September is a quiet time on the island. The music stops and we sit. Septiambre and Octuambre are here: a play on the word for hunger, hambre. Visits to the pawn shop are delayed as long as possible. But some are already there now.
Most of the locals have found their cheaper apartments. The landlords are all full or totally empty. The last motos or laptops have been sold. Servicemen are johnny-on-the-spot. In too many households, pets have been turned loose to fend for themselves. Grandfathers go to the sea with their grandsons and give a few pointers about the art of free diving. Then they go to town and try to sell a few lobsters or return home with with a few pesos toward getting the power back on, or no pesos but a family feast
Day before yesterday, the morning after JoAnne Fox died, a kid who raises chickens "broke" my fragile chaya bush. An audience waited as Carmen came to tell me. She left the house with scissors and bags for people to pick leaves off the suelo, ground. She was the jefa on the scene.
Loved by all, chaya leaves are rich in calcium, protein and vitamin A. They make great tamale wrappers in addition to great enrichment of scrambled eggs, soups, stews, dips and, in a blender with water and some OJ, the ultimate tart, green electrolyte-replacing beverage. Great for kidney stones, too.
La Gringa is not stingy with her chaya, so the breaking of the bush surprised me. But at least the others had the respect to see what my wishes were. Whatever...I said to Carmen. My mind was with JoAnne.
So I sat. It was a perfect day, but I didn't go to the beach. I thought about about what made us think of each other as super friends. There was the IQ thing and how our brain cells were arrayed. "Ya know" was not just an idle phrase with us. Neither of us pursued a multi-lettered academic career, but in a conversation, could just say, ya know, to each other and get it. I think health issues put us more on the same wave length than even before.At another high school reunion, we joked about that and got caught up
We always recalled, especially at high school reunions, how JoAnne and I both had mono the same season - junior year in high school. I got super fatigue due to an enlarged spleen. Her vision went. Dad gave me drugs and looked into JoAnne's eyes and sent her to an eye specialist. She had a detached retina. Weak points of the body are occasionally driven over the limit in mononucleosis. She had surgery. I got cortisone.
My mom, a customer at the hometown bank where JoAnne worked after Dad died, kept us up to date on each other. JoAnne getting a job at the bank was our joke. When she worked for Dad one summer after the mono, there was never a day she could balance the ledger at the end. She'd call me and I'd say, "Did so and so come in an pay on their account today?" And it was always something like that. So cute because the cash drawer was always in Dad's favor, but why? Ya know.
We had the 35th a year early since no one thought she'd last a year. I had written a Plain Dealer story a several years earlier about a lung transplant patient from Lake County who went to Presbyterian in Pittsburgh to get it because the Cleveland Clinic was not yet offering them. She asked if I knew if he was still alive. No, but my guess was not. She knew. Ya know?
JoAnne had some good time left. She golfed, she enjoyed her family. The birth of every one of her grandchildern. But we both understood all her time was borrowed time. When I was home in June, JoAnne was failing and so was I, in an air of desperation as I could not see how I could go on without my $35,000 a year MS drug, interferon beta 1a, Avonex. Out of drug, out of money, was how I described myself to the neurologist who invited me into his clinical trial nearly 25 years ago. Patient 3 site 2.
Avonex is referred to as an immunomodulatory. I still use the cortisone occasionally to dampen the immune system in an attack. Anyway, JoAnne and I both knew a lot about manipulating the immune system, ya know? She fending off rejection of her lungs, me of my myelin.
JoAnne went after another transplant, but her immune system and heart were against her. Transplant committee against her, she a knew she was pretty much at the end of the line. She suggested she'd label her transplant drugs, some of them experimental, in case they would come in handy with the MS. Ya know?
I was near frantic about being able to replace the Avonex source, and my old doctor at the Cleveland Clinic was working with me. But I went back to Mexico early because I thought I could get it here at about $300 a month, which is less than cost of the waiting period and the co-pay on Medicare Plan D.
So I wrote my doctors in Ohio about the various suitable interferons I could get here, what the cost of the CCSVI surgery is in Merida (highly experimental yet seemingly effective) and that I had access, if I wanted, to a host of immuno-supressive drugs in JoAnne's pantry from over the last years.
I don't know if the jugular surgery got Biogen moving or if my doctor realized that he was under the threat of JoAnne and I cooking up an immuno-supressive brew, but he got Biogen to grant me the drug free of cost for the next two years.
So, I was sitting here, not spending any money because the few dollars I have are coming to Ohio with me in 12 days. I'll be paying my respects to JoAnne at her grave with Mio , a best friend of hers from grade school, actually before grade school.
All those sentimental and grateful thoughts were coming into play yesterday afternoon when Carmen breezed in with a platter. A chaya-masa and hardboiled egg loaf with roasted, ground pepita seed and tomato dressing. A dish that belongs in a cook book. Desde el suelo. From the ground. Eggs from a neighbor boy.
So that's what I was thinking yesterday as arrangements were being made for JoAnne Fox's funeral and the music stopped on Isla Mujeres. Ya know?