She used to call me babes.
Long straight blond hair, tanned complexion, a few freckles on her nose. Eyes that seemed to change colour in the light.
She drove a sports car. A cool chick, the kind I'd hang out with in high school. She'd pick me up at a subway station because I don't have a vehicle.
Upscale casual well-made clothes dressed her thin frame. I loved it when she'd toss her cast-offs my way. The red pants I'm crouching in when you see my Facebook picture, those were hers. She never did wear them.
She was the kind of woman (girl) I imagined the Beach Boys sang about I, I love the colorful clothes she wears/And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair. J. reminded me of Jennifer Aniston, of perpetual youth and an endearing lankiness.
She was tortured.
We sat in her car one night outside a meeting. I watched her smoke one cigarette after another. She told me she gave birth to three triplets who all died. She wiped away tears, tears that wouldn't stop.
I could not relate. But I could make her laugh. And eventually, she made me laugh.
My boyfriend and I went out with J. and her husband on a few occasions. Dinner. Sailing. Over to their place. J. came on her own to Hirut Hoot, the comedy show I co-produce. Hosting that night, I felt great to see her laughing with the regulars.
There was nothing I could do. I am ill-equipped myself.
She loved her teen-aged son and encouraged him to get serious about his acting career. Love though, can take on a life of its own. It becomes a shapeshifter.
One day, I had to be honest with her.
"I can't be your sponsor anymore. You're not listening to me."
She stopped coming to our home group.
"Babes. I have to move out of my house. Can you come over?"
J. stood in a bedroom, piles and piles of clothes surrounding her, persona at her feet.
"Grab a bag."
I hesitated, but started foraging through her belongings. She held shirts and dresses up to my body and nodded 'yes' or shook her head 'no'. Afterward, we sat on the front steps of the empty house. We had coffee and talked about our lives, squinting in the late August sun.
Two years later, I am heading into my meeting when a member asks to speak to me.
"I think I saw J. at the ER. The police brought her in. She was in handcuffs."
He told me about her screams, her bony body flailing as the cops held her. The sputtering about absence.
Grief caved in on me.
Four months ago, I received an email from her ex-husband. I'm sorry to inform you that J. has passed away.
I was wearing one of her shirts when I read the email.
At J.'s funeral, shocked family and friends stood like bowling pins. A Catholic priest presided, and to my surprise, expressed mercy and kindness. I didn't know the Catholic rule book had updated its take on suicide. I kept staring at the urn, picturing her blond hair and freckles. She had freckles in her forties. Unusual.
Sometimes, I'll be walking and then stop, amazed by the sun, astonished how light produces colour -- soft greens, gentle blues, permutations of the visible spectrum. Then, above, I see a brilliant yellow bird with specks of black and white, perched on a wire. In my despair, this is what I remember.