn’t want to bother her too much because I knew that she was worn out, worn down, and spending a lot of time in the hospital. But her spirits seemed to be up, which I took as a good sign.
On October 1, my college BFF and Sorority Big Sister, Lynne Bishop, treated me to a weekend in Williamsburg to belatedly celebrate my 50th birthday because we had both been so busy for the weeks between my actual birthday and then. Late that night, I got up to make my usual bathroom rounds, and checked Facebook, as I’m prone to do during my nocturnal potty breaks. And I started seeing all these pictures of Mykee posted on Facebook. I couldn’t understand why, so I started clicking around. Then I found her father’s post, announcing that Mykee had lost her fight with cancer earlier that evening. Words still fail to convey the deep sense of loss Mykee’s parting from this earth has left in me. I’ve been void of desire to do much of anything for the three weeks since I got that news. I find it difficult to read, to write, to think in any meaningful, coherent fashion. It just seems so wrong to know that I’ll never see her or hear her again.
I try to fill the empty space with memories. There are many. And such good ones, too. We used to watch CMT, MTV, and VH1 together in the 3rd floor lounge in MaWa. Favorite songs/videos I remember from those sessions include “Feed Jake,” “She’s in Love With the Boy,” “Hopelessly Yours,” and “Losing My Religion.” Music was always a common bond for us. When we Pledged together, with Traci Hurt Brandon, in Fall 1990, we had to make up songs daily to entertain our Sorority Sisters. Our Pledge Class Song was to the tune of “You’re the Inspiration,” by Chicago. The three of us always sounded good together, having the great fortune and talent of harmonizing well. We often listened to the Indigo Girls self-titled 1989 album on runs to Abingdon in Traci’s butterscotch-colored Subaru, driving down Hillman Highway, blasting “Closer to Fine,” “Secure Yourself,” “Kid Fears,” “History of Us,” “Land of Canaan,” and more. Repeatedly. Every trip. Without fail. With gusto and exhilaration.
Mykee did everything with gusto and exhilaration. Was she perfect? No. And that’s part of why I loved her so much. She never pretended or tried to be perfect. She was Mykee. She was a beautiful, flawed human being like the rest of us and she helped all of us to see the best in ourselves and in each other.
I’ll never forget the day that I looked at her in Major British Writers as we were talking about Rushing, and going to the various Rush Dinners. I asked her which Sorority she wanted to Pledge, and she told me she wasn’t sure. I smiled. I said, “You might as well go Pi Kapp with me. You’d make a good Pi Kapp.” She asked if I really thought so and I said absolutely. So I proposed right then that we go to the Rush Dinners together, kinda alerting people that we might be a package deal. I wouldn’t have held her to that, if she had wanted to go some other Sorority. But I knew that she’d make an exceptional Pi Kapp. Our Sorority motto was “Unity Through Individuality,” and Mykee was one hell of an individual!
She could sing like nobody’s business. And she was a fabulously talented author, having published three books in her life. She always supported and encouraged my writing and I hope that I gave back even a fraction of that to her.
My last conversation with her was asking if she got a package of Scentsy stuff that I sent to her. I’d put a little stuffed koala in it, koalas being our Sorority mascot. She thanked me for it. That was the last thing I said to her. It feels so hollow now, so insignificant. I should have told her every day how much I loved and admired her. I hope that she didn’t feel like I failed her in those last few weeks like I feel that I did…
Russ and I attended her memorial service in Ohio last week. It was moving to see so many people there. I’ve long adored her parents, especially her dad, with whom she was so close. It was so hard to see them going through the service for Mykee, knowing that my pain couldn’t come close to what they must be going through. But to see that much love going up for her was so amazing. So touching.
Last Saturday, at Emory & Henry’s Homecoming, our Sorority organized a memorial service in her honor, at a maple tree outside of Hillman Hall. We had to Pledge Maple Trees during Pledge Week and so we thought it appropriate to choose one outside of Hillman. Those of us “older” didn’t realize when we chose that spot for the ceremony that, in recent years, a new maple has been planted in front of Hillman, in memory of two Sisters who have died. The ceremony was open to all friends of Mykee, and several people from other Sororities joined us to remember her. We sang our Sorority song – well, I hummed it, because I couldn’t sing for crying – and the newer Sisters sang one of their songs, too. And we all blew bubbles. I think Mykee would have loved it. It started out a rainy, miserable day, but by the end of it, the sun was shining, and life went on. Maybe that is what I was supposed to take away and am a week late in catching on to… I’m never going to stop missing her. I will never not wonder why she was taken from us so soon. But I have to go on. She would want all of us to do that. So I’ll keep basking in those memories and telling stories about Mykee. Because those are the ways I know best to keep someone’s memory alive. When my time comes, I hope that there are people left to tell Chrissie stories to and from. ‘Til then, I’ll keep striving to live a little closer to fine.