My sister Carla sends me very short e-mails from time to time. She says, “Hi Denny.” And then she wants me to click on links for cheap pharmaceuticals, penis enhancers, Rolex watches, and investment opportunities. I know better than to move my cursor anywhere near the links and spam the message.
But she persists. A few months later she wants to know “How’s it going?” and supposes that I’d be interested in time shares in Florida, buying gold, building my retirement savings…Her husband, Dan, warned us a year and a half ago that someone had raided her account after he thought that it was closed. Hackers had gotten hold of her address book and were using it to e-mail friends and relatives. Dan said that he was contacting her internet service again, and apologized for the confusion and trouble. I didn’t see any messages in my inbox from her for several months after that, but then her name started to pop up again.
Carla has also communicated with me in two dreams, and in neither one was she interested in selling me anything. In the first I saw her standing on a sidewalk on a hot summer day. She told me that she had always loved me and that she was fine. She looked sleek, tan and healthy and moved with quick assurance as she helped my parents unload the trunk of their car. Mom and Dad were donating old clothes and shoes, putting them into a metal donation box by the side of the road, finally clearing out some of the clutter from their house. Carla told me that she and I were responsible for looking after them as they headed into their final days… And recently I woke up with her second visitation still fresh in my mind. She was at the bottom of the steps in my parents’ basement standing next to a friend of hers that I had never met. Carla looked at me expectantly as I stared at her, and finally she said, “Aren’t you going to hug me?” I said that I was afraid to because the last time I saw her she couldn’t breathe very well. She said, “But I’m fine now,” and I stepped up and wrapped her tightly in my arms.
One night in the spring of 2013, before her e-mail account had been compromised, she instant messaged me on Facebook. We chatted about the birth of her first grandchild, a girl named Claire. I asked about her panic attacks, what started them, how severe they were. Mom had told me about them with a note of caution in her voice, and I was worried. Carla wrote that just about anything could set her off, and that happy drugs were her best friends. I said that I wanted to be there to visit her, but that my wife was still recovering from surgery and I couldn’t come any time soon. Carla told me that she wasn’t good company right then, that I should stay home and take care of Judy. We exchanged messages for twenty minutes, but her response time gradually grew slower, and her phrases started to disconnect from each other into less intelligible fragments. I wondered if she were falling asleep in her motorized wheelchair with her headset on. The last thing that I wrote to her was that I would talk to her soon. She didn’t answer.
Her husband Dan called me several weeks later at 10:30 a.m. and told me that Carla had died early that morning. She had gone into a panic attack and couldn’t catch her breath. A nurse was on hand and gave her an injection, but she suddenly stopped breathing and couldn’t be revived. The funeral was in three days.
Shortly after I helped her sons and my brother carry her coffin into Ascension Catholic Church for her funeral Mass, after I pushed it on chrome rails back into a hearse and rode out to Calvary Cemetery with friends and family, after I sat by her grave and endured the final burial rituals, I got her first e-mail from beyond: “Hi Denny. How are you doing?”
I wasn’t doing all that fucking well.