More than a year ago, I wrote a letter to a woman named Loralie Platero. I never sent it, never even printed it out, I don’t think. I had written a letter to a woman I didn’t know and, had she ever seen my name, it was likely scrawled inside a sympathy card that we mailed to her after her daughter Adrienne passed away.
Tonight I read and reread that letter and thought that I should print it, that I should send it to Lorilee. So I googled her, tried to find her address. I know her first name, and her last name (if it hasn’t changed in the past three years). I know, too, the name of the town she lived in three years ago. And that, really, is all I know of her. Some basic demographics.
But I can’t find her. I can’t track down her address so that I can send her this letter. So I’m posting the letter here, for no reason other than to put it somewhere other than on my harddrive.
It was three years ago this month that Adrienne died. I’ve always wanted to tell her mom some stuff. And after Scott died, I felt even more like I should tell Loralie those things. I suppose I’ve felt like the grieving know a little more about each other. I’ve felt somehow connected to this woman I’ve never met. Here’s what I wrote to Loralie on the day I defended my thesis and finished grad school, the day I completed a journey I had started with Adrienne:
We’ve never met. I was friends with Adrienne two years ago here at Oregon State; we started out in the MFA program together. And, now that I am finishing this program, I find myself thinking of her more and more often. I’ll always wish I’d gotten to know Adrienne better before she left us. We knew her, here, as a strong woman, youthful and vibrant. We still talk about her often, about the flowers she painted on her jeans, her perfectly spiked hair, her beautiful smile. We talk, too, about the way she encouraged all of us, the way she could walk into a room and immediately pull us out of our doldrums.
We all miss her dearly. Her strength and determination was what kept some of us here in the program during those first rough weeks. Adrienne seemed immune to the intensity we all experienced. She never talked of quitting. She never talked of leaving. Never did she express any discontent with the program. This is what set her apart from all of us. This is what drew us to her. Adrienne was in love with life. She let nothing bother her.
One of the best times I had in grad school was going to Newport with Adrienne. We ate ice cream and played chess at a little café (she let me win). We walked on the beach, barefoot and cold. We walked along the docks and watched the fishermen pull in their boats.
The only time I remember hearing any hint of fear in her voice was the night she called me to say that she’d been diagnosed with leukemia. But even then, even in that brief conversation, she joked. She said she’d always wanted to read Dante’s Inferno and that now she would have the time. Everything here shut down when she left for Utah. We canceled our classes. We stopped writing. We cried together and wished the best for a friend we’d just gotten to know. We thought, for sure, she’d come back. And when we found out that she’d lost her fight, things changed here. They never returned to the way they were when Adrienne was around. The program lost that color, that vibrancy that Adrienne brought. We felt the intensity of our work even more powerfully. There was no one around to pull us out of that.
When she died, I went back to Newport, retraced our steps. I wrote her name in the sand. It was my way of saying goodbye even though I didn’t want to. I turned and walked away before the next wave came in to begin to wash her name away.
During these two years, I’ve thought constantly of Adrienne, of how things would be if she was still around. And I find myself asking other students how they think things would be. We all agree—her presence would have made our experience quite different in a number of ways. Mostly, we all miss her smile.
The past two years have been quite trying for me. This past November, I lost my best friend and partner, Scott. And I think I can understand, to some degree, anyway, what you must have gone through—what you must still be going through—in losing Adrienne. What’s been important to me in these past six months is being able to recognize Scott’s presence. He was with me today when I defended my thesis. And so was Adrienne. I know that you must be thinking of Adrienne a lot this time of year. And I know how difficult it must be for you. I just wanted to let you know that her legacy survives here.
I hope that this letter finds you well and that it has not opened old wounds for you. It’s important that I write it, that I let you know just what an incredible mark your daughter made upon me. Even as I prepare to leave Corvallis, I hope to carry a piece of her with me.
All my best to you and your family,