Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | January 19, 2010

I Light This Candle for Gabe

You know those kids you read about who started college at the age of twelve?

I was one of those kids.

I wasn’t a full-time student at the age of twelve, but I started taking college level math classes at the local University in a pilot program for supposedly “gifted” students. By the time I was done, I studied more higher math than I care to recall. Discrete mathematics; fuzzy set theory; symbolic logic; predicate calculus; as well as the old standbys: probability; calculus; and non-Euclidean geometry. Other than that, I took the rest of my academic load at the public schools, which were, for the most part, awful.

By the time I was halfway through high school, I was bored out of my mind not only with the public school classes, but with the extra-curricular activities there, as well. So, while wandering around the University campus one day, I started paying attention to the posters that said, “Writers Wanted!” and “Generation Wants You!”

Okay, I thought. Let’s see where this road leads.

The time I spent at Generation Magazine — a weekly news feature magazine for the students of my local university — was among the most formative of my formative years. And the people I met there did more to shape my attitudes than any other single group. I had been there for a while before my friends there even learned that I was a high school kid, fully four years younger than many of  them. Likewise, I was at first surprised to discover that one of my friends there was a lesbian, and a few others polyamorous, and so on, and I thus became exposed to good, loving, talented, like-minded people who opened my eyes to different ways of looking at, and living in, the world.

From these friends, I learned the effects and the etiquette surrounding drug use, despite the fact that I didn’t partake — much as a frequent designated driver comes to learn the etiquette of barroom behavior, even if he or she doesn’t drink. As a few of them studied A Course in Miracles, I began to grok spirituality and ego and philosophy from completely new angles. Then there was the music, the writing, and the graphic design… oh, yes, I was exposed to new ways of experiencing and understanding so much. The two years I spent with my fellow Gen-oids introduced me to worlds that were far beyond what I would experience later as I embarked upon my own full-time college career at a different (and rather uptight) University.

So these people are special to me. They will always have a dear place in my heart.

Among my beloved Gen-oids was Gabe. When I knew her at Generation, she was bookish in appearance, and was one of the more thoughtful members of our crew — which is saying something. Like me, she had a more… conservative aura. She seemed more mature than the others in many ways. If I were to say ‘librarianesque,’ it might be overstating the case, but not by much. That was how I saw her — wicked smart, and reservedly beautiful.

We road-tripped once to Boston, along with a couple others of our Generation crew, and I can still recall that trip vividly. Our conversations about music. About love. About you-name-it. (Like this: a well known singer, whom I later interviewed for the magazine, and for whom Gabe’s cousin played keyboards, was supposedly a ‘tomato.’ What’s a tomato? Why, it’s someone who isn’t quite sure whether she’s a fruit or a vegetable, of course!)

—–

Many years later, after I’d settled into respectable work as a software designer for a small software company in suburban Seattle, I began emceeing a monthly open-mic poetry night. While booking “featured readers” (the twenty-minute guest slot of someone who was actually an accomplished poet or writer), someone had suggested [Gabe’s full name]. “Funny,” I said. “That’s an unusual name, and I used to know someone with that name.”

I read the bio. This chick might or might not have been my friend — neither our home town nor Generation were mentioned — but the description ended by saying, “And she is, in every way, a true red head.”

Well, the Gabe I knew wasn’t a red head, so I supposed it wasn’t her. But, still… I wasn’t quite convinced. I got in touch to see about booking her for our little event. Sure enough, it was my dear, long lost friend. A lot had happened in the intervening years. A lot. And then I met face to face when she came to our open mic night. Wow. Yeah, she wasn’t that bookish young librarian-looking English major any longer. She was wild. Fire and spice. Red hair and buxom and full of life. Electric.

And yet… the Gabe I’d known was in there, too. She was all that she ever had been, and more.

So we reconnected, and it was great. For the next three years or so, we travelled overlapping circles. They weren’t quite the exact same circles — I was settled down, married with a small child in the suburbs, and she and her motorcycle guy boyfriend were living a more wild life in the urban center. But, still, we were both a part of the local poetry scene and we kept in touch.

She moved back to our home town. Seattle wasn’t paying her bills. From our hometown, she later moved to Austin, Texas. That was a year ago or so.

—–

I have a confession to make. As you know, my faithful reader, I have long been contemplating the eventual dissolution of my marriage. At one point, the thought had occurred to me… would Gabe ever be interested in me as a romantic partner? She was single by the time she landed in Austin. I might be single before too long, myself. Would it be possible for me and her…? I mean, after all, we had common ground, we could challenge each other intellectually, we were simpatico, she was comfortable in her own skin….

But I never let that thought fully form. It was an idea, just sitting there, quietly, in the back of my mind. A little ‘maybe’ for future consideration.

—–

Shortly after she settled into her new life in Austin, her Facebook status updates took a suddenly ominous tone. Something was wrong. She was in the hospital. Details would follow.

She had gone in for back pain, if I recall correctly, and during the battery of tests to try to figure it out, they discovered she had late stage cancer originating from the gallbladder. The typical five-year survival rate for someone with this diagnosis is five percent.

Five percent.

One of her friends encouraged us all to light white candles for her, and to send in pictures to let her know how much she was loved. I took such a photo, but I didn’t do what everyone else had done — I didn’t simply take a snapshot of the candle. I went through her Facebook photo gallery and found an image of her that perfectly captured both the quiet, mature Gabe I had known as well as a hint of the spicy red head she had become. I printed up the photo and put it next to the candle, and then took the picture.

I didn’t have the heart to post it, however.

It felt like… it looked like a photo in memoriam. A white candle and a photo of the dearly departed. I couldn’t post that. We were still pulling for her to beat this thing; to be one of the five percent who lasts another five years and beyond.

And for a while, the prognosis seemed like that was possible.

It’s not any longer. This past month has seen one set back after another. My friend is dying. The doctors, at this point, say she has two weeks to two months, at best.

Her parents (who mothballed their house in our hometown so that they could tend to her in Austin) and her friends are throwing a “last hurrah” party for her in a couple of weekends. I want to go. But with my (our) financial situation completely messed up, and with the kids and the business and the divorce all needing my attention… it would be tough to swing. It does not appear likely that I will see her again.

Tentatively, I posted my photo to the Facebook group that had been set up in her honor. I explained that even though Gabe has stressed that she wants us to remember her as the bunny-ear wearing, spitfire red head, the photo I chose is the way I think of her. I mentioned that the candle is scented vanilla — a scent that makes me think, ‘home.’ I said that I wished her to get well soon and to return home to those who loved her.

Her mother posted a comment, thanking me. She said the photo I’d chosen is how she thinks of Gabe, too.

Today, I noticed that someone made the picture I’d posted into the profile photo of the FB group in Gabe’s honor. I am touched.

And it makes me cry.

Oh, Gabe. I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have that kind of a death sentence hanging over your head. You’ve been dealt a shitty hand, but you’ve handled it with more grace than I would have ever imagined possible. You are a truly beautiful person, and the world is so much better for having you in it.

If I should live to be eighty, I would be blessed to have touched even half as many people as you have. The outpouring of love on FB and on your “CaringBridge” page is overwhelming.

I keep this candle lit for you. With love.

A Candle for Gabe

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Responses

  1. Oh, Rain! I’m so sorry I never knew her. She seems like someone that I would have liked immensely.

    My wish for you is that somehow you find a way to go to her last hurrah. Miracles happen every day, friend. Believe. Think outside the box. You can do this.

    Tonight, I’ll light a candle for both of you…mine will be cinnamon, my winter home scent.

    Thinking of you…

  2. Oh. *Blink*

    Oh I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine …

  3. What a beautiful post and a lovely picture. I will keep your friend in my thoughts.

  4. This is a really touching post. One of my best friends just lost her very best friend (since Junior High) to cancer on Sunday. It really puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? I guess all we can do is keep them alive through our memories.

  5. I’m so sorry. I’m thinking of all of you.

  6. She’s lovely…. as was your post here about her. She sounds like a very special woman. I love her name even… “Gabe”… how cool is that?

    Sometimes, often when we are thinking how much life sucks, something like this reminds us of how precious it all actually is… Life, in general, I mean, and those we love that are near and dear to us. At this moment, I would like to thank you, and Gabe, for reminding me of just that.

    Thank you.

  7. I am so sorry. I just went through this with a friend of mine. Her daughter lost her battle to cancer in June.

  8. That was a beautiful post. I’m sure her family would appreciate reading something like this at some point. Very poignant. My heart goes out to her family (and you) on this. Cancer is a vicious illness.

  9. I wish there were words I could give you, sit next to you and simply hold your hand. There are never words for this. She seems like an absolutely beautiful woman who gave you and many other people so much. I’m so sorry.

  10. *HUG*

  11. I’m so sorry. What a wonderful tribute to an amazing spirit. I can’t even imagine what she’s going through, but I hope she knows how vividly she will be remembered. Hugs to you.

  12. Thank you all for your kind words. They help more than I can say.

    I will be posting more about Gabe in a few days — a YouTube video of her last Poetry Slam performance, recorded one month ago. It’s powerful stuff.

    She is awesome. And so are all of you. One of the things Gabe says in her final slam appearance is this: don’t wait to tell the people you love how much you care about them.

    So, pardon me for getting all maudlin, but…

    You are all amazing, and I’m blessed to have you in my life! I enjoy reading your words, both on your own blogs and in comments here and on other mutually followed blogs.

    Here’s to us, to the blessings we enjoy today, and to amazing days ahead.

  13. I know not what to say
    When you were there,
    The days were so happy and gay
    Now, in a flash, you are going…
    Taking all my happiness away

    I will also keep a vanilla candle lit for your friend Gabe. Nope, I’ve never had the pleasure of knowing her, but I know YOU and you are hurting. I’ll keep it lit in your honor and INRIS we love you back.

  14. I can’t help but think you are meant to go to her last hurrah party…Are you sure you can’t go? What would it take?

  15. […] I wanted to re-post it here… but, you should also go see INRIS’s posts on her here (https://itneverrainsinseattle.wordpress.com/2010/01/19/i-light-this-candle-for-gabe/) … and here […]


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