One side of my heart is for myself and the other half is what other people see. Nestled deep in that half of my heart for me is a large black stain. That is where deaths have landed. Grandpa; Grandma; Mrs. Brown, the mother of my fifth-grade friend Tiana; and many others sit there. And Marie.
When I was eight years old, I took a visit to my ancestors’ home, green Ireland. I remember Dublin, I remember cows, but mostly I remember Marie’s farm. Marie was my mother’s cousin—and my friend. She lived with a crowd of other friendly, elderly people. I remember one man with large hands and thick, dirty clothes from staying out all day.
Marie was sixty-nine, a bit older than my parents. She was a kind woman and, although I did not remember her, it was as though she was always my best friend.
The two of us set out tea and sat close to the stove—their only heating appliance. Being traditional Irish farmers, they had an old-fashioned home and heated only the main room during the day—a common practice throughout Ireland. Later, I’d spend time picking dewy, green Ireland flowers with my sister, Libby. We gathered them into great bouquets and I always gave mine to Marie.
On a day that seemed ordinary enough, my family drove up to the house with its gray stone wall and swirling fog. I unbuckled and hopped out, smoothing my sweater as I did so. The air was wet and cool and I adored it. Smells of water and grass, and even cows, drifted along. A small sun shone weakly on my head, illuminating fiery red hairs. Glittering like tinsel on a tree, dewdrops trembled on their grass stems as I walked into the warm embrace of Marie. Everyone talked for a while and then the big-handed man asked, “Would anyone like to see a movie?”
Everyone nodded, of course. But, after I realized that the movie was about milking seasons, I decided that picking flowers amongst the real cows was more interesting. A few hours later, I came back in, shivering and sporting a wide grin. The flowers went into a vase and Marie and I started afternoon tea. Throughout Ireland, friends and family gather each day for a small meal. Marie and I put out cream, tea, milk, biscuits, and cold cakes and sandwiches.
We ate the crispy, hot, fresh biscuits and drank the thick, buttery milk and the hot, pronounced, sharp tea. Everyone talked and ate and laughed. Then Marie got a bit faint and we all quieted down.
She was a bit twitchy for a few minutes. Then she was kind of just deflated. I asked her, “Are you all right?”
She looked brave as she could manage and moaned, “I’m OK.”
And for some reason, that was when my mom said, “You need to go up and get some rest.”
But she found she was too weak to walk up the stairs. So we all helped her stand, and when my dad saw me holding her up, he told me to go away for a moment. Marie was lifted upstairs and I never have seen her since.
My dad and mom finally came down. I wanted to stay and help Marie, but my parents told me to get in the car. So I did. But I fought and ran, back to the car and slammed the door, and begged my parents to turn around. But we left through those foggy gates, past that foggy brick wall into the foggy world.
We went home to New York after that. Never did we get news. I soon learned to forget. Or pretended to, at least—until two weeks later, on St. Patrick’s Day. I loved St. Patrick’s Day— the green, the joy, and the celebrations. It would have been a marvelous day if the overseas phone call had not come. Marie had died.
I appeared to be the same as always, outside—silly, talkative, understanding and listening. But inside, a part of my heart felt numb. My understanding about the permanence of life was now clearer.
No more Marie. No more tea in that house beyond the misty gray lane. I learned to treat relationships with friends and family more deeply. I realized that, at any moment, loved ones could be ripped away from you. Outside forces, like people, can write your life story and take you down unexpected paths. My outlook about friendship has been edited because of Marie and that foggy brick wall.
Marie Lee lived with her husband, Michael, on a cattle farm in County Cavan, Ireland.