Wednesday, July 28, 2010

She's a Survivor

Back to Mama Sue. When I think of Mama Sue now, I see a rapidly aging woman, a woman growing old way before her time. With an eye out for "the Katrina story" I would always ask, was this -- your unravelling health -- or your marital, um, stew -- or your lack of work -- or... -- the result of Katrina or would you have been "miserable" anyway? Strange things to be asking. Looking back, not a necessary question at all.

But Sue, though in her mid 50's, hobbles with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. And, as a result of Katrina, which she survived through a set of events, decisions, quick thinking, and as Sue would say, with the intervention of "God or the deity of your choice," she developed the nastiest of foot infections and had a few front teeth knocked out. But hair was gelled and she was wearing maybe a touch of mascara when she sat down opposite me to relate her Katrina tale, and I could see she'd been a "beauty." She loved to tell me about her straight chestnut hair so long she could sit on it.

When I moved down to Violet, three years ago, one of the first things I did was invite Sue over for dinner. Sue is now heavy, and due to the pain, she has a stiff kneed gait and she walks leaning forward slightly. After she made it to my door, my landlord called to ask if everything were OK. I don't know what he saw when he saw Sue come into my apartment, but whatever it was it worried him. As I poured the wine, which Sue couldn't drink with all the medication she took, but probably politely raised and lowered, she told me I was her only friend. Thankfully I didn't ask whether that was a Katrina problem. Anyway, I knew the answer.

Sue isn't good at chit chat. It seemed as thought she's cursed with -- the artist's curse maybe. The need to organize her thoughts wholly according to an inner light. Often it seemed she was (is. She is still very much alive! though I do worry about that constantly) musing so hard she'd forget she was in company. I'm painting a picture of a distracted genius. No, not that at all. Maybe Sue is an Outsider Artist. She planted her front garden with plastic flowers after the storm. "Nothing would grow," she said, "everything's dead." (hence the name of my film, mama sue's garden). The front garden was ablaze with bright pink and yellow flowers, and they were pretty! Not tacky at all. Mama Sue has a hearty laugh, she can be wicked, can get hopelessly tangled up in petty BS with a neighbor but who can't, was (is?) a great friend and companion to her daughter, April, who was finishing up her last year of high school. Anyone looking at the two of them, would see a couple in love.

A couple of weeks later, maybe less, I found a large brown envelope under my windshield wiper. Inside was Sue's memoir, 200+ pages of Sue's life. I got to it within a day, and could not put it down. Whether I knew Sue or not, I think I'd have read until dawn. It read like a potboiler, that is fiction, bodice ripping scenes included. Such as married to a dashing navy enlistee and living with him in his idyllic Hawaiin posting. Followed by infidelities and the mean and heart rending lows of husband number two, whose drug addiction and physical abuse never for a minute it seemed stopped her from loving him. To the next guy, Lou, who she hardly mentions at all.

And Katrina, which doesn't appear for a 100 pages, and then reads like a film starring Clint Eastwood, an early one, with so many moments when you think, this couldn't really happen. Like a CE movie, you know from the beginning that she makes it but all the way through you're on the edge of your seat.

Sue loves that she survived the storm on her rooftop. She told me more than once that she'd do it again. The first time she said that I think my jaw dropped. I don't understand people who climb Mt. Everest. But I'm beginning to get it. To know that you can survive the worst natural disaster with nothing but the intelligence of your muscles and quick wittedness. To confront it without -- nuthin.' Just you, as everything that had that ever held you up, let you sit, provided food and warmth, as all of it turns into an obstacle, an enemy even (as her refrigerator did when it floated towards the door and formed a blockade, as her roof did as it shredded between her fingers, while she was attempting to pull, climb, stretch and haul her body onto it) and everything you depended on vanishes one by one and then flies at you in 150 mile an hour winds "as though you had a bullseye painted on your back." Baking in the sun and as the days wore on, joined by two of her dogs, who'd chase away the rats. Other small animals, seeking high ground, were allowed to stay. At night she'd sleep in a pirogue which had floated by. "You sent me a boat God?" Survival of the elements. But surviving with faith, as Sue did, conversing the whole while with God or thedeityofyourchoice. It is something to be proud of. As my editor said the other day -- Sue was a heroine.

No comments:

Post a Comment