6 – The Lonesome Okapi

Minutes after the graduate recommendation transaction, a ruckus about a missing prescription erupted between her and her home health aide. In seconds, Brigid was shrieking.

“Motherfucker!”

From her bed, she wheeled on the aide, her gaze incinerating everything.

“You stupid cunt. I gave you the piece of paper. I put it in your fucking hand.”

She forgot about me sitting there. I rose invisibly from the chair, let myself out, and walked east to my apartment. That was the last time I saw her. She probably knows I got into the MFA program, but not from me. Letting go of an old, rich, difficult friendship is hard. I used the no-fault clause and stopped calling, but I live with sorrow and tenderness. I try not to regret, but I often wind up playing tetherball with rationalization.

Our relationship had been yielding steeply diminishing returns. We always cared about each other, but we didn’t need each other. That was the beauty part, but it meant there was an element of expediency between us. We could carry on like schoolgirls, then go about our hyper-self-reliant way. But now came her hour of need and I couldn’t hack it. I barely had the emotional resources to cope with my ancient parents and their endless decline. But, jesus, she loved me, she did, and she loved my daughters, particularly Alice.

 

When Alice applied to boarding school, she had to write an essay about the person she most admired. She picked Brigid. Not Hillary Clinton. Not some figure skater. Not some pop star. She wrote, “I admire Brigid because she lives her life exactly the way she wants to.” and she went on to recount a story Brigid would tell of her girlhood in the Bronx.

Brigid lived with her parents and four sisters in a second-floor apartment a block from the Bronx Zoo. One afternoon, at St. Clare of Assisi Elementary, the Sister explained to the class that people went to heaven because people had souls. “What about animals?” asked Brigid, always with an eye out for controversy. “No, dear, animals can’t accept the sacraments,” said Sister. Young Brigid went right home, poured the Holy Water from the household font into a Mason jar, replacing the blessed liquid with water from the kitchen tap. The sun was going down, so, with one of her little friends in tow, they snuck into the zoo and went from cage to cage, baptizing the animals. Alligators and crocodiles were too scary, but the lonesome okapi, the first of its kind in North America, was in particular need.

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