For Joyce

I stepped out of my house this morning and ran into my neighbor, who looked stricken. He said, “I have a bad feeling Joyce passed last night.” I went to the cafe and cried. When I logged onto my e-mail I found that three people had forwarded me the message your son sent, preparing us, yesterday morning. As the news of your death spread through the neighborhood, two friends told me their hearts were breaking. I texted with two people and spoke to another on the phone. I crossed the street to avoid someone because I didn’t want to talk about our loss. If I want to keep from thinking about you, I’ll be crossing the street every time I see somebody I know coming down the sidewalk.

I saw you for the last time in a rehab hospital in Brookline. You told me about the inequities inside the facility, about the very poor and very sick people on lower floors who were not getting the quality of care you were. I told you I was reading a biography of Malcolm X and we talked about the civil-rights movement. You asked after my own book with excitement and anticipation, and you offered to send me to a reading out of state, if I could get one. I thought I’d have a chance to say goodbye.

Joyce, I hear you did not want a funeral. Your sons are holding an open house in your tiny, beautifully furnished apartment tomorrow and Tuesday. All the people who loved you are not going to fit into that apartment, not even two days in a row. Thank you for making me part of your community.

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