We haven’t met, but I feel I know you, by looking at the links you’ve sent and having exchanged emails in a sporadic way with Martha. Martha will be missed, even though we hadn’t been close the last few years. I’ve started to write you several times, and here we are in October.
You may know that I am the roommate who got her into tech writing and cats. We met in College through the Scottish Dance group, and when she and I were both planning a move to Boston in 1978, mutual friends suggested we room together. We shared two years of our turbulent twenties, providing moral support to one another as we dealt with our first jobs, our apartment in Cambridge, and various aspects of our social lives. We were learning to survive on our own, and to gain self-esteem from our successes at work.
My first job was with a software company, and Martha later found one too, after a stint as a cashier at the local grocery store that taught her she had no real interest in working with the public.
Martha was often quite depressed then, and sometimes had suicidal thoughts that scared me. Today, she’d have been a great candidate for anti-depressants, but such things were not well understood at the time. Perhaps I am out of line in saying so, but the fact that illness took Martha’s life seems to me to be evidence of her success at keeping the demons at bay. I always knew (and tried to tell her) that she had a core of inner strength to draw on that would help her throughout life. I like to think that if I wasn’t always sufficiently sympathetic, I did provide some comfort and stability in her life at a turbulent time.
One day, while walking across the street in Central Square, she was hit by a car, and was on crutches while her “squished” foot healed. She learned to laugh about it. “It doesn’t happen every day, you know” became a common refrain that month, which also applied to her simultaneous acceptance to Yale. She called her parents, saying, “I got hit by a car and I’m going to Yale.” Nearly a year to the day, I was also hit by a car while walking to work. After dealing with the emergencies, she was one of the first people I called. “Guess what happened to me today?” I asked. “You got hit by a car?” she said. “Yes…it doesn’t happen every day you know.”
Sometime that year we also both got cats. My sister gave me a kitten, Marlowe, and Martha, realizing the benefits of having furry friends around, brought home Nemily (whence, I believe, comes nemasys) and later Yasha from Yale.
I was ready to find a place of my own, and Martha headed off to Yale, where she met Andy and eventually moved to San Francisco. 3000 miles puts a damper on a friendship, but we tried to keep in touch, and to see one another on the rare occasions that we got to SF or she got to Boston. Initially I came out a lot for business, but that changed over time and the visits were less frequent. I exchanged emails with her around her birthday last year, but had no idea she was seriously ill until a friend on one of the tech writing forums forwarded me your message in August.
Martha is often in my thoughts. I think of her when I think of those early days in the Cambridge software industry. I think of her whenever I see the fourth Star Trek movie, the one set in San Francisco, and hear one of the characters saying “I see words.” (Did the screenwriter know Martha?) I think of her when I daily use my wooden cutting board she gave me as a 25th (I think) birthday present. And I think of her finally happy in San Francisco, a city that suited her and, from what I can tell, brought her in contact with many wonderful people who appreciated all of her special qualities, most especially you. Thank you for making her happy.
Though it was not practical for us to come out to the memorial service, please know we are there with you in spirit. Martha was a special person who will be long remembered by her “extended family.” Accept our condolences on your loss, and know that, along with you and your friends, we celebrate her life. “It doesn’t happen every day, you know.”
All the best,
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Article Copyright © 2007, David Castro and used with permission of Jerry Rudisen. All rights reserved.