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06 June 2004

Kristi, D-Day and the Insane Anglo Warlord

Not wishing to speak ill of the dead, but the Insane Anglo Warlord has passed on. Gone to join his beloved Ayn in Atheist Heaven, wherever that is.
As I could barely escape noticing, today was the 60th anniversary of D-Day. But my major association with the 6th of June is that it is the day my room-mate Kristi died. This was a life-altering event for me, and not just an isolated trauma, because Kristi was more than just a room-mate.
I met Kristi at a day care centre in downtown Atlanta. My son Carey, who was just seven months old at the time, was occasionally confused with another little boy named Stephen. Stephen was just twelve days older than Carey, and they looked enough alike, as babies, to be brothers. Kristi was Stephen's mother. She was about eight years older than I, which seemed terribly old to me at the time -- she was 35 and I was 27. Another thing we had in common was a need to find better rental housing on a very tight budget. We decided to set up house together. I had a husband and a four year old daughter in addition to Carey; Kristi had Stephen and an elderly dog named Maggie. I didn't like dogs at that time. I am very ashamed to remember how grouchy I was about living with Maggie. We lived all together in a big Edwardian bungalow with two kitchens and a steep back garden, and a garage with an illegal apartment over it that we sublet to an elderly Marxist named Jack. The kids called him "Jack-in-the-back". We were together for almost two years, through the election of the Insane Anglo Warlord, the death of Ayn Rand (ding-dong, the witch is dead!), the murder of John Lennon and the murder of Oscar Romero.
As the world descended into the leftist's nightmare that was the 1980s, Kristi, who had been expelled from the SWP, ostensibly for keeping her bourgeois job as advertising copy-writer, but possibly also for being a closeted Christian, descended into alcoholism and asthma. She was definitely weird, but so ultimately lovable that I began to love her like a sister. It was easy to think of her as like family, because she was screwed up in a similar way to some of my more distant relatives. She never really weaned or potty-trained her boy, and he was sleeping in the bed with her right up to the day she died. Even at the time, I realized that the sudden wrench of losing his mother at the age of two and a half must have been made even worse by the way she was so "unnaturally" close to him. (I put that in quotes because she would argue, passionately, that her non-traditional parenting style was actually more natural. Maybe for a gorilla, I would answer, heartlessly.)
We had huge fights, like the time when my grandfather died while Eric and I were out, and Kristi, who took the call in the middle of polishing off a bottle of cheap red wine, forgot to tell me until several months later. But we had tearful and sincere reconciliations after every one. And we had good times, too. We took our kids swimming on our rare days off, we attended Quaker meetings together. Eric played the piano, and Kristi played the violin, and sometimes we would have a little family party of playing, singing, dancing and drinking wine, and let the kids stay up until they fell asleep on the sofa, the floor and the dog.
But I sort of lied when I said she was my room-mate. Actually, the strain of living with her was tearing me apart and did ultimately destroy my marriage to Eric (doomed anyway, so I don't blame her), In a last ditch attempt to find sanity, which failed so spectacularly that I will never be able to tell the whole tale, Eric and I bought a condominium and moved out; Kristi got a new room-mate. Just two months later, on Sunday, 6 June, 1982, Kristi had a fatal heart failure brought on by her well-known allergy to peanuts and a potluck dinner at the Atlanta Friends Meeting House. At the time she collapsed, she was pushing her son and her huge dog home from the Quaker House in a wonky old baby buggy in 85 degree heat. (I told you she was weird).
This was only the first of several great losses of close friends that I was to suffer in the next two decades. It does no good to dwell on the unfairness of RWR living on exactly 22 years after poor, innocent Kristi, who never hurt anyone deliberately, who hurt herself so badly trying to live through her own faith in love and hope. I know perfectly well that life is not fair like that.

It all came back to me as I watched the D-Day programming today on TV. The thing that always makes me and the old veterans cry is the memory of the young comrades they lost. I thought about how I seemed to age at least 10 years in the weeks following Kristi's death, as my husband and I and her other best friend, D, struggled to settle the affairs of her life, and clear the way for D to adopt Stephen. (She also adopted Maggie, but fortunately that was easier.) And I always feel afresh my own grief, when survivors of a battle, a war, a disaster, struggle with the reality that those who were so close to them, who were just like them, were snuffed out in an instant, often in front of their eyes, and there they are, 10, 20, 60 years later, wondering what that beloved person would be like today. Survivor guilt, and the unbearable knowledge of our own mortality. Or just missing terribly someone who has gone away and won't be back.

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