She came into the world red and screaming on March 4, 1975. Her first sight was her mom, a strong, independent woman of seventeen. She was named Ruth Elizabeth, after her maternal grandmother and a bookish, spinster great aunt with a heart of gold and a laugh that would melt you. She was also welcomed by two wonderful grandparents who doted on her, two aunts who thought the world of her and an uncle who was still a child himself. She was surrounded by love and wanted for nothing.
As she grew, her intelligence started showing in ways that were odd to some folks. She started walking earlier than most babies, loved to listen to stories and was talking very early on. She was reading by age three and would inquire about almost everything that caught her eye and attention.
I entered her life on her first birthday. When I first held her, she threw her arms around this stranger and made me feel right at home. I can't explain the connection, but she had me wrapped like a birthday present and I was captivated and captured by her spirit and her smile.
By the time she started school, she was so far ahead of her contemporaries that we were concerned that she would quickly become bored. She didn't. Her thoughtful teachers recognized her above average abilities and adjusted her studies as needed. She got along well with her fellow students and soon became a pretty popular kid on campus. Life was indeed very good for Ruth E.!
When she was two, her mom and I gave her a baby brother (well, mostly her mom, even though I contributed some). She loved the little brother and treated him well. As they grew, they began the brother-sister rivalry that would lead to conflict, but deep down they had much respect for each other. That respect would come to light after they had both grown and moved away from home. The teenage years became difficult for her as she struggled with the many things that teen girls are faced with. She had, by then, developed a sharp sense of humor and it served her well as she faced her difficulties. One thing that I could always count on from Ruth E. was a sharp verbal jab after some bone-headed statement had left my lips.
After winning the county spelling bee in eighth grade, she was recognized as a Duke University gifted scholar and had an opportunity to attend that institution after high school, had she so chosen. Her mom and I were so sure that she would take this option that we visited the Duke campus the following year. That was not to be.
In high school, Ruth E. really excelled. She became editor of the school annual in her junior year and served again in that capacity her senior year. She was again, like her previous academic years, a very popular kid. Her gathering of friends at our house read like a small town who's who of scholars, jocks and cheerleaders.
After high school, Ruth E received a scholarship to the University of South Carolina. We were quite relieved that she didn't go with her other choice of a school in England or somewhere else overseas. Columbia was, after all, only forty miles from home. I'll never forget the day we moved her into her dorm. She wanted to carry all of her possessions and had packed almost everything she owned. When the reality of the actual size of the dorm room hit her, she was heartbroken. I spent most of the day moving her excess back to the car for the trip back home. When we left her that day, her mom and I cried. She probably never shed a tear as she was finally away from home for the first time in her life.
Life. It gets away from you. Ruth E.'s mom had gotten a new career in Columbia as had I. We carpooled whenever we could and would make the crosstown trip to see Ruth E. whenever possible. After a few years, Ruth E., as well as our son, had permanently moved to Columbia. We worked long hours, went home after work and kept up with the kids mostly by phone. Life does indeed slip away.
Early February 2002. Part of our function as a production facility that did commercial insertion across several networks was to monitor our commercials and make sure that they aired properly. This particular day, we were monitoring a local channel and the local news happened to be on. A report came up that caught my attention. A local high school student had died from meningitis. He was only seventeen.
I don't know why this particular story stuck in my head, but on the way home that evening I thought about his parents and how they were going to deal with losing a child so young. After mulling over it for a few moments my thought process went to something else and I didn't think about it again. That weekend, I went to Columbia to help Ruth E. hang some pictures in her new apartment, which she had just moved into with a couple of new room mates. We had a good visit, she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek as I left for the return home. A few weeks later, for her birthday, her and the new room mates took a trip to Florida to meet up with a couple more friends and party. The pictures show Ruth E. having a blast in the bright Florida sunshine. She was so happy. After her return, we visited her at work and laughed about her birthday adventures on the Gulf coast. This was Friday March 7, 2002.
The next day Ruth E. went shopping at the local mall, and on the following day was supposed to go to the movies with her new room mates. As they were preparing to leave, Ruth E. told them that she felt sick and was just going to skip the movie and get some rest. They all left her as she headed to her room. When they returned that evening, Ruth E. had been really sick and wanted to be left alone.
Monday morning, March 10, 2002 Laura and I were awakened at 6:30 am by a call. Her room mate told us that Ruth E. had been transported to the hospital by ambulance and that she was feverish and 'really sick'.
We rushed to Columbia and were met in the hallway by a nurse who immediately escorted us to a nearby waiting room. She gave us stern warning to not leave the room and said a doctor would be with us shortly.
After an agonizing one hour wait, the doctor finally appeared. I'll never forget the grim look on his face as he explained the situation. "This is bad...this is very bad", he said. Ruth E. had been diagnosed with Spinal Meningococcus, a deadly form of meningitis. "We've got her on heavy antibiotics and hope we got her in time, but this is very bad. I'm afraid that all of you will have to go to the health department for ciprofloxacin tablets. Until then you're quarantined".
8:30 am until 11:30 am we waited in that small room. No word from anyone, nothing. Finally at 11:30 a nurse came in and informed us that the woman from the SC Dept of Health was waiting for us at their cross-town location to administer the Cipro. Laura was anxious to see Ruth E. before we left so she was able to don protective clothing and mask and they allowed her into the room. Ruth E was drowsy but fully conscious. Laura stayed with her for about ten minutes while I waited outside the room, which had an observation window. While there, a group of interns stopped outside her room and a doctor went over Ruth E's symptoms with them. He also said that it was amazing that she had remained awake this long as they had started to induce a coma. As Laura left the room, I tapped on the glass and waved to my girl for, unknown by me at the time, the last time.
We arrived at the Health Dept. a little after 12:30 that day. We were accompanied by Ruth E's new room mates, who also had to take the Cipro. The director of the Health Dept. a woman in her mid- fifties, kept us waiting for about an hour and a half. After she finally arrived, she decided that instead of giving us the medicine so that we could get back to the hospital and see Ruth E, she would lecture us on the use of illegal drugs and how this could have contributed to her disease. WTF? Are you kidding me lady?? A lecture now??? I lost my mind on her. How dare she make us wait while our daughter lay dying in the hospital. My hope was to get back and visit Ruth E before she slipped into unconciousness. It was not to be. By the time we returned to the hospital, she was in a coma.
Ruth Elizabeth passed away on Thursday March 14, 2002. She never regained consciousness.
While she lay dying in the hospital, her room mates were busy cleaning out her checking account. Two days after she passed, my brother and I went to her apartment to collect her belongings and her car. Her roommates had also cleaned all of her CDs out of her car. What a lovely bunch of people. We were able to stop payment on one of the stolen checks and retrieve her CD collection, but we don't know what else they may have walked away with. It really didn't matter-just stuff.
The funeral was packed. Standing room only with people lined outside the chapel. Her favorite tune, Tiny Dancer by Elton John was played and her great uncle, a pastor from Tennessee, said some really kind words. The service at the graveside was especially emotional, as expected. I was still in disbelief that this beautiful twenty-seven year old had been cut down so young. After the service, the room mates walked over to us with a plastic bag. Inside the bag was Ruth E's cat. He was kicking and screaming to be released from the bag-not sure how long he was confined that way. I think, for these roommates, there's probably a special place in hell that awaits them.
At a meeting with her doctor a couple of months later, I asked if they had ever found the source of the infection. After testing everyone that she had physical contact and everyone testing negative, it was surmised that, because she had a slight sinus infection, while she was at the mall someone who carried the virus had sneezed and she had picked it up in that manner. No one is really sure.
So yesterday marked our thirteenth year without her. It gets no easier. And we miss her no less. Every year we dread this anniversary. While we focus on celebrating her life, thinking of just how wonderful it was to have her in our lives, the date always slaps us around a bit.
I have to wonder-how can spring dare show it's beautiful face at this time of year? Hasn't it heard?