In September 1968, I arrived at Hayes-Healy Hall, one of two women’s dorms at the University of San Francisco.
I was assigned to room 213, along with a sophomore co-ed who was not required to attend freshman orientation. I was all alone in room 213 my first few days of college, at the end of what seemed at the time like a very dark and lonely hall.
One of the first people I met was Nancy. She was miserable too, but for different reasons. She had spent her high school years in Hawaii, basking in the sun and fun of life in paradise. It was her parents’ idea, not hers, to attend nursing school at a Jesuit university an ocean away from her surfer boyfriend.
Nancy had crystal blue eyes, cherub cheeks, countless freckles and thick reddish hair that cascaded to her waist. She wore a heavy coat day and night, even over her pajamas, because she just couldn’t get acclimated to the damp, cold San Francisco weather.
Since Nancy was in the nursing program and I was an English major we didn’t have any classes together, but we saw each other morning and night in the dorm. One Saturday night, after returning from a party, Nancy pierced my ears while I sat on the floor in the hall across from the pay phone with half a dozen nonchalant nursing students watching. The needle, a large safety pin, was sterilized in alcohol poured into an ashtray.
Despite that questionable start, Nancy went on to become an R.N. After moving out of the dorm in my sophomore year I saw Nancy less frequently. Near the end of our senior year I bumped into her walking down a street near campus and she invited me to her apartment. By then her parents had moved to Eugene, Ore., and that’s where she was headed after graduation, she told me. Later, through the grapevine, I heard she got married in Eugene.
I lost track of Nancy and the college friends who stayed in touch with her, but I never stopped looking for her. When I lived in Honolulu, I thought I might see her there. I sporadically checked the phone books in Hawaii and Eugene. As technology advanced, I Googled her. When I joined Facebook a few years ago, hers was one of the first names I typed in the search field. But Nancy wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Until June 3. I searched Facebook one more time that night and stared in disbelief at the face that appeared on my screen. The profile of this woman with freckles and long auburn hair now living in Arizona stated that she had graduated from USF. I sent her a message that began, “Nancy, dear, do you remember me...”
Nancy didn’t remember me. Nor did she remember most of the ladies from Hayes-Healy’s second floor who also found her on Facebook about the same time. In the final stages of her cancer, Nancy’s memories were vague and fading. She had chosen to be found now.
She kept after me, pleading for photos and stories to help her remember. I went through my college scrapbook and dug out a yearbook. I posted a picture of me taken in 1969 on her Facebook page. I recalled the story of how my ears got pierced. Sadly for me, she had no recollection but she wanted more images of my family, my dog, my garden. And stories. She devoured everything I sent her. We covered a lot of ground in a very short amount of time.
Nancy passed away Friday morning, “peacefully, surrounded by family,” her sister Trisha said in a Facebook message.
In the 40 days we had to reconstruct and revisit the last 40 years, Nancy and I communicated nearly every day. She was not able to talk on the phone and as she grew weaker her messages became shorter. On June 12, she wrote, “I am afraid I am a wash out with remembering the past but I love you now and that makes the reconnect even more valuable.”
Her last message to me was on July 7, “I can’t get air and the pain is crappy,” she wrote. “Love you and your concern.”
Relay for Life begins at 10 a.m. this Saturday in Crescent City. Last year I walked to honor my high school classmate Chris Mori Fayad who succumbed to cancer last July. Saturday I will walk for Nancy. If you or someone you love has been touched by cancer, please join me on the Del Norte High School track. I’m walking from 2 to 4 p.m.
For more information about Saturday’s Relay, call 951-0582.
Reach Michele Thomas, the Del Norte Triplicate’s publisher, at email@example.com, 464-2141 or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.