My Sister Roxie
My sister Roxie and I stared into each other’s eyes. I had leaned in and was only about 20 inches from her. We did not talk. I did not say, “I’m so sorry” or “I love you.” I did not ask, “Do you have any regrets?” Or, “How do you wanna be known?” We were way past that.
She was in the ICU of a hospital in Camarillo, Ventura County, because her first attempt at chemo had almost killed her. Everyone knew there would be no second attempt. Roxie was too weak.
Her hands were beneath the covers, and I squeezed them as we stared at each other.
I did not see pain or despair. I did not see panic, nor fear. Her skin had sunken itself behind her eyes, so they appeared more prominent, more brown than usual, and I could see…an endlessness, I thought, a depth beyond…mere human life?
Three days later she passed.
Four weeks before, she had been perfectly healthy. Then there were terrible stomach pains and a trip to the ER. They thought it was an infection in her gallbladder. That was not new; she had had gallbladder problems before. But they took a scan, and there it was. A big tumor covered almost 75 percent of her liver; there were several other hot spots, including one in her lungs. The cancer already had metastasized, Stage 4.
I had gone to visit when she was first diagnosed, a bit more than two weeks previously. She was in her bed, weak, but still had hope. Her long-time boyfriend, Irv, was caring for her 24/7, and he was frantic, and after a time, so was I. Wasn’t there something, anything, we could do?
An endless string of Roxie’s friends came to visit, and they tried to be cheerful, one even singing a show tune. They did what they could; but Roxie did not want visitors. They were using up priceless energy she could spend with her son, Max, or her daughter Jestina, or with Irv, or her brothers, Walkie, Gary and me. Or with Cousin Jeff, who had flown in from the East Coast.
After the chemo ended badly, she told me, “About three years ago, I told my best girlfriend I’d done everything I wanted to do,” then a rueful laugh, “I just didn’t think it would be like this.”
So you can’t really grieve that she had not led a full life, or that she was dying too soon, or that she had not burned brightly or long enough.
There is a factual intimacy in the shared life of siblings, a quotidian experience. Some siblings get along, others fight, some bore one another; but one way or another, a balance works itself out without many words being said.
Roxie was a pain in the ass. She argued, especially with siblings, way too much. And she was a control freak.
But, then again, in my mid-twenties, I moved to NYC and took a job at an elite bank with its headquarters on Park Avenue. Heady stuff. Soon I became another New York chauvinist pig, pitying the non-NYC great unwashed. Roxie had come to visit and I was showing her the big-name shops on 5th Avenue. “See, Roxie, there is the headquarters for Tiffany; and that one…”
She was behind me, said in a rising voice, “And that one is Gucci, Gucci, GOO,”and she tickled me under my arms. I turned to kill her, but she was laughing so hysterically I had to stop. She wouldn’t let me continue the pretentious NYC jerk act one second longer.
She was always good at popping bubbles.
There are artists in our family tree and Roxie inherited the genes. After moving to Camarillo, she painted in earnest, and made a specialty of portraying moving bodies underwater. It is a tricky thing. Almost no artist gets water right; and especially objects underwater. It is because the water refracts the light and distorts underwater images not once, but several times.
Roxie got it right and her paintings began being shown in one-woman exhibitions in the area. She also created a live-work art collective on the grounds of Cal State University Channel Islands. It was in an abandoned wing of an old state mental hospital. Roxie approached the school’s chancellor and somehow gained permission to use several large spaces, way over 50,000 square feet. The place was full of junk, so Roxie convinced her friends to help clean it up and start the collective. It was an immediate hit. Local artists flocked to it, and viola, Roxie had founded the “Studio Channel Islands Art Center.” Thousands now enjoy it.
And now she is gone. Today, Friday, Oct. 25, 2019, is the three-week anniversary of her death.
As for me, I keep staring into her eyes, and she mine.
Michael Ray grew up in Corona del Mar and lives in Laguna Beach. He is a real estate entrepreneur involved in many nonprofits.