Gulf Shores

Gulf Shores
Photographer Patricia Gulick

Friday, August 2, 2013

5-25-13 RMB Two Loraines

5-25-13 RMB Two Loraines

Dear Rita Mae Brown,

I conclude from all that I have read about you and by you that you are a hard worker. Consciously or not, it seems your work and your life intertwined such that there is little separation. Work earns us more than dollars, it earns us respect, a voice, recognition, skills and more. Your work is a testament of your life and vice versa. It is as though you saw this early on and made the best of your efforts.

I too value work, to a fault at times. I’ve heard the message “In your last moments, you won’t have wished you worked more.” In my case, I just might. Many have encouraged me to pull away from work “get a life.” I watch those same people dread going to their workplace daily. I often look forward to work. Who’s to say who has the more comfortable life?

In my late twenties, I worked at a furniture store that also did turn key temporary housing, the idea being that you sign on the dotted line and you can walk into a new home with the turn of a key, complete with furniture, running water and electricity humming …or so the theory goes.

Daily there was a crisis here or there, missing furniture, no utilities or worse a “missing” apartment …when an apartment, expected to be vacant, was occupied…by someone else. Often I had to talk to irate clients, regardless of who was at fault, the furniture company, the utility company, the apartment complex… it all resulted in me getting an earful on the phone.

One July sixteenth evening I assured the client I was doing everything I could to right the situation. The client was sure that was not the case at all. I was tired. It neared 9pm. I had been at work since 9am, on the phone dealing with this particular issue over three hours.   
“This is my birthday and I will stay here as long as it takes until this is resolved to your satisfaction.”

“What a ridiculous thing to say!” My comment was not believed and taken as an insult.

“What is your work’s fax number? I will copy my driver’s license and fax it to you. It will be there when you get to the office in the morning.” The client believed me. Shortly thereafter we found amicable ground. I was able to go home. Once home, I celebrated the remaining two hours of my birthday by falling into bed, only to awaken the next day and start the process of furnishing furniture and accoutrements all over again. My life was work, sleep, repeat.

Certain days stand out, like the one above. Another was an October afternoon when my “adult” sister called me at work. My family rarely called me at work, there was work to do, no time for chit chat. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, I have some news for you and I wanted to tell you myself. I had the baby. She is a healthy baby girl.”

“Wow, that is great news.” Mentally I was wondering how I had lost track of her due date. Was the baby early? I recalled the commotion over picking a name that started with an R, so they would be the four R’s. “Did you decide on a name?”

“Yes we did. Her name is Rochelle Loraine and we spelled it wrong, just like your name.”
I was speechless. Tears snuck up on me and filled my eyes. Eventually I found my voice, “Really? You didn’t tell me you were going to name her that.”

“We wanted it to be a surprise. We were not sure of the first name, but we were sure of the middle name. The nurse tried to tell us to fix it so it would be spelled right.”

Apparently the nurse that helped our father did not know that Loraine is normally spelled Lorraine, with two Rs. My sister was named after a saint for her first name and our father, a feminine version of his name, for her middle name. I was named after no one and both names were misspelled. I think it was an omen. My mother thought she was giving birth to an Elisa Lorraine, but ended up taking a Lisa Loraine home.

So thirty year’s later, Sis was explaining to a nurse why they left the other second R off…on purpose.

This is my niece. She befriended another kindergartner because he was teased, distant, in need of a friend. He became her shadow. In a lunch room governed by strict lunch ladies, all students were instructed to sit with their class…with one exception. This boy and this girl, in a lunch room of hundreds, were the only two allowed to sit with one another. Not even the strict lunch ladies could bear to see the boy’s heartbreak if he were parted from his guardian angel for a single lunch period...throughout their entire grade school experience. Over a decade and a half later, his presence remains. Now, it is hard to tell who is saving who, who is protecting who, who is following who. Both are loyal to the core.

She championed for justice, fairness and honesty before she knew the opposition that would confront her, before she knew that it was also I, her namesake, that she championed for. Once a schoolmate made a derogatory comment about a photo of two men embracing that was on the cover of her notebook They were two actors playing roles on television. That schoolmate, and all within earshot, learned it was not such a good idea to express prejudice in my niece’s presence.

Earlier this month I emailed her the RMB letters. The note accompanying them expressed a gratitude to her that I had never fully been able to express before. I had never discussed my relationships with her. “Thank you, a million times over. You have no idea how much your words and actions have meant to me... Know that whenever you defend anyone against prejudice, you are defending everyone against prejudice.”

Twenty years after that October afternoon call, two Loraines walked for over an hour one Saturday night. She had read all the RMB letters. We talked about my life, the letters and my past. We talked about her life, school and her future.

She is an actress, a straight A student at the University of Southern California, a champion for the greater good and a friend. This is my niece who, I am proud to say, carries my name.



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