I’ve spent the last few days trying to recall details from 40 years ago. It was May 1969, at the end of my freshman year at USF, when a friend took me to a party at an apartment on Balboa Avenue. Our hosts were four young men going into their senior year the next fall.
What I remember most about that night was Creedence Clearwater’s “Born on the Bayou” on the stereo. One of the hosts, Jess, played it over and over. He became my close friend until we went our separate ways a couple of years later. His roommate Steven, whom I met that same evening, is still my friend.
The next January my dorm roommate Claire, two other girlfriends and I decided to move into an apartment. We needed another roommate in order to afford the $250 a month rent. Steven had a younger sister. Maggie became the fifth roommate.
In his senior year, Steven worked as a resident assistant in the men’s dorm. On the nights he wasn’t on duty in Phelan Hall, he slept on our sofa. He was our sixth roommate.
In the craziness of college life in San Francisco at that particular time, Maggie was perhaps the most sane and sensible of us all. She liked to read — particularly science fiction and always a paperback — and she loved to bake. While the rest of us struggled to cook basic spaghetti, Maggie won over many hearts with her apple and pumpkin pies made from scratch.
If you didn’t know her, you’d think she was quiet, reserved, even shy. But when you engaged Maggie in conversation, she was brilliant. When Maggie got excited, her blue eyes grew huge, her smile grew wide and her laugh rolled up from her throat like thunder.
Like Steven, Maggie was a night owl. If you pulled an all-nighter playing pinochle or writing a term paper, you could count on Maggie to be right there. She’d make the coffee or get the beer, then scramble eggs in the morning.
When our Fulton Street days came to an end after 18 months, Maggie, Claire and I moved into a flat with two new roommates. We lived together for another year.
Steven graduated and got married. About the time I was finishing up my senior year, his first daughter was born. I was asked to be Shyla’s godmother. I officially became part of the family then and my goddaughter, Maggie’s niece, bound us together for life.
Was Maggie at Ford Bragg camping with the family when I stopped to see them on my way back from San Francisco a few years ago? Or was Shyla’s wedding 14 years ago the last time I saw Maggie?
Saturday I called Steven to get Shyla’s new phone number so I could wish her a happy 37th birthday Sunday. After hearing my voice, there was a very long pause and then, “I have some bad, bad news, Michy.”
Maggie lost her job awhile back and was without health insurance. Although she’d felt lousy for some time, she did not see a doctor. Everything seemed OK except for Maggie’s constant fatigue and lack of desire to do things. Maggie had held a good job at Stanford at one time and was still with her boyfriend of many years. One recent morning he helped her out of bed and then left for work. Maggie dressed herself and made a shopping list. Then she must have decided to lie down for a minute.
She never got up again.
We listened to a lot of good music together those days in San Francisco. There’s one song by Rod Stewart I used to play full blast to wake Maggie up after a late night when she was trying to sleep in. “Wake up, Maggie, I think I’ve got somethin’ to say to you…”
Maggie, I wish I’d had the chance to say good-bye.