Sandy Trinkle
Bless Her Heart

This story begins way back in the first grade. Most people would say that was before I knew anything. But that’s not the way I see it. In many ways I knew a hell of a lot more than I do now. I knew how to live without judgment. I knew how to feel with my heart instead of my brain. Most important of all, I could hear people’s thoughts. I had spent a lot of time alone, just sitting sometimes with my eyes closed. My mind had yet to be burdened with alphabets and conjugating verbs. There were just things that I knew, and when I knew them I was certain that I knew them.

In the first grade I met Sandy. Even now, 61 years later, I’d be hard pressed to tell you the name of one other student in that first grade class. There was no one else like Sandy. Of course I’d occasionally have to endure the stupid elementary school taunts like, “Bobby’s got a girlfriend!” At that time I had five sisters. I was positive that Sandy was more like a sister than a girlfriend. But most of all she was a special friend. What made her special was that she knew. And she knew that I knew. We understood that words were a crutch, a feeble attempt to make humans feel superior to other living things. So we conspired to deceive everyone else. We pretended to embrace reading, writing and arithmetic while keeping our little secret. Sandy could hear my thoughts and I could hear hers.

This special relationship continued to develop over the following four years. Sometimes I think what happened in Mrs Leverenz’s fourth grade class prevented me from developing like other kids. What happened to Sandy was beautiful for her, traumatic for everyone around her, and transforming for me! In those difficult months in early 1959, Sandy and I knew what everyone else could not bear to admit. Sandy was scheduled to have open heart surgery to save her life. The first open heart surgery had only been performed 4 years earlier when we were in the first grade.

Among the fear, the hopelessness, the anguish and pain sat the spirit of a serene ten year old girl at peace with the world and her fate. I truly believe her incredible strength came from accepting the truth that no one else could face. I was close behind her, but couldn’t quite get there yet. As Mrs Leverenz attempted to explain Sandy’s situation to her classmates, I could sense her own anguish. I could hear my mother’s voice soften as I walked into the room. I could understand her loss for words. She had no idea what a mother is supposed to say to a ten year old son who is about to lose his best friend.

Sandy and I became closer than ever before. We shared more and spoke less. Sandy's friends were invited to visit her at home before she returned to the hospital in Chicago for the surgery. I can still feel my mother’s concern as she sent me on my way. I can still taste the metallic dry mouth as I nervously licked my lips, hoping to be able to speak. I can still see the grown-ups, stiff in their dark Sunday suits, holding their collective breath, sighing when they can no longer contain it. I can hear the minister’s voice, soft and deep and certain, as Sandy’s mother sobbed. A large hand appeared on the door and quietly shut us out.

The room was filled with toys and gifts from well-wishers. I sat in a corner unsure of how to act. To distract myself I picked up a large black eight-ball that told fortunes. I asked if Sandy would be OK. I turned the eight-ball over and watched as a small triangular piece floated to the clear window. The answer was No! I decided to trick the ball by being very direct. I asked if Sandy was going to die. The eight-ball said Yes! Sandy walked over, took the ball out of my hand and led me to her other gifts to distract me.

On the day of Sandy’s surgery I distracted myself by doing artwork. I sat on the floor of the bedroom surrounded by crayons and papers and books. Then suddenly I felt it, a feeling that cannot be described. I knew she was gone. I felt that connection we always had transform to another dimension. It wasn’t too long before the telephone rang. My mother walked to the doorway, unsure of how to tell me. I’m not even sure what she said, or if she said anything. I already knew. Sandy and I didn’t need words!

My mother and my oldest sister, Marlene, and I went to the funeral. I was convinced the little girl laid out in the casket was not my friend Sandy. I could not recognize her without the rosy full cheeks and the smile I loved so well. My mother and my sister were crying but I held back my tears. The toughest girl in the class, Mary, known for her knock down drag out fights, cried louder and longer than anyone else. From that day on I had a special affection for Mary.

That afternoon was the loneliest afternoon of my life. It was 1959. after all. Who could possibly know what to say to me, a ten year old who just lost his best friend? But maybe that was the best thing to do. Leave me alone. That was the place I had learned to hear people’s thoughts. In the silence. Standing alone in the field on that spring day in 1959, I heard someone’s thought. “Everything is exactly the way it’s supposed to be!”