My neighbor and good friend, Sandra Minarik died yesterday. She was Owen’s neighbor who died three years ago. Owen and other neighbors played poker in the community room. Upon meeting Sandra, she told me she lived at the Fred Finch Orphanage in Oakland where I was born. I felt an affinity with this tragic soul, because as a child I used to walk up Lincoln to the hills, and pause to look down at the children on the playground. I projected myself there, with them, because there was talk I and my siblings would be sent here because our parents were raging alcoholics.
When the Coroner wheeled Sandra past me, if it were not for her folded arms, one would not believe she was in the burgundy body bag . This woman suffered greatly. She was in much pain. She carried several crosses……across the finish line.
I used to play on bulldozers when the Greek Orthodox church was being built up the hill from the orphanage. They were in another world, and I played at the edge of that world. I felt I was halfway there. Sandra brought me in from the cold. Estranged from all members of my family, we were Brother and Sister Orphans. We formed a pact. We watched each other’s back. We were detectives together. We played together. We explored our town and went to new market openings. We befriended the children all around us. When there was something puzzling on the news, we called each other up and compared notes. Sandra was gifted with a logical mind. We discovered the ‘Barn Door Syndrome’. We were healthy skeptics. We raised ourselves. We invented unique survival skills. I have lost an important ally. I love Sandra, and already miss her. She will not answer when I call. Or come to her door when I knock. The birds will not be fed.
I own one photograph of Sandra, taken at the hospital. She died of leukemia. She would not want me to publish that photo, or any photo, so I found a picture of the orphans in the Oakland hills where my kindred had a fruit farm. Sandra is part of my mythology.
I look at the image of these children and I behold faces that have just as much hope, if not more, that life will bring them a bounty of wonderful experiences, and true happiness, even though they have had trouble at the starting line. I took Sandra to my garden. I sat in a chair and meditated on the white clouds that rolled in from the sea. We were there, in our young bodies, running in the sand and laughing.