Friday, August 13, 2010

Rest Peacefully, Jill Caputo

Hello, friends. I was going to blog today with more good news. I'll save that for the weekend.

My friend Jill Caputo was killed this week. She was crossing the street in her large, conspicuous, motorized wheelchair when a driver on FSU campus hit her. It is some comfort to know that the hospital declared that she died on impact, rather than suffering. The driver ran, hysterical, into the FSU police department on that very corner for help.

I do not want to speculate on the driver's distractions, complicity, etc. That won't change a damn thing. Jill's dead, and it's not my place to punish or even blame anyone for that. And besides, that's a shitty intersection with a steep hill.

Jill is bright, audacious, fierce, honest, and loving. Her life and writing career were cut tragically short this week. Having suffered a bizarre stroke at the age of about ten, Jill lost most movement on one side of her body. This did not stop her from going to graduate school, going to the beach, fighting to be taken seriously as a teacher, having excellent hair, and writing honest work that neither wallowed in nor shunned self-pity. She was a damn honest writer and I miss her. I should've been better about keeping in touch after we graduated.

We're talking about a woman who showed up to our yearly Politically Incorrect Halloween party dressed up as a wheelchair-bound prostitute, with a cardboard sign that read, "Meals on Wheels." That is how I want to remember her: bold, funny, daring, and laughing at life's petty unfairness. I ran into her one day and we made small talk, but then there was a long pause. So she said, "Any luck gettin laid lately?" That's Jill.

Jill did not publish much. Perhaps our friends in Florida will be able to release some of her work, if they have access to it. Here's a poem that Jill published in the Eudaimonia Poetry Review:

Thoughts During Mass: in the Back, from a Wheelchair

In Mass today
I broke off a thumbnail,
Rolled the thing around,
And laid the crescent in the hammock
Of my lap.
Examined its insides,
Small crease of skin
That had crept up to grow
Along the wall
Of the silent sliver
Now independent of my fingertips.
Thought about dropping
This tiny piece of human foliage
On the floor,
But decided this act
Would be inappropriate
In this sacristy of spiritual myth.

Wondered what I’d have to eat
When I got home,
T. V. dinner or Mac & Cheese
Maybe splurge
On some of that pseudo-Chinese
They cook up down the road.
My mother,
Giant human stress ball
Of nags and worries,
How she’d be calling me
Before the end of the night,
The joke Rachel told me
Over two days ago:
What do you call a prostitute in a wheelchair?
The answer: Meals on Wheels.

Then I giggled out loud—
Happens often enough,
At least once every week,
It’s their fault for dragging the service
On for so long,
I can’t keep quiet for a whole
Hour and a half
At a time,
At least I didn’t
Fall asleep again and
Roll down the aisle—
And then I remembered God,
Who I was there for, anyway.

Missing you, Jill.


John Coulthart said...

What awful news for you. Really sorry to hear it.

Emily Cochran, Alexandria, VA said...

What a beautiful tribute to Jill. Her life is an inspiration. I was a year ahead of her in elementary school and knew her on the playground. After her stroke, I did not know her well, though our lives crossed paths a few times in Kansas over the years. Thank you for sharing her poem and your stories.

Evan said...

You're welcome, Emily, and thank you for adding to the tribute. The FSU literary journal, the Southeast Review, will be putting together something for her soon. I'll blog about that when the time is right.

John, thank you for your sympathy.

It feels wrong to have the responses labeled, "gasps of delight" for this post, but I've no idea how to make that html label generic for just this post. Jill herself expressed much delight, so perhaps it's still fitting? I don't know.

Denise said...

I found your blog via a search on Jill Caputo's name. A story of hers has been published in 2011 v11 n1 of Bellevue Literary Review, and they dedicated the issue in her memory.

Evan said...

That's excellent news. Thank you, Denise.

There remains an emptiness that Jill filled. I still can't reconcile it. It's bittersweet to see her receiving recognition, albeit posthumous.

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