When my sorority sisters and I arrived at Newark airport – just hours before I cut my hair off - I found a very important message in my voice mail. It was Kesner’s mother, Beautiful Simone. I’d made attempts to reach her in the seven weeks since Kesner’s death, but to no avail. It was just beginning to settle in my spirit that I might remain disenfranchised from the family forever.
But then Beautiful Simone called me…
I called her back immediately and talked to her for the entire ride from the airport. It was such a relief. I’d been needing to connect with her and I would soon find out that she needed me also. We made arrangements to meet the following day.
The next morning – the morning after I cut my hair off – I went out and bought a new shirt to match my hair cut. I was not comfortable with it yet (my do), so I figured something new would help. I then headed out to Hopewell for my first significant encounter of the day; tea with Mara at her Country House.
Mara was warm and welcoming. She didn’t say anything about my hair right away. Instead we sat together at her wooden table and talked. She asked me about my plans moving forward. By this time I’d applied for the Essence.com opportunity and also for a part-time job in Cleveland at Case Western Reserve University. I’d heard nothing back.”It looks like the PhD program at Rutgers may be my only option,” I told her. “But I don’t have anywhere to live. And I don’t have any funding for the program…”
It was all seeming so unfair. Why wasn’t this easy? Everything that I had already been through had been so difficult, why couldn’t this just be easy?
Then I had an epiphany. I said to Mara:
“I’m just going to show up!”
Having nothing in stone and no plans, I decided in that moment that I was just going to show up on the first day of school and see what happened. Mara agreed that ‘showing up’ was a good idea. Perhaps if I simply showed up, then God would work out the rest. She also told me that I could stay in her daughter Molly’s room for a few weeks while I sorted out my living arrangements. Molly was away in college. I was grateful for that offer.
We finally got around to talking about my hair cut and I told her the story of how I’d chopped it off the night before. “You’re the first person to see it,” I told her. She admitted that she was taken aback when she first saw me and we both agreed that it was most definitely a statement.
After tea, she asked me if I wanted to take a few moments and go see my apple tree, Hope; we’d replanted Hope in Mara’s yard just after Kesner died. I did want to see Hope. I went outside and I sat in front of my tree in the grass. Hope looked so small, but she was a survivor.
It was the beginning of August and Hope had survived the piercing heat – and drought – of summer 2010. She’d also survived the deer that would come around at night and try to eat away at the small shoots growing from her delicate branches. She wasn’t strong yet, but she’d survived. And Pete and Mara were giving her lots of love and care. They’d put a net around her to protect her from the deer. And when it didn’t rain, they watered her.
I sat in front of Hope and I began to cry. I thought about what she’d meant to Kesner and me when we’d first planted her in his yard in April. I thought about how we used to sit on his deck and look at her. And how we prayed over her… And then I thought about what she meant to me now. I realized that my growth would mirror hers. I didnt feel quite strong enough yet, but I had survived; and I was being cared for in the meantime. One day Hope would bear fruit.
And one day I would bear fruit also….
After a few minutes passed, Mara came and sat next to me in the grass. We were silent together. She rested her head on my shoulder as we sat. I was not alone. It was a special moment.
I left Mara that afternoon and headed to the court house in Trenton. Kesner’s mother was there handling some of his legal affairs. We’d agreed to meet there. That afternoon Beautiful Simone and I sat together for hours on a bench in the court building. We laughed and we cried. I needed her. I needed to know more about my beloved. She shared childhood stories. And she told me about his journey with type 1 diabetes. She told me all of the things he hadn’t. And then she told me that he’d talked to her about his plans to marry me.
“Hurry and get married,” she’d urged.
“No, she wants a big wedding…” He’d told her.
My heart fluttered. He’d spoken about these things with his mother. it was real. I needed that. I needed her and I needed to hear that from her.
And she needed me too.
She needed me to share details with her about Kesner’s last days. “I tried to call him Saturday, and Sunday, and Monday, he didn’t return my calls,” she told me. I realized in that moment that I had information that she wanted and needed desperately. I was with him Saturday, Sunday and Monday. I was with him in his last days.
I shared every detail. What we did, what we ate. Things he said..
I told her about the bag of groceries I’d left on his back porch. “That explains the dream I had,” she told me. She said that she dreamed that she’d left him some food but he didn’t eat it. And she didn’t see him again after that. I told her my theory about the heart attack. “I think he had a heart attack” I told her. She thought about it. “Yes, maybe a heart attack,” she agreed.
We talked about the medicine they’d found in his house. The insulin shots and the high blood pressure medication. I told her that I watched him take his insulin shots. I told her that the pastor at the funeral was wrong.
She told me that Kesner didn’t have health insurance..
He didn’t have health insurance? I didn’t know that.
Just then I had my second epiphany of the day; I finally understood why there were so many insulin shots in his refrigerator. He’d stocked up. He’d stocked up before he left Morgan Stanley…
Because he didn’t have health insurance.
Kesner was a broker at Morgan Stanley. But then he got sick - a near death experience. Complications with diabetes. His organs had almost failed. I’d known he was ill, but did not know the severity. This happened before we fell in love; while we were still “just friends.” When Kesner recovered, he quit his job and started his own investment firm: Dufresne Investment Management. He also decided to run for city council. But in the midst of these transitions he hadn’t signed up for a health insurance plan. And he had type 1 diabetes…
Why didn’t he have health insurance? – I wondered.
Had he given up? Was it too expensive? Was he waiting for Obama Care? I didn’t understand. Understanding would come later…
But at least I understood why he had so many insulin shots. He’d stocked up. But that still didn’t explain the high blood pressure medication. I never saw him take that. Ever. He wasn’t taking that.
Understanding about that would come later…
As we sat, Beautiful Simone asked me about my hair. “You cut your hair Kim … It makes you look like Kesner,” she said. We laughed. I saw Kesner in her too. In the shape of her face I could see him. I just looked at her as we talked. Her cheek bones, they were the same as his.
The time flew by. We hadn’t realized it but Beautiful Simone and I had been on that court bench talking for more that two hours. “Next time we’ll have to have a meal” she told me. “But this was better than food,” she said.
It was better than food. We would stay in touch; we needed to.
After two great encounters – with Mara and with Beautiful Simone - I had the unfortunate experience of having to return my laptop and keys to the agency I once worked for. Even though I loved the women center, the leadership of the host agency made me uncomfortable. They are ministers, but they hadn’t called me once in the time since Kesner died to inquire if I was ok. And I’d just walked off the job and moved to Ohio…
The encounter was cold.
But even in the midst of coldness, God delivered a message. The Chief Operating Officer, a Native American woman, said something important to me before I left. She – like everyone- was also taken aback by my dramatic hair cut. But she told me that it is custom for Native American women to cut their hair off when they are grieving. “It’s a symbol of grief,” she told me.
In that moment she helped me open my eyes to see even more meaning in my dramatic change – this was a symbol.
I was thankful. And with that, I had completed my assignment at the agency. And I had also done everything that I needed to do during my trip to New Jersey: I’d moved out of my apartment, I’d gone with my sorors to the Delta Convention, I’d cut off all my hair, I’d had two great encounters, and I’d returned my laptop and keys and said goodbye to the women center – officially.
I was now ready to leave. The next day I drove back home to Ohio. I had to get back to the warmth and protective cover of my mother, The Comforter.
Plus Mom and I were getting ready to go on vacation…
© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2012