I remember when I got the e-mail back in late September.
" My name is Kassi. I am a 3rd year student at Tulane Law School. I am attending classes here at UALR until I can go back to New Orleans. I am staying with Jack and Sandra Cherry. They are both lawyers. Do you know them? Anyway, Sandra said I should try to find you. I found your e-mail address on the Alumni website and I looked up your phone number. Please call me."
Did I know Jack and Sandra? Of course, I knew Jack and Sandra. Sandra worked over at the U.S. Attorney's office, so I saw her all the time. The bulk of my relationship with Jack was forged through numerous weighty high-falutin' discussions over our shopping carts at the grocery store. I forget exactly how they wound up with Kassi after she washed ashore here in Little Rock but, by all accounts, it was a good deal for all concerned. Kassi got to stay in a nice house with great people down by the river. Jack and Sandra were enjoying having a young woman in the house for the first time since packing their daughter off to Wake Forest 5 years earlier.
It wasn't a perfect situation by any means. Kassi's husband was still in New Orleans. She didn't know much about Little Rock. She didn't know when or if she could go back to Tulane. She had thought she would go to work down there once she graduated. But as of the fall of '05, "back there" didn't much exist. Still, she was grateful to have landed where she did. And she was determined to make the best of it until she could figure it all out. None of us knew at the time that unforeseen events would force Kassi to move a second time in October.
I heard it first from Kassi. Sandra had gotten very bad news from the doctors at the Med School. She had cancer in her esophagus. It had spread. There was nothing they could do. Their best guess was that she maybe had a year. Sandra and Kassi agreed that it would be best if she moved, mainly because Sandra was concerned that as her condition worsened, it would be too much of a distraction to Kassi and that her studies might suffer. And Sandra would have none of it, saying to me later, "That girl has been through enough already. She needs to be concentrating on school. She doesn't need to be worrying about me."
I got my last e-mail from Sandra in late October or thereabouts. I told her I was thinking about her and about Jack. I asked her if there was anything at all I could do for her.
" There is something you can do for me." she wrote. "Promise me one thing. Promise me that you will keep an eye on Kassi. That girl has been through so much and now this. Promise me that you will look after her because I just can't."
Naturally, I promised.
I don't know how good a job I did. But after all, it was a pretty easy promise to keep. She was an adult after all and a married woman. She was a very serious student. So school kept her too busy to get into the kind of trouble that I got into when I was her age. I mainly helped her look for jobs, bought her dinner from time to time, talked to her on the phone, slipped her money, stuff like that. She was no trouble at all. Besides, I don't get to be around young women much anymore. It was fun to see the world through her eyes.
They found her an apartment/guest house about a mile from me located behind a house owned by a couple I went to college with. She finished up here in Little Rock and went on to graduate on time back at Tulane. Once back in New Orleans she would send us all pictures of her and her classmates from Mardi Gras, from the Quarter, out doing the normal stuff a student does in New Orleans. Which is mainly to drink copious amounts of beer out on the street.
Kassi got her life back. She got to concentrate on being a law school kid again.
Sandra's struggle with cancer finally ended last Tuesday. As her minister said at the funeral, "Although she left us too soon, it was time." Which is about as good a way of expressing that as I have ever heard.
Kassi wanted me to call her after the funeral. I called her back in New Orleans and told her all about it. I told her about the beautiful music. I told her that every lawyer and law enforcement person in the state seemed to be there. I told her about the moving tributes to her memory from all of the wonderful speakers.
And I told Kassi about my last e-mail from Sandra. The one in which she asked me to look after her.
" That was so beautiful. That sounds just like Sandra. Thank you so much for sharing that with me." she said after composing herself. "I will never forget the people of Litlle Rock. Sandra, Jack, you, the Berrys. Everyone was so good to me. I don't know what I would have done without all of you. That's why I want to move back someday. I want to work in Little Rock and I want to live in your neighborhood. I want so much to come back."
" I would love to have you around." I said. "That would make me happy."
" Don't forget to make time for me when you come to New Orleans in October. I really, really, really want to see you again. I want you to meet my husband. Don't get too busy and forget about me."
"I won't forget about you."