Melinda Whiteman, a former member of the Trenton Arts Council, and a friend has died.
I wouldn't have known she had died if Cheryl Parish hadn't sent me the obit. Cheryl is now writing the columns for the Arts Council that Melinda initiated. Cheryl never met Melinda.
Melinda dropped out of the council shortly after her husband died, about four or five years ago. She was overwhelmed with the transition and obligations of being a single parent and sole provider. We got together a few times after that but mostly maintained an email relationship until even that faded away. I feel bad about that but she just wouldn't give herself a break to come down to a party or an unveiling or even a simple dinner with friends. I stopped trying - I am sorry I stopped trying.
I don't read obits - my mother did every day. I remember asking her, as a child, why she did that and she said because it was important to show up for the family left behind to let them know how loved that person was.
I tried to do that Saturday night but I couldn't.
I showed up at what was listed as a "chapel" and found myself in a christian mega church replete with big screens and a full band. I spent the first 15 minutes trying to figure out if I was in the right place. The people at the desk were very sweet and went online to check the obit and said - yes - you are in the right place.
But... no - I wasn't. I left.
I still need to honor Melinda and say good-by - so I'll do it here.
Bob and I met Melinda at an art opening in Chattanooga. It was a hot opening with a lot of people on the south side before the south side had been completely commodified. We felt comfortable and at ease finally - this was an environment we understood. We were still New Yorkers then, newly transplanted to the South.
I met a young woman and after talking with her for a while she said, "Oh, please come meet my mother." She told me her mother was also a transplant - from D.C. and was having a hard time adjusting. Melinda and I hit it off immediately.
Melinda was an incredibly intelligent woman who appreciated beauty and the arts and theater. She loved engaging in long philosophical conversations but was a little inept with simple banter. Sometimes, even I had to say - OK... gotta go now. But other times, when we were just hanging out at her place or ours the conversations would just evolve and twist and turn and be so delightful.
She very much lived in her mind and I know that isolated her. You can get away with living in your mind in a big city because there are so many others like you. It's hard to pull that off here. People here want to know who you are and the understood criteria is which church you belong to and if you don't join one - you are suspect.
I think a lot of folks on the mountain may have simply misunderstood her abstraction and seen her as a snob. I know she felt like she would never be accepted because she "wasn't from here" and wouldn't join any of their churches. That's why Saturday night was so surreal.
I am so sorry she didn't get back to where she felt comfortable and I am so sorry she couldn't learn how to be comfortable here. But, I am very glad I met her and got to know her and work with her.
She was a very strong spirit who just lost her ground and couldn't find it again. In the last email I could find she told me - "pretty soon I will be able to go back home."