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One writer's journey to getting published

Sarah Fister Gale

Sarah Fister Gale
Location
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Birthday
August 07
Bio
Sarah Fister Gale is a freelance journalist, novelist and wine-drinker based in Chicago. She is agented by the fabulous Jacquie Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates who is currently seeking a good home for her novel, Losing Jenni, a story of a little girl who drowns in the Chicago River, and the amazing choice her mother makes to cope with her loss. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGale.

Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 23, 2011 3:25PM

I quit crying, when my dead friend asked me nicely to stop

Rate: 24 Flag

When I was 22-years-old, my friend Caroline was killed. It was five o’clock in the afternoon on a sunny street in San Diego. She was driving home from work and a drunk tow-truck driver blew a red light and slammed into the driver’s side door of her car. She died instantly.

A few months later, she returned to me, to share a message from the beyond.

I met Caroline in college, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She was a tiny happy girl, who wore homemade tie-dyed t-shirts, didn’t eat meat, and refused to use electric blankets, even on the coldest Wisconsin nights, because she thought they “put negative energy into the world.”

Caroline had attended an alternative high school in New York where she was encouraged to follow her heart and work at her own pace, so she could never figure out why all of her college professors insisted she turn assignments in on time. “I didn’t feel ready to finish it,” she would tell me in frustration when I asked her why she neglected to turn something in. Her professors were unimpressed but I thought it was charming.

My junior year in college, Caroline and I decided on the spur of the moment, to spend winter break driving to New Mexico to see the sights and look at grad schools. We hiked in state parks, wore leather moccasins, and ate the best Mexican food in the world at tiny road side stands.

Caroline in New Mexico 

Then in our last year of college, while most of us spent our afternoons drinking pints of beer and blowing off our homework,  she spent a semester abroad in Colombia where she studied urban planning in emerging markets. She wasn’t afraid of the political unrest or the drug trafficking that pervaded every news story about the country at that time. She just wanted to experience the world.

When it was time for her to come home, I remember her telling me a story of how she got into a screaming match with an armed Colombian official who claimed her visa was out of order and wouldn’t let her leave the country. She slammed her tiny American hand down on the table in front of him and demanded that her let her by or she would call the American consulate. Miraculously, instead of throwing her in jail he let her pass.

She laughed about the experience, but it made me shiver. She could have been hurt or worse, I thought.

A year later she was dead. I remember thinking how ironic it was, that after surviving on her own in one of the most dangerous countries in the world, she was killed in California, driving home from a boring job in a municipal city planning office, minding her own business.

The week she was killed, my roommate Jennifer and I were planning a road trip to go see her in California. When we got the call that she had been killed I didn’t believe it. How could she be dead when we had plans to see her just a few days later? I couldn’t make sense of it.

I went to work that day, as a waitress at California Pizza Kitchen. Still in a daze, unfamiliar with how one reacts when their 22-year-old friend is suddenly dead, I didn’t know what else to do.

My manager found me an hour later, curled in a ball under the sink in the employee bathroom sobbing into my canvas apron. That was the first time I cried about Caroline, but it wouldn’t be the last. I told him what had happened and he took me by the hand, walked me home, and  told me to take as much time as I needed.

The next day Jennifer, two other friends, and I piled into my car and drove to Georgia where her parents now lived, to attend Caroline’s funeral.

“We should be here for her wedding,” I thought as we gathered at the somber event. I remember watching her mother, who spoke little English, looking helpless and terrified as we filed past her trying to think of something to say that might ease her sorrow. I told her parents stories about our days in New Mexico, and the stories she had told me on that trip about her youth which made them smile. Her father saw me as a link to his lost daughter, and when it was time for us to leave, he held my hand so tightly as though he didn’t want me to go.

I cried for days; all through the funeral, and those nights in the cheap motel where my friends and I slept two to a bed. Then for months after we returned, I would break into sobs, often late at night while sharing drinks at a bar, or sitting home alone with sad music playing in the background. Anything that reminded me of her – a song, a story, a reference to college, or Colombia or butterflies -- they all made me cry. I felt the loss of Caroline like it was a hole in my chest and nothing would ever fill it back up.

One night, after a very public, bleary crying jag in front of a group of relative strangers at the bar where I had recently gotten a job, I went home early feeling hollow and drained. Falling into a heavy sleep I had a dream about college. A large group of my friends were sitting together around a vast oak table in a sunny lodge, laughing and drinking beer and telling stories.

Then I looked over their heads and realized Caroline was there watching me. She wasn’t a part of the dream. It was as if the dream was a movie screen and she was standing just outside of it. She reached toward me, her hand passing through the bodies of the people sitting beside me. She took my hand and pulled me away from the table and to her side.

“Sarah,” she said to me. “You’ve got to stop crying. It’s all right.  I’m okay. And you need to let me go.”

Then I woke up.

That was 21 years ago and I still remember her face and those words as vividly as if it had happened last night.

I know that a lot of people dream about the people they’ve lost, and perhaps that is all this was. But I believe it wasn’t just a dream. I believe that Caroline came to me. That she saw my grief and she wanted it to stop.

I also believe what she said was true -- that she is okay, wherever she is. And while I still occasionally get teary when I think of who she might have become, I stopped crying about her after that night. I felt peace for the first time over her death and I knew I had to let her go.

Besides, she came all that way to see me, so I figured it was the least that I could do.

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Comments

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My mother died when I was eighteen, and I had similar dreams. After teaching psychology for 30 years, I know, too, that humans still don't fully understand dreams. There are several theories as to what they are, but there's no final judgment on the subject. Interesting post....(and it's the nation of Colombia, not Columbia).
My mother died when I was eighteen, and I had similar dreams. After teaching psychology for 30 years, I know, too, that humans still don't fully understand dreams. There are several theories as to what they are, but there's no final judgment on the subject. Interesting post....(and it's the nation of Colombia, not Columbia).
The line between dream and reality gets very blurred in those situations. However it happened, I'm glad she came to you. I get this.
lovely and beyond such a word as 'poignant', dear lady.

they say that the dead come back in 'guest experiences'
or 'guest appearances' in the spatio-temporal realm,
which they also say is ruled by random chance.

always the good ones say: let me go..

my mom & dad do somewhat.

i am waiting for my best friend, who suicided two weeks ago,
to do so.

he too, too good for us
who
still have lessons/
?

just a theory..
lovely and beyond such a word as 'poignant', dear lady.

they say that the dead come back in 'guest experiences'
or 'guest appearances' in the spatio-temporal realm,
which they also say is ruled by random chance.

always the good ones say: let me go..

my mom & dad do somewhat.

i am waiting for my best friend, who suicided two weeks ago,
to do so.

he too, too good for us
who
still have lessons/
?

just a theory..
Thank you everyone for your kind thoughts and support.
My dead still come and visit and I still cry every day. A fine post for your friend and the love you share.
Rated.
Beautiful. Touching. The other world does exist. I've had such experiences with my late father and brother.

Your friend wanted the best for you. I am sure she still does.

Thanks for this post.
What a perfect description of loving, grieving and letting go. Wonderful.
Very thoughtful and moving.
The messages we recieve from Non-Ordinary Reality are just as 'real' as getting a phone call from someone living in Ordinary Reality. How that occurs is better left to others. I only know that these realms do, in some fashion, exist and no amount of scientific 'explanation' as to how it's a figment of my mind can make it sound any more plausible or implausible.

I'm glad your friend felt your grief and connected with you. It sure seems like she was a really important part of your life. Live the memories and enjoy the courage of her spirit.

-r-
This was very simply, excellent. A well written tale, an excellent experience that spurs thought....Thank you.
Well written, beautiful and meaningful. Your Friend sounds like a terrific person. When I was in college I lost 2 first cousins, 1 to murder and 1 died in childbirth. It was 35 years ago...
A beautiful story of healing.
Yes, she came to comfort you, there is no doubt. Thanks for sharing.
Hi Sarah,
I would like to say that your writing is great, it is never easy to lose a good friend like you describe. I would easily think that somebody who dies suddenly is more of mystery, there are no clues or anything else to go on. Death leaves many questions unanswered, as answered. My mom was hit be a car close to 6 years now, and I still at times am left with a blank as to how this happened, but rest assured it did. I had another relative long ago now, but at the time was just engaged, and her fiance was killed Jan. 1st going to work, by a drunk driver coming home from a party, both were killed instantly. What a tradegdy, who knows but I am glad that your friend appeared to you the way she did, and asked you to please not worry or cry for her. She was truly in a better place, as was my mom, had she survived her injuries it could have been that much more perilous. God Bless you and your friend.
Thank you, Sarah for a well-written piece of your heart. I believe you really had a visit from Caroline. I had visits from my mother and one from my father-in-law. The one from my father-in-law was at a train station and everything was infused by light. He kissed my two daughters goodbye and got on the train. I remember how that train station looked, and that dream took place at least 25 years ago.

Pax,
Gretchen
You give so much here that this is healing in itself.
What a lovely, touching, beautiful story. Those we love, even though they are gone, are only a dream away.
What a great story! Thanks for sharing it.