6 Feb


Sometimes in life, you need to know when to leave well enough alone.  When to move on.  When not to go back and poke the snake with a stick.

I made the mistake of going back and poking the snake.  I couldn’t help it after all the footage I saw of Hurricane Irene and her aftermath on TV.  Vermont doesn’t have a coastline (it’s the state on the left; New Hampshire is the state on the right) and since all the forecasters expected coastal surge to be the largest problem posed by the storm, many Vermonters were not properly prepared.  The danger everyone should have prepared for was river flooding — dramatic videos were being released for days after the storm, depicting towns drowning in swiftly-moving muddy waters and beautiful 19th-century covered bridges along the Winooski River being washed away.  My alma mater is in Vermont and situated next to Otter Creek, so I went back to its website to see if any information had been posted about how they were coping with the mess.

Aside from the time when all former students were sent an email concerning a missing current student, I had not looked at the college website since my graduation in 2005.  I had written to one of my former professors to solicit some articles in her possession that would be useful for my Master’s thesis, but not having received a response, I left well enough alone and never tried to get in touch with the department again.

And then I poked the snake.  I went back and looked up my old department and got the shock of my life.  One of my favorite professors (who spent hours after class discussing “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” with me and whose daughter worked at the Dallas Museum of Art, which I loved to visit as a child) was dead.  Had been dead, in fact, for almost a year.  And no one had told me.  Not that they would have, of course, since I hadn’t been staying in touch…

She died from cancer.  She fought it for four years, and I hadn’t even known she’d been sick.

It’s different, I think, to find out that someone has died from cancer when you, also, have cancer.  Non-cancer patients can express sorrow and eventually move on.  Cancer survivors can be sad but feel relieved that they have escaped the same fate.  But for those of us with terminal cancer, it’s another brutal reminder that the same fate awaits us.  One day, you just can’t run fast enough anymore and the monster catches you.

Goodbye, Mme Rifelj.  Thank you for taking my love of Les Liaisons Dangereuses and running with it.  I miss you.


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