Remembering Petronella

It’s been nearly two years since I last saw my friend. I don’t do funerals, but I went to hers. She would have laughed at me for breaking my code. But when you love someone like I loved her, the code kind of goes out the window.

I met Petronella when I was an adjunct professor at OCCC. She and I had equal disdain for the coddling nature of colleges. Once education gets turned into a business, all is lost. It becomes about overhead costs and customers. She and I felt we did our students a disservice by giving them grades they hadn’t earned. We were tough, but fair. And we started a lot of sentences with, “When I was in college…”

Our office hours were at the same time. That’s how we met. Our conversations went deep. Marianas Trench deep. No topic was taboo. Our backgrounds were different. Our races were different. Sometimes, our opinions were different. But there was a respect there that could never be overshadowed by disagreement. I’m sure the people around us were shocked at the subjects we covered, but we never really paid attention to anyone else.

One thing we shared was our love of writing. While most of my friends and I communicate via phone or text message, Petronella and I wrote epic emails to each other. On one occasion, we noticed the sidebar changing ads based on what we were writing. Seems like we needed a bail bondsman and a private detective on most days. Sometimes, we would change up the writing just to make the ads change, but mostly, we wrote from the heart. Our emails were no different than our in-person conversations. Deep. Raw. Honest. I’ve never had anyone in my life like that. I suspect I never will again.

When I started this blog, it was attached to an old one I had long abandoned. Her face popped up on the screen because she had liked something I had written before her death. I miss that face. And that heart. And that soul. I miss having someone who could see me for me and who didn’t ask for a filter. She would have smacked me had I even tried to use a filter. The truth is the truth whether someone wants to hear it or not.

I still have the emails we wrote back and forth to each other. I read them sometimes. The last time we spoke, she was in the hospital. The expectation was that she would get better like all of the other times. And THIS time, we would start living the lives we knew we should live. THIS time, we would be true to ourselves and write. THIS time, we would grant ourselves permission to do something that we loved instead of something that paid the bills.

Three days later, after not hearing from her, I got an email. It said it was from her, but the message was from her son. He was sad to tell me that my friend, his mother, had passed away. I can’t imagine what it felt like to have written that email. It was devastating to receive it. A piece of me was gone.

I can’t help thinking that she would have done things differently had she known how short her life was going to be. That maybe she would have given herself permission to write more. But the truth is, I am just now giving myself a glimpse of that permission. We work so hard to be true to everyone else. We often forget that we also deserve to be true to ourselves.

I will always miss my friend. The hole her death left can never be filled. But I am so grateful that I got to have her for a little while. There will never be another Petronella.

Sleep well, my friend. I love you.

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