Farewell and welcome.

2011/09/20

Despite a sense of urgency, I spent my not-at-work hours last week with the usual: handling minor projects, watching a video, surfing the web.

I really should have tabled one or more of those things. That week was pretty much my last chance to see my friend Anita Harkins alive, and I blew it.

___________

Anita Harkins and me at her birthday/cancer recovery party in 2009. She’s a brunnette, but she vowed to dye her hair bright red once it began growing back after losing it to chemo and whatnot. 

When I was hired on as a permanent part-time designer at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, I was briefly cube-mates with Anita. I quickly liked her, and not just because we both were graduates from the University of Missouri (though quite a few years apart). She had a quirky sense of humor that endeared her to me as much as her occasionally sailor-level-salty tongue, well, didn’t.

Quite some time later, we worked more closely when I took lead design duties on two of her sections: Homefinder and News For Kids. (Oh, how she loved preparing the latter, which came as a bit of a surprise to me considering how salty Anita could get!) That’s when I really began to get to know Anita.

  • She was definitely her own gal. She spoke her mind frankly and without apology.
  • And when I say “she spoke her mind,” I mean that literally. Anita was one of those people who like to process thoughts by talking them out loud. Listening to her seemingly ramble on and on could be an exercise in patience, especially if you had a word you needed to slip in edgewise. It just.
    Couldn’t.
    Be done.
    That’s because as soon as you began to talk when she’d stop for a breath, she’d interrupt anyway and either continue her point or move on to another subject. It honestly used to bug me a little bit because, even though her points and subjects were frequently funny and fascinating, we still had, y’know, a newspaper to put out.
    Then, during a visit with her in the hospital a few years ago, I got to meet her family. They all do that. She got it honest, I guess!
  • Anita’s speech pattern had a fascinating cadence. Her super-nasal tone was accentuated by the emphasis she’d continually place on syllables and words. You could literally hear the italics when she talked. I loved that!
  • Did I mention she was funny as hell? I wish I could remember her funniest tales, but I can’t. I just know she was always busting out her distinctly throaty chuckle.
  • And boy, did she love her daughter, Casey.Looking at the girl’s photo at age 7 or 8 on Anita’s desk, it wasn’t hard to see why. The proverbial silver lining from the storm cloud of a second marriage, Casey (or “Kc,” as she likes to spell it) is a young beauty with huge blue eyes that sparkle as much as her mom’s hazel-grey ones did.
    After seeing some pix from Anita’s younger days, I see that, at 16, Kc’s growing into the very image of her mom.When I had my own brush with death five Septembers ago (and boy, is this month going to long have a blue undercurrent for me), Anita was one of my biggest boosters. She brought me a gi-normous “get well” card made by Kc for my co-workers to sign. It’s still on my dresser (usually covered with stuff) and I pull it out from time to time.

    See, I used to bring muffins from DeKalb Farmers’ Market and offer one to Anita, who’d bring half home to her little girl. I guess that triggered the super-card. Kc is the type who never forgets a kindness and is ready to repay in turn when given the opportunity and a cause.

    She gets that from her mom, too.

———————

It was sometime in 2008 when Anita came back from a longish vacation (Costa Rica, maybe? I forget). I remember coming to the office to see her weeping, absolutely devastated by the news that she had inflammatory breast cancer, one of the most dangerous forms.

As horrible as that event was, that’s when Anita became more than just a great editor and co-worker. She’d helped me through my brush with death, and now I had the chance to be there for her, too, in some small way.

It’s what friends do.

That’s what makes her passing a little harder than that of other loved ones. Sure, I take comfort in knowing Anita’s spirit and soul were ministered to in her last years, both by friends and clergy, so I remain hopeful that we’ll meet again in the arms of Jesus. There she’ll be even more zestful than I EVER knew her to be…and that’s mighty hard for me to imagine. MIGHTY hard.

But this past week, I squandered so many chances to visit her at the hospital after learning she was seriously ill, lulled somewhat by reports of others’ visits to a chipper and seemingly stable, if not exactly improving Anita. By the time I’d utterly resolved to absolutely not put it off a day longer and visit her no later than Monday morning (reasoning that then she’d be less overwhelmed with visitors), word got to me that she’d passed away Thursday night. She was 57.

If I ever needed a cure for procrastination, this just might be it.

That’s why I’ve also entitled this post “welcome” — it’s a “welcome back” for me to stop putting off updating this blog just because it’s not perfect or even up to snuff. Anita never let the imperfections of life stop her from living it with zest (though she might have a few issues with copyediting this column) and I won’t either.

Farewell, Anita. I love you and miss you with a fierce sorrow and regret — not for knowing you, but for not knowing you more.

P.S. Actually I do recall a funny Anita story/saying. I remember her complaining during one of my visits to her hospital room about having lost too much weight. See, she’d lined up reconstructive surgery to transfer her excess belly fat to her chest area because, she said, “No matter what, I’m going out with two boobs.”

Based on my viewing at her funeral Monday night, it looks like she kept the rack intact. And no, she totally wouldn’t mind the way I put that. That was Anita — raw and hilarious.

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8 Responses to “Farewell and welcome.”

  1. Chyll Will Says:

    That’s a nice eulogy, my friend. As long as she remains in your heart and thoughts, she will always be there with you laughing and telling stories. I know that as a fact.

    • kharisampson Says:

      I know you do, Will…way better than most. So you know how tough this can be. I’m actually a bit taken off-guard by how hard I’m taking this. It’s like part of me wants to keep her in a nice, neat little “oh, she was just a cool co-worker” box so I don’t have to grieve her so much.

      But then the REAL me starts tearing up at every thing that reminds me of her: the column I copyedited today in which the writer eulogized his friend dead of cancer the same day as Anita. One of my new co-workers who’s just as profane as Anita was when she was on the warpath. Or even this Troy Davis thing (see the blog in a day or two for some thoughts on THAT).

      It’s been said that grief is the price we pay for love. And yes, I loved Anita, the way I love all my work friends and colleagues…I thought. But I’m finding that perhaps I loved her a little bit more.

  2. Dawn Says:

    Beautiful, just like Anita.

    • kharisampson Says:

      I’m glad you think so.

      I’m struck with a thought: so often we don’t tell people how much we appreciate them while they’re here to hear it. Why is that? Gonna be a blog subject for another day, just you watch!

  3. Donna Says:

    Khari, I love what you have written about Anita. You have really captured her essence here, and you are such a great writer!

  4. bob buttgen Says:

    Thanks for that great tribute. I’m from Anita’s junior high and high school years and can re-state what others have been saying all day about her. That she had a terrific impact on people from spending a decade together nearly 40 years ago. I am glad you were blessed by her for so many years. I know I was. thank you.


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