She was there when I was born. Much younger than I ever remember her. A beautiful woman, small and alive. She moved to Austin to be close to us. I think she was very happy to have me in her life.
She lived in the Oak Run apartments, where I would live later when I was an older kid with a car and problems like a cloud. I loved her apartment. It smelled dear and just so, like her clothes and listerine and kitty litter (but that only faintly, like no one with cats can help). A tall tree outside the window and the nylon fiber carpet. I thik hte cat’s name was Luke, but I can’t be sure. There were many cats in my life.
She fed me tuna sandwiches and I hated the smell but she urged me to try and I loved the taste though I forgot that I loved it until much later when I would realize frugality. Also she loved beer. Heineken. She was so upset when she was made to stop drinking it after the Hepatitis C and cirrhosis set in.
One private time I was in that apartment and I became scared, but I can’t remember of what, and she wasn’t home but I held her dog, a Shih-Tzu named Sasha, and I cried and said over and over to the dog, It’ll be okay It’ll be okay.
Xan, as everybody called her because of a confusion over the name of a character in a book that she had read while young. Xan and I would play Scrabble. She would always win and it made me so mad that she wouldn’t let me win, but she was right. I accused her of cheating because she would read the Scrabble dictionary nightly and use impossible words that I couldn’t help but challenge, but she would tell me, That’s life, kid. Meaning just that winners know the game.
My favorite mornings were when she would drive me to a rock ledge overlooking Town Lake with Apple Fritters and we would talk and become friends even as I got older.
She grew up in Alabama and remembers having a black housewoman and wondering at the difference between herself and the woman and because the woman raised her she learned early a great deal about the sort of magic humans cast on their eyes to see what isn’t there. Later she moved to New York and she dated Steve McQueen when he was 19 and pretty. She said that the most exciting sex she ever had was a time when she was walking home and saw a man who sparked a wild desire and she could see it in his eyes as well. They approached each other and took hands held walked to her room and never said a word and never met again.
She had her four children but only three survived. Her youngest found something wrong in life and she couldn’t figure it out (Xan once had me organize her collection of letters and memories and Cheri Pilar’s diaries were included). Finally she decided that she was what was wrong and ended her life. Cheri’s last diary entry is from May in 1980 or 81 and is a picture of a moon with a man’s face and she wrote: “I wonder what I’ll be like when I grow up.”
When I thought that I was what was right with life (I was oblivious), I made a joke to Xan and she began to cry and I couldn’t say anything right and she took a knife and pointed it at her chest and screamed words at me. It had been Cheri’s birthday. I don’t remember the joke or the words. Only yelling and crying at each other and then holding one another without speaking because in times like that, words are silly.
Xan loved to create. She was resentful of not having accomplished all of the dreams she had when she was young. She had been a dancer and an actor, and later, once she retired, she put all of her time into creating. She would knit all the time and she bought a keyboard to relearn the piano and she drew and practiced rock sculpture and wrote poetry about changing lives. Always she had loved to garden. She was the first family member I smoked weed with. I got so stoned I couldn’t move, but she jumped up like a spur and started drawing and singing. Eventually she felt uncomfortable smoking weed with me. It was when my cloud started to break and the problems soaked me and people around me had to step away to keep dry.
She was my favorite person. She still is. When she was dying she appreciated our open honesty together. She said she wasn’t ready, but that she knew she should be. She wanted to go to Mexico to die, but instead she stayed alive waiting for a new liver and getting it, but what good did it do? Only kept her alive for another year in pain to die with gurgling tubes and family who she was sad would miss her. We all miss her.
I held her body and cried. My cross broke in a bar because I was pushing people and Adam had to hit me to stop me to remind me that this wasn’t about me.
A few years after she died I was missing her and so I searched on Google to see if the Internet had ever taken her in. I found a book on knitting in which she was credited as being a writer, artist, sculptor, and musician as well as an accomplished knitter.
I read the quotes and cried. Because I missed her, but also because I had found this thing. The person she felt that she should be. How she imagined herself. Who she wanted people to see her as. Accomplished and prolific. A wise woman who people turn to for expert advice. I found her fantasy and I fell in love with her again. I cried because then I realized how young and hopeful like a kid, like me, she had always been.