Both got involved in using hard drugs. Georgianne recovered, Stephanie did not - my sister died in 1992, at the age of 28, on Georgianne's birthday.
They had gone their separate ways before then. Georgianne later told me Stephanie's drug use made her impossible to be with. Stephanie had finally tried to quit heroin during the last year of her life, but it was too little, too late. She was drinking heavily to quell the pain of withdrawal (vodka, also our mother's beverage of choice) and based on the coroner's report it appears she basically drank herself to death. The anorexia probably didn't help.
Georgianne continued living in San Francisco and our paths occasionally crossed over the years. It was later, after I'd moved to Portland and started putting together a tribute website for Stephanie's work (Stephanie never lived to see the internet), that Georgianne contacted me out of the blue and offered to collaborate on the site, using some of Stephanie's manuscripts and letters that she had saved. (You can visit the site at Stephanie Online.)
By this time I'd been married and divorced and had an adopted son (that's TNG) living with his mom, my ex, in San Francisco. (I thought I would be able to spend more time with TNG and build a relationship, but my ex had other ideas.) Around this time, too, I came into an inheritance which, while not an extravagant amount of money, allowed me to live a little more comfortably than I otherwise could. I could even afford to move back to pricey San Francisco and hopefully spend more time with TNG - and maybe cultivate a friendship (even if only that) with Georgianne.
She was working full-time as an artist. She had a brief fling with another man, who was a sweet guy but mentally damaged, and became pregnant from that relationship. After a period of a few months and a great deal of drama (with Georgianne, there was always drama), Georgianne and I became lovers, the baby was born, and I became Sophie's daddy.
Georgianne had fought against everyone and everything to have that baby. Her whole social circle were artists - bohemian folks, mostly not ones for parenting. She was 43 years old - a high-risk pregnancy even without Georgianne's numerous health problems. When both mother and child emerged from childbirth safe and healthy, the doctors told Georgianne in no uncertain terms that she should consider herself extremely lucky, and should by no means ever consider pushing her luck again with a second pregnancy.
Georgianne had resolved that she would raise the child herself as a "single parent by choice" and that I "wouldn't have to lift a finger." In the event, things turned out rather differently. Georgianne was overwhelmed by the demands of motherhood and basically retreated to her art studio, while I raised Sophie as the primary parent for about the first two years of her life.
Georgianne had warned me early on that she suffered from some mental health issues. I did not know what Borderline Personality Disorder was at the time, but suffice it to say I found out. By the end of 2010 I had had enough and needed to get out of the relationship and get my own place.
So from 2011 on we settled into a routine of co-parenting. Georgianne and I split the time with Sophie 50/50. And it was around this time that I began to see just how hard Georgianne was working to overcome her issues and to be a good mother to Sophie.
I remember in the summer of 2011, Georgianne booked a week-long retreat for herself and Sophie at a place called Emandal in rural California. ("She'll never last," I thought to myself, "they'll be back in two days.")
The retreat was a retreat, *not* a resort, and they were very definitely roughing it. No cellphones, no internet (strictly limited access to a single terminal to send email), and getting up early in the morning to do farm chores. And yet - Georgianne stuck it out right up to the end of the week. There's this 40+ year old single mother, not in the best of health, with Sophie, who's not quite four years old, amongst all these happy young families. It must have taken enormous strength for Georgianne to stick with it and make it a good experience for Sophie.
Around the beginning of 2014 I moved back to Portland, and about the same time Georgianne became involved with a man she'd apparently known for a couple of years. She was very excited about this guy and thought he was wonderful. Some time after that, she and Sophie moved in with Mr. Wonderful to his place in the East Bay. I never let on at the time, but I was crushed.
Georgianne began suffering from extreme fatigue, which the doctors eventually identified as being caused by anemia. The mystery illness came and went; for a year or two it seemed like it was in remission, but this year it came back with a vengeance. Then, too, there were intermittent, troubling reports about Mr. Wonderful - that he had a violent temper, that he was fanatically jealous, that he had put an axe through the TV set in a fit of rage. Georgianne's friends and I tried to get more information, tried to convince her to leave. She said she was planning her escape, but it never materialized.
The health news went from bad to worse. On November 15, she messaged me over Facebook:
What is going on? Well, Last week my hemoglobin was 5, so I spent days in the Hospital. [Mr. Wonderful] "takes care of her" when I am sick, but he is incapable of cooking properly and he is not able to relate to her emotional needs at all. When the Doctor asked if it was OK to share some "life altering" news with the family, I said Yes. I did not know he would say that there is a very high probability that the large tumors on my thyroid are probably malignant. The good news is there is a very high probability of surviving surgery. That is the truth.
I got the call from Georgianne's father last night that she had been admitted to the hospital and was thought to be unlikely to survive the night. This morning, Greg (Georgianne's longtime friend and Sophie's godfather) confirmed that she had died. It was described as heart failure and, more broadly, "her whole system just shutting down."
Which reminded me of how Stephanie's death had been described.
I've known my share of people who've had problems of one kind or another, but in my life I've never known anyone who worked as hard to overcome her problems and to be a better person and a better parent. Georgianne changed my life in ways I am still just beginning to appreciate.
In her last post on Facebook, she described craving the chocolate pecan pie from a favorite place back in West Hartford:
Does anyone remember the chocolate pecan pie at Reins New York Style Deli in Vernon? Working for them was my first job. To this day I dream of that utterly exquisite chocolate pecan pie. I have never found a pie as good though I have tried many recipes.I live in San Francisco now but I will beg friends back home to send me a whole pie if they still make it (didn't see it on the menu)
I wish I could tell you at what time, exactly, I stopped being head over heels in love with Georgianne, but the truth is I never did.
Everything is cold, dark, broken, and empty.