Missing Conseula

It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.           Toni Morrison, Sula

It’s been almost eight weeks since we lost our friend, and I feel I ought to be able to write something about her by now. The shock has faded, but the wrongness of it all, the sadness leaking out everywhere, that’s still there. Whenever I sit down to write, the sadness reappears in full force, tears and an ache in my throat and a feeling of overwhelm. Tears seem so useless, the way they just come back again and again, making the same point over and over.

What I’ve been hoping to do is record some favorite memories of Conseula, recall how funny she was, what a brilliant teacher she was, explain why we’re lucky to have known her. I guess that’s kind of a lot. I’ve been having trouble getting a nice long stretch of Conseula down on paper. I strain to hear her voice in my head, to re-imagine how she moved as she told a story. I can hear her talking for a sentence or so. I can glimpse her hands gesturing.

Maybe I should stick with what I posted on Facebook the day she died, since it’s still true: “Grateful for many happy moments with our funny and dear, brilliant and fearless and, we thought, invincible friend and colleague Conseula Francis. Overwhelmed by the loss.” That might be as good as this is going to get; maybe I should stop there. I wrote that after having spent the day trying, with very imperfect concentration, to apply an assessment rubric to papers by first-year writing students. I’d spent my lunch break crying, then cried some more sitting in my office that evening  looking at pictures that went back to my earliest days of a digital camera: Conseula at our house, Conseula with a newborn Cate, with a first-grade Frances, Conseula never aging, always smiling, making people laugh, her hands in one photo held before her, about to clap in delighted satisfaction. I felt I should show these to everyone. This was my friend, I wanted to say. She hung out with us sometimes.

I was not Conseula’s best friend, not in her inner circle, just someone who loved her and, I like to think, someone she trusted. It was partly because of me that we’d hired her, during the era when I was teaching all our department’s African American lit courses.  I’d helped the department write the job ad and walked Conseula around Charleston a little bit when she was here on her interview. She was finishing grad school at the U of Washington, but from Louisiana. “This looks a lot like New Orleans except cleaner,” she’d said, pleased at the discovery, pleased to have made the witty offhanded remark. Conseula’s presentation, on the subject of the New Negro Renaissance and its links to the Black Arts Movement, was one of those high-energy job talks everyone still remembers for being ridiculously good, thoughtful and erudite and charming. She seemed completely ready to start being our department chair. She was 28 years old.

I wasn’t in the uber-productive writing group she formed with Claire and Alison, nor someone she checked in with every day, but I, like many others, enjoyed plenty of lunches with her, many long chats when I ran into her on the sidewalk.  My whole family loved her.  I think she enjoyed my children; she certainly said nice things about them, as she did about the children of probably everybody she knew. (When our daughter was a C of C student, Conseula once made a point of telling me she’d seen Sara on campus, adding “Could she be any cuter?”) I’d brought her a casserole when Cate was born, just after Katrina had destroyed her husband Brian’s old neighborhood. I knew that her family called her Consie, and she never seemed to mind when we called her that.

She and I went pretty far back, is what I’m saying, despite how much younger she was. In 2007, when Conseula helped Brian fulfill his desire that their marriage be blessed by a priest, they held their reception in our back yard. (They’d married ten years earlier, while she was in grad school. Conseula said that after they’d dated at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, she moved to Washington “because I wanted to be a woman on my own”—if you didn’t know Conseula you might miss the ironic undertone here, her looking back at her 22-year-old self—“so I said goodbye to Brian and went off and was a woman on my own until about October, and I called him up and said ‘Honey, can you please come out here?’”) 772972465_5ca1f11042_bThe reception was at our house because we had more space than Claire or Alison, who were helping her throw the party. It was really fun to see her and Brian with their families. Our son Ben took some of the pictures from that party, recording his own special delight in the two-year-old Cate all dressed up, a little fairy with a shy and slightly baleful expression. For my family, Conseula’s family was part of our Christmas season, seeing them at our party, their girls finding all the candy dishes with Christmas chocolates and wearing Santa hats and borrowing flashlights to play Capture the Flag all over the yard.

I was so glad I had those pictures now, and I printed out some to give to Conseula’s family at the visitation that was held on campus. When I got there, I saw that others had already thought of that. Dozens of pictures of a smiling Conseula, including a few I’d posted online, were on banners and tabletops; the staff in Academic Affairs, where she’d worked for less than a year, loved Conseula too, naturally, and they’d decorated the room. Everybody was still stunned. Conseula had been in the hospital about a week with some sort of liver ailment, she’d said—“Nothing life-threatening” was her Facebook report—and three days after being diagnosed with leukemia, she was gone, before her mother and sisters could get to town.  Now they were here, amazing us by standing for three hours in the receiving line, looking so much like Conseula, talking and laughing like she did. It helped us all, seeing them. Probably three hundred people came, including almost the entire English department. We felt Conseula belonged a little more to us than to everyone else, even though she really didn’t.

“I want to speak with Conseula,” is how Alison put it in the heartbroken column she wrote that week. Me too.  I’ve found myself looking for her, expecting to see her on campus. I was trying to talk to Brian online, and we seemed to have a bad connection, and I’d thought, “Maybe there’s a problem with their internet. When Conseula comes back she’ll need to take care of that.” Conseula always got things done. She’d been the one helping Brian recover from surgery, the one supporting Alison as she faced her brain tumor, the one keeping track of so many different projects, staying in touch with an ever-growing number of friends and fans. We all wanted to talk to her now, to tell her what had happened to us.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost. . . . .

Edna St. Vincent Millay

***

Facing the abyss of mortality, knowing a friend is in terrible danger, we cast about for any little thing that might help just a tiny bit for just a little while. Anything: please tell me something to do so I can do it; anything’s better than staring into the abyss. I think that’s what I was looking for, the day Conseula told me her doctors had given her bad news—I’d stopped by the hospital hoping to relieve her boredom and bring her a smoothie. What to do now? I called Claire to tell her to go to the hospital. I looked up “leukemia” on WebMD. I told Scott, our old friend who’s our department chair and, of course, adores Conseula. I sat in my office worrying, trying to think of something to do. When Claire asked me to bring supper and do some grocery shopping for the family, I had a short reprieve. Oh thank you, universe, for giving me something to do; now I can be anxious about something else, about running late with my delivery of Publix fried chicken and the Lucky Charms they’d run out of. The next day I found myself another task—walking over to St. Patrick to make sure their priest knew she was in the hospital. I kept checking in with Claire, told her to call me anytime. Something, anything, even if it won’t help.

There still seemed to be things to do when Scott and I stopped by Conseula’s room the next day, on our way to the C of C graduation.  She was now in the leukemia wing, with a nice view of the Ashley River, with Mother’s Day cards her family had made. She wasn’t feeling good, so the thing we could do for her was to stay only a short time. “We’ll come see you again soon,” we told her. “Thank you for coming,” she said. By the next day, Claire’s email was telling us Conseula was in the ICU, kidneys and liver now failing, no direction home. All I could do was help Scott decide that it was time to email the rest of the department. “So people will have a chance to pray,” I said. Claire’s husband Larry was at the hospital with Brian and the priest, Claire was at home with their kids where the girls were staying over. We were running out of things to do. I promised to bring Claire my car that was big enough to pick up Conseula’s mother and sisters at the airport the next day.  Scott promised to bring Claire’s daughter to the orthodontist. We both asked Claire to please call us anytime that night: whatever we can do, please tell us, so we can do it. By the time I woke up the next morning, Conseula was gone.

In the first wave of our collective grief, there were things to occupy some of us: the visitation, meals for the family, setting up a college fund for the girls so people could contribute to it. Claire and Larry, despite spending most of Conseula’s last days and nights with her and the family, were able to compose an elegant tribute to post on the C of C network. I met Claire for lunch a couple of days after the visitation to find out what she needed. I asked her how she was sleeping. Better, she said. Had been waking up at 3, now was only waking up at 5. She told me that sometimes, when she broke down after someone offered condolences, her tears would upset the other person, as if this had made things worse. “Yes, people think they’ve done something to you,” I said. “It’s like they think they just gouged you with a knife, and you want to tell them, ‘Oh, no, don’t worry, that wasn’t you. I was already bleeding.’”

Claire told me a little more about the final day, how Conseula had been able to talk to her mother on the phone, how much the hospital staff had helped the girls on the worst day of their lives, explaining things to them, taking pictures of them with their mother. That day, Cate and Frances had handed the photos to Claire to hold; this week, one of Claire’s errands was to find  a frame for them–for pictures in which, “of course, Conseula has the most beautiful smile.” These details took my breath away, showing me the abyss again, despite my knowing how important the phone call, the pictures will always be to the people Conseula loved most. If it had been my last day, could I have pushed past my terror to summon a smile, something for my family to keep after I was gone?  Clearly, Conseula had known she had to find some reserves somewhere, even as her body was shutting down, so she’d come up with that beautiful smile. Now Claire was trying to access her own reserves. She’d been asked to write something about Conseula for the City Paper and she’d managed to do that. She later read this wonderful essay at Conseula’s interment in Louisiana. She told me afterwards, “It was hard going and then I channeled some interior Conseula spine and powered through.”

Lots of people still wanted to help the family out—plane tickets to Louisiana for the funeral Conseula had asked for, other new expenses (Brian’s chronic pain had sidelined him from his work a few years ago). So after getting Brian’s reluctant OK, I set up a Go Fund Me page for the family. That was easy. Also sadly absorbing, to watch the fund grow so quickly, to see all sorts of people, many unknown to me, chipping in, exceeding our arbitrarily-set goal, the Go Fund Me software reporting progress to me like it was a pledge drive. This was a good thing, right? Something to do, and I had done it. Was that why I could not sleep that night, because I’d come to the end of what I could do? Was it because Brian had told me he’d picked up Conseula’s remains from the funeral home that day, and that he kept expecting to hear her key in the lock, and that the night before, Catie had started crying while brushing her teeth? It seemed useless for me to lie awake over this, because it helped no one, but then, it wasn’t really a choice. It’s something that happens to you, like weather, like growing old if you are fortunate enough to do that.

***

Trying to recall Conseula’s voice, it makes me happy to remember the way she would sometimes say “Oh!” with her voice higher than usual, suppressing a chortle. You could tell by her eyes that she was still laughing. I’ve come up with a strong recollection of two other kinds of Conseula laughs, one a snicker like that of Huckleberry Hound and the other a groan of outrage, released nasally so it sounds a little like an elephant trumpeting. And I can hear the falling intonation of her voice as she came to a phrase like “And so,” a signal that someone had done something short-sighted and would now be paying the price. “I’ve told everybody to stop inviting this crazy person to our events, but they continue to do so, and so we continue to listen to the same endless speeches.” Often she was amused by the foolishness she reported. “And so, as this student told me, she’s no longer attending my class because it does not meet her needs.”  Sometimes this rueful falling inflection accompanied the news of Conseula being outsmarted by her children.  “And so it finally became clear to me that she was not taking the bus, and that I would be driving her to school.” (After she told this story, Scott had said, “Well played, Frances McCann.”)

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Talking about black superheroes

She was rarely less than animated. I’ve been trying hard to visualize that way she would gesture when talking, so I was really happy to find some videos of her online. Sometimes her thumb and index finger are extended and the others curled in; sometimes all her fingers are spread wide, and then closed, one hand wrapped around the other, to punctuate her speech, helping her audience keep track of a long and energetic sentence with several qualifiers. Occasionally after leaning forward slightly, she would draw her chin back, hold her head a little higher, like in one video when she was asked if she minded if someone edited out the n-word from Huckleberry Finn. “I do object strongly to revising Mark Twain’s language–profoundly,” she said, more light coming into her eyes as she sat up taller on that last word, looking slightly askance at the interviewer. This stance wound her up for an effortlessly succinct explanation of Mark Twain’s use of the word: because he wanted his readers to know “some very particular things” about his characters and their time and place. “It was not just a throwaway descriptor,” she said. She was wearing an outfit she must have been happy with: a snappy green and white striped sweater and a lime green chunky necklace, plus her intensity and her radiant face, which she wore every day.

I want to remember her that way. I don’t want to dwell on how sad I am, how much sadder her family and close friends are, how stupendously wrong it all is. I want to think of times Conseula laughed at something I had said, which made me feel a lot funnier. I love recalling the way she sometimes put her hand on your arm when you’d made a point she agreed with (“See!”) or when she got to the eyebrow-raising part of the story: “And I’m thinking, oh, NO, we don’t do this!” “And Julia, what he said was . . .”1275945_10151601863007455_770071340_o I liked catching Conseula’s eye across a meeting table, sometimes even across the street. Once we each saw someone dressed in an outfit that neither of us approved of. I saw Conseula notice the outfit, across George Street. I looked at her, my eyebrows raised, jutting my chin forward. She mouthed an indignant “Yes!”

I was lucky to do a little team teaching with her in 2008. Everybody knows what a rock star of a teacher she was; I’m still using some of her lecture slides, and wish I had one-tenth of her ease with a roomful of students. She had an eccentric student in her section of that American lit class, an overeager white appropriator of hip-hop terminology who announced on the first day, when she was taking roll and asking students to let her know what they wanted to be called, that he wanted to be called G-Nasty. “We’ll just call you Graham,” she’d said cheerfully. That cracked her up, like so many other things did: Ben Franklin’s tongue-in-cheek self-promoting, Bartleby’s recalcitrance, the obsessive nit-picking of fellow academics. An email she sent some of us after a volley of messages were exchanged on the faculty listserv: “I’m pretty sure these people have the same job as I do.  Where do they find the time for this kind of fixation and commentary?”

So many things intrigued her: superheroes, 9781604732757Octavia Butler and other speculative fiction, showing students how to take their intellectual life seriously, James Baldwin, all the other writers whose intense and cool photos stared out from her syllabus. (She presented one image-rich syllabus at a workshop I attended, explaining that she’d seen a presentation about Universal Design, “and one thing I took away from that was that my syllabus was ugly.” imagesI tried to follow her example last year and it took me about two days to add images; my syllabus, though improved, wasn’t anything like as cool as hers.)  Popular romance novels with black heroines intrigued her, not just the novels but what they mean to their readers. The novels allow readers to live in worlds that should exist: worlds in which black women take prolonged pleasure in sex, and also in friendship, and also in work. These are books with foil covers that don’t get onto most American Lit reading lists, but their fictional worlds are worth celebrating, lifting up, worlds we should be trying to make real.

This somehow reminds me of Conseula telling us about women in her parish who asked Conseula, with cheerful insistence, why the girls weren’t in some activity or other, maybe the children’s choir. Conseula, knowing the girls’ lack of interest and not wanting to add that activity to her to-do list, sought to evade these questions, saying the girls didn’t have quite the right clothes to participate. The ladies had all but scoffed as they brushed that one aside, as if Conseula had suggested that the girls could only attend if a pumpkin got turned into a coach. “Oh, we can get them something to wear. They need to be here.” Telling this story, Conseula seemed tickled, even impressed, by having been so flummoxed. Resolute women, like wayward students, she had a soft spot for, even if she felt she was being enmeshed against her will. Resolute women who wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Let’s see, are there any more good emails in my archive? In one, I found us enjoying the tackiness of a reality TV show; that night, I’d emailed Conseula not to wait another second to turn on the TV if she wasn’t watching it already. “I haven’t been watching the real housewives of Atlanta (I must admit to watching the real housewives of new york obsessively),” she answered.  “I’m all intrigued now.  I must catch up on it.” Another email, written after a colleague had just sent out a huffy manifesto, says only “What is up with her?” knowing the 3 recipients would know who she was talking about. I emailed her one December that I’d found something I’d been wanting to give to Brian (the manual to the no-longer-used exercise bike we’d passed along to him). I told her I thought this discovery could qualify as a Christmas miracle–unearthed from beneath a pile of twelve-year-old warranties and manuals. She replied, “It is a Christmas Miracle!  Thanks.  I am currently attempting the miracle of having my children help get the house clean and ready for Santa. It’s going about as well as you’d think.”

Probably these traces will not quite conjure her up for anyone else. For me they are a comforting reminder that during her time on this earth, Conseula felt some solidarity with me. We didn’t always agree about everything and she probably fired off some good zingers about me from time to time—why would I have been immune to the wit of Consie? I really can’t think of anyone who wasn’t. But she never let me hear her laughing at me. She believed in good manners. “We’re not barbarians” is how she put it, when I told her I’d gotten a nice thank-you note from her daughter.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I wish I could remember exactly what she said at a campus forum two years ago, that time she started cussing. The forum was happening because of a set of PSA posters around campus, intended to encourage students to complete their course evaluations. To make their point, these posters employed several memes then popular on the internet that, well, reinforced a few racial stereotypes (Doh!). Someone within Academic Affairs had been too tone-deaf to notice this until the posters had provoked an outraged response. And now, of course, they were sorry. Attendees at the forum were getting a chance to say this was depressing and embarrassing, another hurtful reminder that nonwhite folks at the College were too marginal for the people making these posters to have even thought about. The then-Provost stood there and took it like a man (probably, sadly, one of his best moments here) and he or someone else from his office must have said they needed the attendees’ help in making the campus better. That’s when Conseula stood up. I’m probably misquoting her slightly, but this was the general idea: “This is one more example of something happening and then y’all coming to black people and asking us how to fix it. We didn’t fucking do it. You’re the ones who did it, and you’re the ones who’re gonna have to fucking fix it.” Her words sent an anxious thrill through me. A year or so later they were recruiting her to work in Academic Affairs.

Thanks to Conseula’s Facebook habits, I do have an accurate record of the beautifully furious remarks she made last summer, right after the Emanuel massacre. On that day she’d been out of town—I believe she was giving a lecture on black superheroes.

When I return to Charleston the African American Studies program will have a measured response to the horrific act of racist terror that occurred last night. Until then, know this–this was not an unimaginable act committed by a lone mentally ill man. This was the predictable result of long-standing systemic racism that paints black people as usurping, free-loading, violent thugs. That insists that this place belongs to white people and everyone else is trespassing. White people may be able to sustain the fiction that these are isolated incidents. But black people cannot. Our lives depend on recognizing the truth. My girls’ lives depend on calling a racist spade a racist spade when it prays with people before murdering them in their church. This country’s inability to look that truth full on in the face is going to kill us all.

I am traveling, with my family at ‪#‎HeroesCon. Over the next three days this space will be filled with my kids geeking out over comic books and anime and cosplay, without apology. I will post picture after picture after picture because ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter. Not just our pain and grief and suffering, but also our joy and laughter and pleasures.

And now I’m going swimming with my children.

How can you not be overwhelmed with love and admiration for someone who writes that? A couple of days later, she was admirably railing against a column by Peggy Noonan praising victims’ family members for not expressing hatred, for saying they forgave the shooter.

And what would she have said if these people had been full of wholly understandable rage? If the black people here sang of their frustration and anger and grief instead of Amazing Grace? Would she still be so magnanimous? Would she still be able to marvel at their humanity?

This country treats forgiveness in black people as the highest of virtues precisely because it knows the unforgivable acts it has committed.

We should not be comforted by scenes of multiracial crowds bonded in prayer. We should be waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Tell it, Consie.

She was kind of a genius of Facebook posts, as I’ve been reminded while scrolling through her pages. (Sharing Beyonce’s Formation video: “Well, damn.”) Writing them must have been pleasing to her—last summer, for example, a few days after voicing the prophetic fury that those days required, she reported on a #blacklivesmattter rally that she attended with her family, an event that might have been a bit too unrehearsed. She was uniquely suited, it seems, to comment,  “An attempt to burn the American flag is going poorly.” One week later, while attending the six-hour funeral for Clementa Pinckney that was held on our campus, she posted, “Not gonna lie. I’m getting my whole life during the president’s eulogy.” When the service was over, she knew just how to sum up the moment when we all spilled out onto the street in an exhausted daze, joining crowds who hadn’t gotten in, plus memorabilia vendors seizing the retail opportunity. “The t-shirt hustle is strong out here,” she noted.

About that same time, she’d started working as an Associate Provost. That new position gave her lots more Facebook fodder:

Today’s question: can I hang my ’68 Olympics black power fist poster (which has hung in every office I’ve had since grad school) in my fancy new office? Also, how many Avengers bobbleheads will make the move?

 

Words spoken at my house this morning: “Can an associate provost pick her shoes up from the middle of the floor?”

 

This job expects me to curse a lot less than I am comfortable with.

Those posts are so pleasing to revisit I think I’ll just share a few more of them here. Her caption for a photo of her and Brian read, “Date night at the symphony. (on a side a note: is it really possible we are the only black people in attendance at this concert?)”  During Brian’s recent surgery, about a month before she was hospitalized, Conseula posted,

Hospital update: Our nurses are low-key judgemental about our doctors. Our pharmacist is adorable. And I cannot figure how to make this sleep chair work. Also Brian’s surgery went well. He is now sleeping.

I liked this one even though I myself don’t understand 100% of the references:

Words just spoken at my house (picture a face full of astonishment and wonder): “Woah. ‘Straight Out of Compton’ is a real song? ‘F the Police’ is not just a meme? I thought that movie was just about the struggle back in the day.”

We have failed this child.

As most of their friends and fans know, Brian is Conseula’s equal for internet commentary; I was quite happy just now to revisit their blog, Afrogeek Mom and Dad. Never was a couple better matched. (Even though the quantity and the sparkling quality of these hundreds of posts has me feeling very puny, like I’ve never worked a day in my life, I’m pleased that so many posts are still there waiting for me to read.)  Conseula’s Facebook posts also show what a rock star of a mother she was, how much she enjoyed her daughters:

The McCann girls are now playing war by sneaking up on each other, poking a body part, and screaming “neurotoxin!” They could have their own nerdy reality show.

 

Today in Catie drama, we discovered this chalk drawing [photo posted] on her bedroom wall.

Parents: what is this?
Cate: A gay liberation bird.
Parents: You need to clean that off your wall.
Cate: I can’t. It will die.
Parents: It will not. It’s not alive.
Cate: It is in my soul.
Parents: You can’t draw on the walls. Clean it up.
Cate: Muralists draw on walls all the time. We don’t make them clean it up.
Parents: sigh

 

Is there a karmic bank that keeps track of the points I earn each time I don’t lose my patience getting children ready for school? If so, I am making a hefty deposit this morning.

 

Catie: We should have McDonald’s for dinner.

Me: I don’t feel like driving.

Frances (racing to her room to get her learner’s permit): I have been preparing for this my whole life!

 

Something else I will go on missing about Conseula is the joy she gave the rest of us when she enjoyed something. I don’t have much love for Star Wars, but I enjoyed reading about hers, like when she asked some fellow fans, “How come you didn’t tell me cool things happen if you type ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far far away’ into the google search bar? I count on you to keep me apprised of these things.” In another post, sharing an article from Charleston Scene entitled “Star Wars superfan Conseula Francis,” her caption acknowledged, “This has now probably gone too far.” It was fun to read of her excitement over seeing Hamilton last summer (I believe she was in the city to lecture on black romance novels), and in December, after I finally began listening to the album and posted about how it was blowing the top of my head off, it was fun when she seemed pleased for me (“Welcome to the club!” was her comment). Later this spring, she posted, “One of the many reasons I’m missing being in the classroom this year is being unable to harass my American lit students with this cast album,” which made me extra happy that I had put some Hamilton songs on my own American lit syllabus.

Last summer she posted something very silly that still tickles me, a little cartoon and song by Don Jaye. “Fuck this shit, I’m out” was the bouncy refrain. (When Scott ordered balloons for her in the hospital, at her request, he told her that whatever was printed on them, what they were really saying was “Fuck this shit.”) As the video plays, a cartoon stick figure is jiving around, indicating that he can’t be freaked out by any kind of craziness; he’s leaving the scene, y’all, cause things have gotten out of hand. Conseula’s comment when she shared the video was, “Brian and I laughed so hard at this we may have woken Frances.” Tears came to my eyes as I played and replayed that little song, because it’s just funny, but also because it was fun thinking of her and Brian cracking up over it.

She knew we would like it.  Brian says she was secretly a shy person, and I’m sure she felt some self-doubt somewhere, mixed in with all that bemused self-deprecation. “I just found out that Frances uses Vader’s March as my ringtone on her phone. I’m not sure how to feel about that.” But mostly there was a jolly spring in the step of almost everything she wrote and said.  That was the spirit of this post:

Cate’s adoring public may be interested to learn that today was picture day at her school. As background, for the fall picture day she and I had a huge argument about what she should wear. I wanted her to wear a pretty dress. She wanted to wear a My Little Pony tshirt, shorts, and crocs. . . She prevailed. We eagerly await the results of this photo shoot.

So much love and joy. It always seemed extra joyful coming from someone who could get so much done, who could get so furious and curse so skillfully. Let’s close on this one, a caption for a photo of something Cate had made.

Here’s the thing making me happy this morning and I am sharing so you can be happy too. This is Cate’s clothespin doll. She has a kimono because kimonos are pretty. She has an Afro because Afros are awesome. And she has one eye and no glasses because one good working eye is better than two eyes that are just meh. I really like that kid.

So, like I said, she was funny and dear, brilliant and fearless and, we thought, invincible. I’m still overwhelmed by the loss. I keep thinking about those who were closer to her, those who’ve lost so much more than I have. I was telling Sara about that, how I felt maybe I shouldn’t be proclaiming this much sadness, that maybe I was overreacting, selfishly claiming more than my share of the grief. Sara said it was okay for me to feel so bereft. “I think you can claim that,” she told me.

I am not resigned, so I had to write this. It was what I could think of to do, no less self-serving than any of those earlier tasks that allowed me to turn away from the abyss. Still, I like to think that Conseula would’ve told me that any writing is worthwhile. Writing helped Conseula get things done. It clarifies our contradictions, shows us ourselves, helps us mourn, gives us hope. It leads us toward new things that we can do.

Live among your dead, whom you have every right to love.        —Brenda Marie Osbey

Comments

  1. Professor Baker says:

    Thanks so much for this. It’s tremendous, beautiful. This is what it sounds like when someone was loved by someone really capable of it, not letting (even) being “colleagues” get in the way.
    I can’t even imagine what this will mean for her girls. You have gathered up so much of their mom for them here. Every bit is precious. Thank you.

    Like

  2. Susan Farrell says:

    Julia, what a moving tribute. It’s beautifully written and so right-on-target. We’re all extremely fortunate to have you as our collective memory.

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  3. Julia, This is a lovely tribute to Consuela. I don’t post on Facebook for a variety of reasons, but I have read everything everyone has written about Consuela. I feel like I have little right to mourn because I chose to leave before I could know her better, but I have been so sad and heavy-hearted. I appreciate the way tributes like yours help me feel like I know her better. You have all been in my thoughts — she was one of the shining stars of the department and I know her absence is deeply felt.

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  4. Wow — thanks for writing this, Julia.

    Like

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