Updated: Apr 12
Women have always been, for good and for ill, a predominant influence in my life. Being the eldest of three, there was my mother and my two sisters, I was surrounded my women even as a child. Our parents had been divorced since 1980 (I was only five years old - my sisters were three and two), so when Mom went to work, and we weren't in school, we'd pack up our paper bags (we each had one bag we could put what ever would fit from our rooms) and off to Grandma and Grandpa's house. When we'd get there, Grandpa would often be out working or something, and Grandma would be there happily waiting. Karen and Lisa would play on her organ in the den sometimes while I'd build houses with Lincoln Logs and bizarre towers with Tinkertoys.
My grandmother, Rose, would sit with me some of those days, and we'd read a dictionary together. Okay, that's not a common activity, but even at the ages from five to nine I was fascinated by words, their sounds, and their meanings. Several decades later, on my grandmother's 88th Birthday, I drew a portrait of her with graphite:
A couple weeks after September 11th, 2001, I had returned home from a brief, less than two years, stay in Phoenix. I had bounced from job to job over the following six months or so, but in the late winter of 2002, I met Janet. I had been just sitting there, in the smoking section of IHOP (yup, there were still smoking sections inside restaurants then) working my way through writing some short story, but had hit a junction where the story fragmented into several directions. Neither of them pulled me one way or another, so I pulled out my set of Osho Zen Tarot cards, and see what my inspiration and random chance had to say about my predicament. The moment I had started shuffling the cards, a woman's voice belted out from the kitchen, which I had happened to be easily seen in a direct line.
"You have to give me a reading!"
Stunned by the obvious command, I looked up and could see tall, thin grey hair whip around a corner, and then Janet came out, with a slightly lopsided walk, and glasses dangling from her neck on a simple chain.
"If you read me yours," she said as she approached my table, "I'll read you with mine."
"Okay," I said with a smile.
Over the next five years, she became one of the two closest people in my life. Her husband's name was Thor, and her Christmas Miracle daughter was Keri. The two older sons from a previous marriage were only about five years my junior, and she had had her daughter when she was 38. Janet introduced me to WoW (World of Warcraft), where we gathered our computers in her house and often spent nights, so many nights in a row playing as a family. I had been such a nervous nelly when it came to picking men up at the club or bar. She pushed me to be more confidant in approaching strangers, talking to them, and taking them home. She encouraged me to always look for opportunities as to where my storytelling would take me. I'd always fixated on being a short story author, and novelist in the early part of the twenty-first century.
In August of 2008, Janet passed away from complications with pneumonia. An upper respiratory infection blocked off one of her lungs, where fluid had built up, and the stress of it caused her to throw a clot, that ended up in her brain. In seven days she went from a cough, to only half her brain function, and to death. It crushed me. Janet was only 50. The thought of her lack of presence in my world today still brings tears to my eyes, and a heavy weight on my chest, twelve years on.
When I had rediscovered my artistic talents in 2013, I had taken a drawing class. One of the prompts were two partial manikins covered with different cloths. I was drawn toward an angle from the floor, and as I peered up, I cried. I knew what I was drawing:
Janet could never use her name in gaming online, because like my own, John, it's way too common, so she just swapped the last two letters, Jante. I'd like to think that she would have exploded in excitement, and joy at my rediscovery of my art, and that I've made comics, a web series, and even written a script for a film that had been made. And though from left to right, as I've always seen this piece of art, as Janet leaving this world, I now see that that was only half of it. The other half, from right to left, is me searching for her, and then me finding her, nearby, just out of reach, and happily, pridefully, smiling down on me.