Recently, after years of internet searching, I discovered the whereabouts of my old friend, Elizabeth. You would think that, given my profession, I would have just known. Like most professional psychics, I have blind spots when it comes to my own life.
Elizabeth, it turns out, died eleven years ago, in 1999.
Here is the brief obituary I found:
Elizabeth G. Wright, 38, died Oct. 11.
She worked in the floral and horticulture profession and was known as the Plant Lady.
SURVIVORS: her mother and father, Phyllis C. Perrin of New London, Conn., and Col. Gilbert P. Wright of El Paso, Texas; a brother, Gilbert P. Wright Jr. of Wyncott, Pa.; and a nephew, Maxwell Wright of Wyncott.
REMEMBRANCES: Tybee Island Public Library, P.O. Box 1790, Tybee Island, GA 31328; or Pet Assistance League of Savannah, P.O. Box 7936, Savannah, GA 31414.
Fox & Weeks Funeral Directors, Drayton Chapel.
When there is no clue about the circumstances of death in a young person’s obituary, and no other information available online, we always think the worst; that the fatality might somehow have been avoided.
Elizabeth enrolled at the Master’s School midyear during our junior year. That was 1978. Master’s was a small Christian academy. There were only about fifty kids in the entire high school. Some of us were there because of our parent’s Christian faith. Many of us were there because we just weren’t hacking it in regular public school, but weren’t far gone enough for an actual treatment facility.
Elizabeth, we discovered, transferred to Master’s from a residential treatment facility for girls called New Hope Manor. All the girls there, except for her, were trying to recover from drug and alcohol problems. Elizabeth’s problem was unique. She had simply refused to go to school.
I wonder if, in that one fact, the seeds that cut her life short had already started to sprout?
As Elizabeth relaxed into life at Master’s, she began to fit in, perhaps more than I did. By senior year, she and I were friends. Like me, she liked unicorns, the beach, New York City, thrift shops, outrageous fashion, and all things Victorian. She turned me on to Edward Gorey and Milano cookies. Along with the rest of our Master’s friends, we grooved to Fleetwood Mac and Blondie.
Our social life at Master’s revolved around a boy named Craig. We were all his friends, and he held us together. When I finally found Elizabeth’s obituary, eleven years after the fact, Craig was the person I called.
We developed nicknames for each other derived from unflattering words that sounded like our names. Craig became Egg, I became Crusty, and Elizabeth became A-Sleazy-Beast, or Beast for short. The Eagles “Hotel California” became an anthem for Elizabeth because of the lyric “They stab it with their steely knives but they just can’t kill the beast.” Even years after high school, I would use those words as a mantra to cheer her during difficult times.
Elizabeth and I shared an apartment during the epic summer between high school and college. She was off to UCONN, and I to Ohio, in the fall. That summer we ate boxed macaroni and cheese, and walked all over Hartford and West Hartford because neither of us drove. We stayed up late watching movies in thrift-shop costumes created to commemorate the movies (hippies for Hair, 1960’s bombshells for James Bond, etc.). She taught me about alcoholic drinks with exotic names, like Alabama Slammer and Rusty Nail.
We each managed exactly one semester at our respective institutes of higher learning, and ended up back in Hartford, back at what had been our summer jobs. We shared a series of three apartments, the first being on Elizabeth Street, which we thought both auspicious and hilarious.
During our time in Hartford, we were best friends, although our relationship was challenging. Elizabeth, more than any other person I had known in my young life, was comfortable calling me out on my less-than-noble behavior. She had a certain fearlessness that I did not, as if she really truly did not care what other people thought of her. It made me admire her, and inexplicably, feel some driving need to be smarter, thinner and cooler than she was.
I worked as an answering service operator, which I thought was a great job, but I envied Elizabeth’s job. She was a canvasser for CCAG, the Connecticut Citizen Action Group. After moving to New Haven, I became a canvasser. A few months later, Elizabeth moved to New Haven, and we worked together for the National Women’s Political Caucus. She was a much better canvasser than I could ever have hoped to be. Her fearless nature made it easy for her to ring doorbells and collect money from strangers.
But Elizabeth wasn’t fearless on the inside. In retrospect, I understand that she had a serious anxiety problem. She would miss work because she was “pitch-forked to the bed.” Maybe that was why, years earlier, she had refused to go to school.
Elizabeth and I stayed friends, more or less, during our time in New Haven. A few things came between us. One was love. It was hard for us to figure out what the nature of our relationship should be. Another was money. Elizabeth came from money. I did not. I was jealous of her trust fund, and ultimate financial security. Music also separated us. I dug the Grateful Dead. Elizabeth was on the cutting edge of the punk scene. During those years our relationship was sometimes romantic, sometimes best friends, sometimes just casual acquaintances and, for a time, even enemies. I like to think that, in our hearts, we always loved each other.
Elizabeth had many adventures during those years. She studied historic preservation in Boston. She worked construction. She traveled through Europe alone. She hung out with bikers on the West Coast of Florida. She drove equipment for local bands. She worked in a plant shop. Throughout her life, her love of plants and animals was constant.
She and I had a few adventures together, to most of which I will never admit. Elizabeth had a way of pushing boundaries past the fearless and into the reckless. She scared me sometimes. She challenged me, and she made me laugh.
Eventually, Elizabeth used some of her trust fund to buy a house on Tybee Island in Georgia. It seemed perfect for her; plenty of ocean beaches, and no winter. The last time I saw her, she showed me pictures of the work she had done on her home with her own hands. She seemed proud of her work and happy with her life.
I saw Elizabeth twice during the 1990’s. By then I was married with children, and starting a business. She visited me when she was in town. My last contact with her was by mail. She sent me a package to convince me to bring my family on a trip to visit her on Tybee. It contained souvenirs and tourist info, as well as the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
I really did plan to visit her, and told her so. By the time we were able to travel, I couldn’t find her. That began the years of contacting mutual friends, searching the internet and wondering, “What has become of Elizabeth?”
It wasn’t until I suddenly remembered (or channeled?) her unusual middle name that I was able to find her obituary. I had been having fun imagining her married, having changed her name. Maybe she was living in Europe, or India. Maybe she was in a witness protection program, unable to contact any of us. The truth is a lot less fun, and leaves me thinking I could perhaps have been a better friend.
I don’t have many pictures of Elizabeth. I do have many memories. My friendship with her was formative for me. I loved her sense of style, her sense of adventure and her sense of humor. I have already missed her for many years. Now, I will celebrate her.
Elizabeth and I had a joke that stemmed from this one:
Q: What does a WASP girl want to be when she grows up?
A: (in a sickening sweet voice) The very best person I possibly can be.
We thought this was quite amusing. We started using “it will make you a better person” as a reason to do everything. As in, “come camping with me this weekend, it will make you a better person” and, “join us for drinks at Times Square, it will make you a better person.”
Knowing Elizabeth did make me a better person.
In trying to get closure, I turned to tarot, as I always do. I pulled one card, asking the Universe to sum up Elizabeth for me. I expected The Fool, the Sun, or maybe one of the Queens. The card I pulled was the Nine of Wands Reversed. Even in death, Elizabeth is complex.
I often see the Nine of Wands Rx as a card of impatience. Did Elizabeth become impatient with her life, or with the people around her? Was there something that tortured her, or tormented her?
The Nine of Wands is a card for which I have a special name. I call it “The Wounded Warrior.” Sometimes, when reversed, the warrior’s wounds are simply too much to bear.
Sometimes, because the soldier is alone in his duty, when reversed I see it as a card of friendship. It reminds us that we do not have to bear our wounds, or our duties, alone. Our friends are there to help us.
With this card, I see an acknowledgement that Elizabeth’s wounds, whatever they were, could not be healed here on planet earth. I am comforted in knowing that she is in the place where all wounds are finally healed.
I see that if there was a way I could have helped her bear her wounds, she knew, and knows, I would have.
I also take it as a message of friendship from her, in spirit.
That, for me, is enough.