“We can report that Edward G. Partin has been under investigation by the New Orleans District Attorney’s Office in connection with the Kennedy Assassination investigation… based on an exclusive interview with an Assistant District Attorney in Jim Garrison’s office. We can report that Partin’s activities have been under scrutiny. In his words: “We know that Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald were here in New Orleans several times… there was a third man driving them and we are checking the possibility it was Partin.WJBO radio, June 23rd, 1964; as quoted from Walter Sheridan’s “The Fall and Rise of Jimmy Hoffa.”
I signed the paperwork to have Wendy cremated, per her wishes, and was told it would take five to seven days. Cindi was waiting with Wendy’s car fob, cell phone, and a few personal items from when Wendy had checked into the hospital a few days before. We hadn’t seen each other since I was a little boy, and I was famished and possibly too tired to drive, so we decided to eat lunch together before I drove Wendy’s car back to her home.
My home now, Cindi reminded me, and that made me sad. Wendy had bought it with her early retirement settlement from Exxon Plastics, taking a lump sum to retire five years early instead of waiting and adding it to her IRA; that should have been a sign to me that something was wrong, because Wendy had always been a somewhat frugral person who had inheritied Granny’s practical investing methods, and the Wendy I had known just a decade before would have put money into her IRA to differ taxes. Her depression and drinking had become so consistent that she had made a rash decision to avoid going to work any more, and for a few years had enjoyed the process of designing a home near the forested bluffs of Thompson Creek, but had slipped into a deeper depression with the isolation of living alone in a remote area and had drank herself to death within a few years of leaving Exxon.
Cindi also reminded me that Wendy’s new car was mine now, too. I hadn’t known Wendy had just bought a new luxury car, and that would have been another signal that something was wrong. She had always liked fast sports cars, but the types that were common and priced mid-range. The new car was a Lexus, with all the bells and whistles of a luxury car. It had leather seats with heating and a massage feature, a beta version of a self driving steering wheel, autobraking, and customized dog seat belts in the back seat. There was dog hair sprinkled around the back seat, and an old blanket covered in dog hair of several colors and lengths. Cindi saw me looking at the back seat and probably misinterpreted my facination that Wendy would splurge on a Lexus as facination that there was dog hair on the nice seats.
“She kept rescuing dogs,” Cindi said, “Up until the end. She kept Liam and he shed a lot.”
Liam was a big, fluffy, goofy golden retriever Wendy had grown so attached to the year before that she kept him. She had sent me photos of him with loving comments like some parents send photos of their children.
“Liam’s with Susan,” Cindi said. “She looked after him whenever Wendy was in the hospital.”
I surmised that Wendy had been in the hospital many more times than I realized.
“Wendy loved Liam!” Cindi exclaimed with a broad smile. “When she totaled her car and got her DUI, she wouldn’t let the ambulance leave without Liam. They couldn’t take him, but she called Susan and Susan came and got him and took him to the vet ER. Wendy spent more on his bills than her own! Ha! She loved that dog.”
I was unaware of the DUI and asked more about it.
“It was in January,” she said. That’s when I was first in Cuba and received Wendy’s cryptic voice mail. “On that last windy stretch before the Bluffs. She was hurt pretty badly and spent a few days in the hospital. Liam needed surgery. Wendy was looking into pet insurance and for some reason was focused on finding one that had a low deductable. She spent more time looking for insurance than finding a new car and bought this one because of the steering and braking. I guess she thought Liam wouldn’t have been hurt if the car could have steered and braked for her.”
The part about a deductable sounded like Wendy, for sure, I said. We both smiled at that and I drove us to a nearby Po’Boy shop I knew that used shredded lettuce and always seemed to have thicker cuts of catfish than other places; or, at least it had many years ago when I was last there. Wendy hadn’t liked it becaue they only served wine, not beer, and I really wanted a beer and told Cindi that and how I had struggled with visiting Wendy because everything revolved around wine with her. We ordered our food and while waiting chatted about Wendy’s temperance. Cindi had known Wendy and my dad, and that they had divorced based on her “intemperence” and what that meant back then.
I sipped my beer, a new local brand made with local wheat and water that I had sampled at a San Diego bottle shop and had wanted to taste on draft. It was delicious. Our Po’Boys arrived and, like most of my friends in Louisiana did, we automatically swapped halves so that we both had a half of catfish and a half of shrimp. We both made a few satisfying moans between crunches of French bread and shreaded lettuce.
Cindi had lost her mother in law recently, and commented how emotions can rise and fall so quickly in the moments after a passing.
I laughed and said, “Funny: I was just thinking that. I can see the sadness and feel the fatigue and am focusing on the beer and po’boy to keep them at bay. The sadness is there and just as bad as last night. I had tried talking to Wendy about that – mindfulness – and had hoped she’d start mediating or seeing a therapist that would help her learn to become detached from her depression.”
I sighed and looked down, obviously collecting my thoughts, and Cindi held her half po’boy in both hands and watched me patiently.
I slid my half drank beer away and took a deep breath and said, “But she couldn’t do that. She couldn’t enjoy moderation. Her drinking took over, just like it had for everyone else…” At the thought of my family I broke down again, unable to focus on anything but the sadness, and sobbed for a bit.
Cindi waited until I regained composure and said, “I remember going over to Wendy’s house after school. Your Granny was always drunk by dinner time. Uncle Bob and Lo, too. It’s in your family.”
I looked up with a quivering countenance, sad at the memories but surpringly pleased to have someone to chat with who had known our family. No one was left, except for a few of Wendy’s old high school friends that she rarely saw. She hadn’t seen Cindi in almost fortry years until they reconnected three years before.
“She did the best she could,” Cindi continued, “but she was an alcoholic and that’s a disease in both your body and your mind. She grew up with alchoholics and had that going against her. When I saw her filling her water bottles with wine I started driving us to lunch and let her drink in peace. You have to want to change, and encouraging her wouldn’t have helped.”
I saw anger rising in my body at the thought of Cindi empowering Wendy, but that feeling settled and I realized that my encouraging Wendy to stop had pushed us apart and I was the one who felt guilty. At least Wendy had a friend to have fun with at the end, I thought.
I must have mumbled that thought out loud, becasue Cindi said, “Yes, it was good to reconnect with her after all those years. When she married Edward and I married David we both were in bad situations. She left Edward and you and I left David and we did what we had to do to take care of ourselves.” It was her turn to sigh, and she continued, “We were young and stupid and they were handsome and rebellious and that’s how those things go. But it’s like Uncle Bob always said, try to live without regrets. If that all hadn’t happened, if they hadn’t left us to go to Puerto Rico or Cuba or wherever, I would have never left David and then I would have never met my husband.” She perked up and said, “Thirty eight years this year! And two wonderful children.”
I listened to Cindi half-heartedly. Unlike Cindi, Wendy retained her regret and I wished I had been more of a friend to her the past few yeras, and without a catfish po’boy to focus on my thoughts were swirling and I wanted to quiet them. I stared at my half beer with more craving than I’d like, and wondered about nature vs nurture as Cindi told me about her family and what they had been doing in thirty eight years; I don’t recall anything of what she said, other than another brief reference to temperance in parenting.
We drove towards Wendy’s house and I carefully navigated the windy road leading to the bluffs, an area I knew well from when I drove an ambulance in that region during college, and I smiled a bit at the thought of perplexed EMT’s listening to Wendy ignore them and focus on that big, goofy, golden retriever.
That night, I explored her house, a mansion by most people’s standards. It had meticulously designed and maintained gardens using local fauna, pine trees for shade and to acidify the soil for the azelea flowers that were blooming and releasing their sent, a young but growing pecan tree planted beside what looked like what would become a small pet memorial. As long as I had known Wendy, she would plan a garden by moving a plant or bird feeder here or there until it felt right to her, sometimes taking an entire year to find just the right spot. On her fireplace mantle was a small box engraved, “Angel,” with the ashes of her tiny little dog who had passed two yeras before, and I realized that the garden must have been two years in planning. Inside the box were two tiny purple and gold ribbons Angel would wear when sitting on Wendy’s lap to watch LSU football games in the fall. Wendy had rescued Angel fourteen years before, and had house trained her and got her to stop barking when alone and interviewed many potential adoptive owners but hadn’t found a home that would love Angel as much as she deserved and fourteen years had passed. I imagined Wendy wanting to wait until that year’s football season to put Angel to rest, one last season where they’d root for the Tigers together. I set aside the box, knowing I’d spread Angel’s ashes with Wendy’s, after I picked a spot.
Wendy’s walls were eloquently decorated with a few elaborately framed paintings of dogs and wildlife, selected by her thirty years from part of our Canadian great-great aunt’s collection that had been passed to Auntie Lo and Granny and then to Wendy, and now to me. They were each worth more than I had earned in a year of being a paramedic in college, slightly less than my entire college fund or a single respirator without added software. I don’t know why my mind brings up those things; I may be crazy.
I looked skyward and told Wendy that I was crazy and I chuckled a bit to loudly. Wendy knew very well that schizophrenia ran in the Partin family. We had learned to laugh about it together a long time ago, after I was in my thirtys and pretty sure that I wasn’t going to develop the mental illnesses that plagued my dad’s side of the family. Maybe we should have focused more on the alcoholim that plagued her side, I said to the sky.
That did it: I collapsed on the floor like I had by Wendy’s bed the night before and bawled until my throat was sore and my wheezing prevented me from breathing. I was so ovewhelemd that I didn’t notice day turn to night. I was physically fatigued more than I had ever felt in all my life, even after seven years of military service in war and countless 24 hour ambulance shifts while in college, and I was more emotionally drained than I had ever imagined possible. I tried to stand but collapsed again, this time onto my back, and I passed out and slept restlessly on the floor of her office until the sun rose and woke me up a few hours later, and only then did I realize I must have cried from some time after lunch to the darkness of night without finding anything positive to focus on.
I stretched and tried to do a few pushups to wake up. My shoulders sounded like rice crispies, and by the second round of snap, crackle, and pop I stopped and sat upright on my knees and mindlessly said out loud, “Getting old sucks.”
Someone knocked on the door and I groaned as I raised a knee and pushed on it to stand up. I limped towards the door, taking a moment to sniff my shirt and making a mental note to shower and change. It was Susan.
“I hope I’m not bothering you,” she said. I forced a smile and said that she wasn’t and that I hoped I didn’t offend her with my smell, that I hadn’t showered since leaving San Diego… I paused and had to think about it for a surprisingly long moment… two days ago. She laughed and I invited her inside.
“I didn’t have your number. I tried to call Wendy’s phone because I knew Cindi was going to give it to you, but you know how bad her reception is out here.” I nodded in agreement and noticed that Susan was still using the present tense for Wendy’s things, just like I said going to Wendy’s house in her car. I wondered when the past tense would become natural, and at that thought I stopped listeing to whatever Susan was saying and started sobbing quietly. Susan stopped talking and rested a hand on my shoulder and waited.
“She was a good person,” she said when I finally looked up. “She must have rescuded two dozen dogs. donated a nice painting to the auction fund raiser every year, and she would come in to the shelter and play with the dogs that no one else would. She was a wonderful human being.”
I sniffed, and focosed on not crying; it was no catfish po’boy, but it worked and Susan continued.
“She would bring McDonald’s breakfast sandwhiches to the prisoner workers,” she said. “Six of them. Only 99 cents each. She’d pass through the drive through on her way to the shelter, I guess. No one else saw her. She’d stop and say hello to those Negros, and they’d stop their work and smile and talk with her. They loved her. Some of them had heard of them same balona sandwhiches they got from Angola from their fathers. Probably their father’s before them was eating something on a piece of bread. They make 15 cents an hour. She’d chat with them and then come inside and play with the dogs. She even donated extra beds when we had too many big retrievers and recievers one year. No one knew. She prayed in private.”
She paused, and sniffed back a tear, and mumbled, “She was a good person.”
I drove in silence. The director was helping me arrange an estate sale; the proceeds would go to the West Feliciana Humane Society, anonymously, and she was telling me about all of the volunteers who helped, and how Wendy chose to come around when fewer people were there – she had been so shy! – and share breakfast and play with the dogs. She must have been a wonderful mother.
She said, “I know Wendy wasn’t religious, or at least didn’t talk about it. But I always thought of her when I thought of her when our pastor read from Matthew: “And the King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” She sniffed and looked like she was about to cry, then the smiled and said, “Wendy never came with us to church, but she was always welcome. You can join this Sunday, too, if you’d like.”
I thanked her and said I was hoping to finish settling the estate and fly home as soon as possible, that I missed my family in San Diego, and that I’d email her when I chose a time and place for Wendy’s ceremony. We talked a bit about the logistics of planning, and on a whim I said I’d like to donate everything in Wendy’s home to the humane society. Susan was flbergasted and expressed her appreciation. The paintings alone would feed and house dozen of dogs until they found permanent homes. She and I discussed logistics, and she said she could muster a small army of volunteers to help plan and execute an estate sale, and I gave her a copy of Wendy’s house keys so they could handle things while I was in San Diego.
Susan left and I walked around Wendy’s home with both of our cell phones, hoping for a place with at least faint reception. I circled the home and it’s large, wrap around porch. Wendy had designed the house as a modern Acandian style, with high ceilings from before there was air conditioning and a steep roof to shed hurricane rains and a partial, wrap around porch and rocking chairs and outdoor fans to shoo away mosquitos while she and Angel and Liam had watched ducks land on the small fishing pond in her back yard. There, by an old stately oak tree draped in Spanish moss, I had a glimpse of a bar of cell phone signal.
I stood still as text messages and emails and voice mails loaded on our phones, listening to morning crickets and a few birds and the whomp-whomp of Wendy’s porch fans. I could see why she loved this place so much, and why she was searching for the perfect place to put Angel’s garden overlooking the pond. I glanced at my phone first and was shocked at a coincidence: one of my closest friends, my frist girlfriend and the girl to whom I lost my virginity, had texted me saying her dog had just died and she had her cremated and thought of me and Wendy and hoped I was well. the lived in the nearby town of Zachary, near the Canes dog park, and her kids went to school where my uncle Joe Partin was principle. Instantly, I knew I wouldn’t sleep uncomfortably at Wendy’s, and I texted back and told her the situation succinctly and said I’d swing by later: we had been such good friends that no invitations were necessary. I decided to not responded to a other messages and sent a burst message to my inner circle with this:
I’ve been out of touch for a while, and will continue to be for another week or so.
My mom passed away. I’m sharing this because I hope it helps my friends. She had liver failure from daily alcohol abuse. She had known her liver was failing for two years, but kept it a secret.
I was shocked when I received a call that she was in intensive care. I flew out immediately, but she was unresponsive. After sitting with her all night, we authorized removing life-support and she passed peacefully. She was 63. Her mom passed at 61, and her aunt and uncle in their early 60’s; all were functional alcoholics.
It’s a sad time. I’m the only surviving relative, so I’m staying here to take care of her cremation and a ceremony with a few of her friends. She had always wanted to travel; we’ll spread her ashes on a bluff over Thompson Creek, a beautiful river near her home in St. Francisville Louisiana, that drains into the Mississippi River, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico, which blends into all oceans of our shared world.
I’ve included a link to her obituary, and will share a story that’s helping me during this time:
“A woman’s son died, and she suffered unbearably. A friend told her that he could end her suffering with a special tea; all he needed was for her to bring him sugar from a home that had not suffered loss, pain, or sickness. She went searching, and over the years heard many stories of the pain other people felt, not realizing that she had stopped suffering and was helping other people be happy by listening to their stories. Over time, she became happy, and continued listening to peoples’ stories.”
I prefer to not receive emails or texts about the loss, but will listen to anything that helps you, and look forward to sharing more good times together.
I wish you happiness, and the causes of happiness; freedom from suffering, and the causes of suffering.
After I hit “send” I chuckled at calling a group message “burst,” which was an old term we used for encrypted messages sent to satellites years before cell phones or emails, and at the jokes Leah and I had made after we sent our first emails in 1994, that events in Star Wars wouldn’t have happened if George Lucas had forseen email, because there was no need to load information onto a droid and send him saerching for the recipient when you could have just used email or Dropbox to get the plans for the Death Star to Princess Lea, which was Leah’s nickname when we were kids. I looked forward to seeing her, even now.
My phone began to ring with people from my inner circle ignoring my burst message. I answered a few and turned off my phone so I could get back to planning Wendy’s ceremony. I looked at her messages, and the first one I noticed was her bank telling her she had successfully withdrawn $33,124 from her savings account the previous morning at 9:44 am, almost exactly as when Wendy’s respirator was being removed. Confused yet somehow not, I glanced at the messages and saw one from Mike, my former stepdad, saying he’d visit her again in the hospital today, and another from her bank saying another $34,247 had been withdrawn that morning. Coincidentally, about a week or so before, I had practically ignored a news article reporting that fraud against the sick and elderly added up to about $14 Billion a year, and that most frausters were old friends or perceived as new friends when family were out of state or busy with work and kids and other things that take our time. I had instantly realized that Cindi was probably the culprit and that’s why she had waited two days after Wendy went into a coma to call me and why she was late getting to the hospital the day before: she had stopped to withdraw Wendy’s savings accounts. The amounts were odd, but Wendy had kept most of her money in her IRA and had only refilled her savings account when necessary by selling a stock or two at whatever the price had been at the time, and that as soon as the IRA money was transferred from one stock it was available in her savings account.
I was too tired to be more sad or even angry. If anything, I felt guilty that I had been one of the people mentioned in the article that was too busy to care for their mother. And, I was happy, in a way, that Wendy would never know what Cindi had done.
I turned on my phone and ignored the messages and called Mike and told him Wendy had passed. We agreed to meet the next day at her house.
I sat under the stately oak tree, somewhat numb, with no thoughts or feelings I can recall. I heard the same crickets and birds and whomp-whomp, but I was void of feelings. Mindlessly, I pulled out my phone and typed typed Wendy’s obituary for the Baton Rouge Advocate and I selected a photo that was midway between her age now and when she was in high school, one of her smiling and with two of the dogs she had rescued and fostered, hoping people who knew her then and now would recognize her. It would be printed in the paper edition, which was still useful and used by people her age and by many people in the pleasant but relatively antiquated culture of rural Louisiana. Wendy was a private person, but I believe she would have been happy with her obituary.
Wendy Rothdram Partin, a resident of St. Francisville, LA, passed way on Friday, April 5th, 2019 at the age of 63. Wendy attended Glenoaks High School in Baton Rouge, LA, and retired from Exxon Mobil. She is survived by her son, Jason Ian Partin, of San Diego, CA. She was preceded in death by her mother, Joyce Rothdram, and her aunt and uncle, Lois and Robert Desico, all of Baton Rouge, LA. During her retirement, she became a master gardener and enjoyed helping people with their lawns. She enjoyed cooking, and took food to anyone she knew who was ill or grieving. Wendy loved animals, and worked with local shelters to foster dogs until they found permanent homes. She passed away unexpectedly from liver failure. In lieu of gifts or a service, please spend time sharing what you love with your neighbor, listen to what they love, and help each other.
Her obituary was printed in the Baton Rouge Advocate April 9th and 10th, 2019, and is still available online; like most of our family history, I said to myself. She had been private, but our names were well known and even the most secret of details had long since been published from court records. I couldn’t do anything about that, and I felt sad for her young self, full of hope before I had been born, and I sobbed silently and walked around mindlessly, glad, at the very least, that I still had old friends in Louisiana and that I wouldn’t have to be alone that night.