One of the things I admire most about my girlfriend, Katie Jo, is her community. A Georgia native, Katie has maintained friendships with folks from high school, college, graduate school, and her jobs.
Since I moved away from Tennessee, most of my hometown and college friends live hours away. Plus my growing phobia of the telephone hinders any opportunity for those hours-long conversations to catch up on every detail of each other’s lives.
One group of Katie’s friends is the “Book Club.” I put this in quotes since I’m not convinced they actually read books or even talk about them. My take on their monthly meetings is like a shirt I saw recently — they “Read Between the WINES.”
The Book Club is actually the first of Katie’s community to welcome me with open arms, literally, years ago after a Q100 appearance in Midtown when they all walked over specifically to meet me after one of their gatherings.
One of the women in the club is Lynn, a graduate school friend of Katie’s who was especially enthusiastic about my new status as the girlfriend when we met. I immediately liked her and her genuine love of her friends was contagious. Now I was one of them.
I never imagined I would have watched this same bundle of enthusiasm have to face a personal tragedy. A year ago, Lynn had to say goodbye to her 8-month-old daughter. At the baby’s memorial, her stoic cadence as she walked down the aisle of the church reflected a mixture of sadness and peace. This month is a time of reflection for all who love Lynn, and I wanted to share her daughter’s story.
Elle was a triplet, the only girl in the trio and the only one who fought for her life as soon as she was granted it. Given the nickname “Bug,” this little warrior inspired us all with the typical smile and involuntary kicks of a baby. But a tube in her nose evidenced her body’s struggle against Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart defect.
I had the honor of spending time with Elle and was touched by the soulful stare she offered back to me. I had fought for my second chance at life with my kidney transplant nearly a decade ago. She was simply fighting for her first.
I couldn’t begin to count the hours Lynn and her husband spent at the hospital with Elle, all while trying to enjoy and spend time with their two newborn sons. But every time we saw Lynn during Elle’s struggle, she continued to offer us her usual welcoming light. But it was impossible not to notice her light had dimmed a little.
Elle’s fight ended after doctors realized there was nothing more they could do to correct her heart. Despite her short life, Elle’s story touched enough people to fill a large church to capacity. Childhood songs during the service, like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” and “Jesus Loves Me,” brought many to tears.
But once the preacher began talking about Elle you could hear the babies in the crowd begin to stir. Their sudden need to move around, the echos of baby squawks here and grunts there, made me wonder if these other tiny souls were seeing more than the rest of us.
I imagined Elle there comforting her family without them knowing it, finally able to play as a healthy child, summoning the other kids to join her. Maybe those babies saw her and were just trying to accept the invitation.
No one knows how long they will live. But Elle taught me that a long life is not necessary to inspire many. You just have to fight. Fight until your last breath to simply live.
Elle’s pictures remain in her home, and I realize they will serve as the only source of reference for her siblings. But just like she inspired me, I hope Elle’s story will also reach into the future and touch the lives of her brothers.
Melissa Carter is former co-host of “The Bert Show” on Q100, where she broke ground as the first out lesbian radio personality on a major station in the city and was one of the few out morning show personalities in the country. Keep up with her at www.melissatimes.com.