An homage to Heather MacAllister: act two

Portland, the city that manages to smell like nature despite the cars and commotion. It’s a city of antiquated nuance, as odd as that sounds. It’s a cable car that weaves around downtown streets, a donut shop that performs wedding ceremonies. They’ve got brunch and coffee shops there that rival those of their northbound neighbor. Interesting people. Portland also housed my eldest sibling. There, she was stationed, enjoying this earth and its pleasantries while ill. About as ill as someone could get, I suppose.

I was greeted at baggage claim by our other sister. You remember, the responsible one, the type that doesn’t wear her emotion on her sleeve. Instead, tucking it oddly in the deepest hidden pocket she can find. She was stoic. And I, elated. Well, that was, I was elated for the moment. That moment before I knew what would transpire.

Curbside, luggage in tow, we met Bit, an exuberant companion of Heather’s that would whisk us away in a four-door, and back to the converted Hare Krishna temple my sister and her partner Kelli called home. I vaguely remember loose hay littering the back seats as we glided down the highway. Bit informed us there had been a theme party. I doubt it had anything to do with Green Acres, but that’s what I imagined.

We entered the home, painted bright. Furniture arranged in a slightly haphazard pattern with plenty of leopard prints adorning the already eclectic space. My sister’s bedroom-cum-dressing area, fittingly placed where a stage used to sit. There was a peculiar set of steps that were cut off by a wall near the door…leading to no place. I wonder if she ever played into that narrative? A terminal cancer patient living in a converted temple of worship, going nowhere? Someone who’d once been everywhere? It was a dark thought. I scrapped it entirely.

She was in excellent spirits that day. Not as nauseous as she had been prior. Her hair was short and so curly, she owed it to chemo resetting her genome or some-such science logic. She had color in her cheeks. Whether it was real or she’d just applied her favorite rouge…I’ll never know. I’ll never know a lot about her. She held her cards, pertaining to the illness, close to her chest.

That week would see us shopping at New Seasons for healthy fare, she was a vegetarian, and thus we loaded the cart full of would-be health food. The irony is not lost on me. At one point, an eager shopper slammed into the back of her leg with a cart, forcefully but in no way intentional. My sister, whom up until this moment seemed to be doing better than ever, writhed in immense pain. It was then I got it. Something that would have left a healthy system merely startled, left her unable to compose herself for a couple of minutes. Peeved, she snapped at the offender and not knowing what to do I mumbled something about going to look for the tea and took off. My eyes, glazing over with tears that I never shed. Because again, I suppose I didn’t know what state she was in. I guess I was left out of the loop for far too long. I suppose perhaps I was also seething with anger. But, not towards the careless cart-handler, I was angry because in all of the conversations I’d had, in all of the years I’d tried to reach out I was never informed of the severity of her condition. I was kept at arm’s length.

That week would also see us taking in the sights. Heather suggested Multnomah Falls. It was winter, cold, and the bridges were covered in ice, allowing us to only traipse so far until we had to turn back. Heather had turned back sooner. Another indicator that her physical body was beginning to restrict her insatiable mind. We met her and Kelli at the gift shop. As wholly beautiful as Multnomah Falls is, I can never fully remember its grandeur. Maybe that’s why I bought the magnet.

At one point we stood in her backyard flower patch, taking family photos. Photos we hadn’t taken, the three of us together, since we were children. In between lighthearted jabs, Shrinky Dink sessions (because, who doesn’t love kitsch and nostalgia on a Sunday evening?), between deep conversation, catching up, and her marijuana smoke breaks that allowed her a bit of respite from the pain. Between all of that there was this nagging unrest in my gut.

And the night before we were set to head home, from our visit that rushed by far too fast, she brought all of her cards out and slammed them flat on the damn table.

“When I get too sick, I’m planning on taking my own life,” she stated. It wasn’t a mutter. She didn’t hesitate. She said it outright, and in my mind, it came through as loud as my radiator clanging around as I’m trying to get some sleep. It echoed and raced through my cranium. All I could muster was, “ok.” I didn’t cry, if I did, I can’t recall. I was so damn proud of her for taking matters into her own hands, setting a game plan in motion that would give her dignity in death. I was so fucking crushed I couldn’t catch a breath. That stupid seahorse Shrinky Dink was sitting in front of me. Colored in deep sea green and brilliant blue hues that she would remark reminded her of my Pisces nature (she was really into all of that). That damn Shrinky Dink I still keep in a tiny native-themed jewelry box she’d gifted me ages prior. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it in those enormous minutes that followed.

But, this was merely a discussion. She’d done some thought for later down the line, surely. Months, years, decades would pass before this would be a viable option. Because, she was still standing upright, able to half-hike a waterfall, ready to make a pleasant conversation more deplorable by adding cusswords and salaciously talking about her teenage years. Showing us videos of her burlesque troupe, that would go on to be photographed and featured in a Leonard Nimoy coffee table book. She was able to move and shake her ass and laugh. So, inevitably …she had far more time on her hands.

This was how our evening ended. Somber, melancholy, any other significant word that encapsulates the terror of losing someone you love when you haven’t had enough time or privilege to love them.

The next day I was seated in the coach cabin of a jet, I felt smothered. It was claustrophobic. A long plane ride back to the Carolina coast. Bittersweet, those feelings that come from uncertainty. No Xanax, no airplane bottles of vodka. I was facing this full-throttle in a seat by the shitter with only the blast of the engine to numb me out until those wheels touched down.

-Holly Jones, editor, OnTour Magazine

Photo Credit: Kina Williams

Act One

Stay tuned for acts three and four respectively. When I can muster the strength to relive and tell. It’s a process, I suppose. But she’d a life and death damn worth noting.


  1. […] An homage to Heather MacAllister: act two | OnTour wrote: December 23, 2016 at 2:50 am […]