Note: It has been more than a month since I wrote this piece, and during that time, Killeen entered Hospice. She died on June 27, 2016.
My adult life has been accompanied by a sound track, a clear, exact, personal audio that plays privately in my head.
I met Killeen online. You might say it was on a dating site, because after all, isn’t “dating” what a lot of genealogical research is about? Short, ancestry-related emails led to us meeting at the site of some mutually interesting historical data and to the start of a fond friendship. Over the past decade, the two of us have covered a lot of historical ground.
Killeen has a word for our travels together: poots. I don’t remember exactly how or when she coined that, but a poot is understood to mean a genealogical adventure of undefined duration involving travel in a car. Our poots have taken us up and down both sides of the St. Lawrence River between Brockville, Ontario, and Cornwall, stomping through cemeteries, courthouses, libraries, historical societies, and any place we knew our ancestors had been, trying them on: seeing what they saw, walking the ground they walked.
Our most memorable poot was a four-day stomp around the Upper Hudson valley from Halfmoon, Saratoga, to Lake George and even over into Vermont, because as Killeen said, “I like to feel where they were.” She came from her home in Toronto, picked me up, and we headed across the Adirondacks. It was late afternoon by the time we reached Halfmoon, our first task was to find a place to stay, and it being our first overnight poot, I was wondering just how this was going to go: she is a lesbian, I am not.
We found the perfect place. It was a small gaggle of mom-and-pop-run cottages on the south shore of Round Lake (which, being round, probably couldn’t actually have had a north, south, east, or west side of it.)
The man and woman who owned and cared for it were quite close to being somebody’s ancestors, but they kept it with great care and were thrilled to have us. Our cottage had two bedrooms and a large sitting, dining, cooking room with cable TV. It was there that Killeen introduced me to Law and Order: Criminal Intent, both of us agreeing that one of its stars was a pretty sexy hunk! Apparently one can admire a cheesecake without desiring a taste. I can’t remember his name. Killeen would know.
A few months ago we talked about taking another poot this spring.
She called last night to tell me that she has a brain tumor. Her chemo, targeted at the metastatic bladder cancer she’s dealing with, will be put on hold while her doctors take on the new site in her amazing brain.
Killeen. One of the brightest, sharpest minds I’ve ever known. “Like a trap,” was the way I’d describe it, for she’d remember my gazillion ancestors better than I could, remember any detail of my personal and family life that I shared with her, and would – and did – hold me to task for my role in any personal problems I faced. We have had many laughs and chuckles together, sometimes she’d stop the car to yell at me because she’d lost patience with my inability to coordinate driving directions and map, and once on a balcony overlooking Ottawa’s Byward Market I got drunk with her (Killeen could drink anyone under the table) while she listened to the story of the most heart-breaking situation of my life.
“My doc said it’s probably metastatic, but she doesn’t know yet. She noticed I was walking funny, and my mind… I don’t know if I’m still able to email.” Without saying so, my dear friend Killeen was saying goodbye.
This morning’s thoughts come to me through tears and accompanied by the voice of Tom Waits.
Now it’s closing time, the music’s fading out,
Last call for drinks, I’ll have another stout.
Well I turn around to look at you, you’re nowhere to be found,
I search the place for your lost face, guess I’ll have another round
And I think that I just fell in love with you.