Jo Carson is gone. She is where she needs to be. And though I’ve known for many weeks that she was going it has only now, really just this morning, hit me full on, like a sucker punch to the face. It hurts that much, because the truth is, she is no longer where I want her to be.
What I want is to bounce ideas off her, I want to read her latest Headwaters thoughts and scribblings and experience the soul-satisfying and ego-fulfilling exercise of answering her when she says, “So tell me Jerrygorilla, what do you think?” Because even though she was stubborn as hell, she really wanted to know.
I want her to tell me more about chaos and creativity, and I want to explore that concept with her, and I want to keep working with her on the One Voice that we consciously and subconsciously wrote with in our rare and fruitful collaboration (and if you want to know the whole truth, it was mostly me consciously trying to keep up and write as closely to Jo’s singular voice as my limited skills would allow).
But my friend is gone. My teacher and collaborator and fellow deadline-challenged partner in mischief is gone.
So I’ll never feel the close, powerful hugs her small body gave at every greeting and parting, and I’ll never get to talk with her in my loud outdoors voice (because she couldn’t hear worth a shit). No more text messaging and emails with Jo, whose name always brightened my inbox, even if what she said pissed me off.
I hear her voice like a shadow in my head, professorial adages and advice, strong opinions and admonitions, soaring encouragement and affirmation, honest and useful criticism, commiseration, and stories. But the sound of her voice, that is gone.
And though I am suddenly profoundly sad, there also is a little anger – anger over the human condition, probably, at the inevitability that the longer we live, the more loved ones we lose. I’m angry with the damn Grim Reaper.
Jo wrote, after coming pretty close to joining the choir invisible some months back, “I shook hands with the Grim Reaper, made choices, cut a deal… Like the Grim Reaper actually honors such deals, but you make them anyway, you have to, you are human with an investment in this life. The only way around such deal making is to die by surprise, and I’m not so sure you get out of it even then. You just do it a whole lot faster.”
I am forever grateful that Jo made the investment.
I’m grateful, too, for Jo’s dear friends Al, Lisa, Carleen, etc., etc., etc. (I don’t know all of them by name, but I know they stayed close to Jo and took care of her these past weeks). Thinking of them makes me appreciate (even more) my friends Nance and Jill, and anyone else who cares for and comforts the dying. Because of all these angels, the wait for that backstage pass to the universe is made with grace and light.
And I am honored and humbled to have had Jo as my colleague, to be able to say, “I was Jo Carson’s co-writer.” She kind of tried to beat the journalist out of me when it came to writing plays, and told me something about the craft that I’ll never forget. She said, “we can make up stuff if we get the truth of it right.”
Several weeks ago I had the tremendous good fortune to spend a few last hours with Jo over the course of a few days, and even then – let’s just say it: from her deathbed – she held court magnificently, bouncing stories around, then perfecting them in the telling (the great storyteller, her timing, inflection, delivery consistently improving with each telling to each new visitor, the sort of thing one does with an eye toward a future, whatever and however long that future may be).
She told me about some amazing dreams she’d been having. She always had the best detailed memory of dreams of anyone I’ve known, and I hope that she’ll visit mine.
But at one point she told me, “I made a bad deal and now I wish I could renegotiate.” See, for years Jo took care of her mother, who was dying of Alzheimer’s disease, and she basically said to the universe, “anything but that for me.”
It’s the word “anything,” that the Grim Reaper, or the Great Arbiter, Grand Timekeeper, God (or whatever calls the shots and keeps close tabs on the expiration date written in our DNA’s fine print) latched onto.
“Anything” can be anything. In Jo’s case, it was cancer and it was too soon, especially for a brilliant soul who was … um … challenged by deadlines. I only knew Jo for five or six years and from the start wished that she’d entered my life sooner. But she was so worth the wait.