The Jade I Knew

I met Jade in the spring of 2009, when she came to Steve’s house to borrow a saw. She greeted me with enthusiasm; I was a little reticent. I knew about her but we hadn’t met. She was tiny and moved with a slight limp and I remember watching her walking away with the heavy appliance. Steve had offered to take it to her house but she insisted on not bothering us any further. I didn’t know what to make of it but Steve assured me that she was fine and knew what she was doing.

A few months later—I was living and working in Charleston at that time—I visited Steve in the Keys for a long weekend and we had a dinner invitation from Jade and Rob. Making nice with my new boyfriend’s ex wasn’t really at the top of my list at the time but Jade had other plans. She was determined to get to know me and had decided that we should be friends and that we’d all be one big, happy family. Dinner felt awkward to me, but Jade wasn’t bothered in the least, and went out of her way to make me feel more comfortable.

During the course of the evening, she introduced me to her dogs, she assured me repeatedly that there was no love connection left between her and Steve, and then she walked me to her bedroom to show me the bed she’d built for her and her husband. She kept up a light chatter the whole time, telling me about this and that, the house, her orchids, and how she’d met Rob. She wanted me to be at ease, I wanted to go home. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her—it would have been hard not to—I just wasn’t ready for all this. She was quirky, funny, and very kind. That night, Jade took a picture of Steve and I sitting on her couch. It hung on our fridge for a long time and I remember the photo well: Steve looks relaxed. I look bewildered.

Back in Charleston and even while at sea I would get random texts from Jade, asking to borrow a tool or some paint or whatever else she needed. I finally realized she was copying me on every text she sent to Steve while I was away. That was Jade.

I knew Jade for much less time than just about everyone else here in the Keys but my memories are strong because of the impression she made on me.

The Jade I knew was generous, kind, and driven to better the world around her. No body and no thing was too old or too ugly or too broken. Everybody and everything deserved another chance, another life. Items that would have been discarded by most had some inner value or beauty that only Jade could see and so they had to be rescued, fixed, and a new home found. Often the new owner didn’t quite see what Jade saw but that never deterred her.

For Jade, the future always held much promise. She looked forward to getting an operation, to giving up smoking, to summer, to the next day. Every new day held the possibility of less pain, more joy, and a new adventure. And Jade was looking forward to that, every day.

The Jade I knew was talented and creative. I watched her paint, admired her mosaics, and read her inspirational messages, which she unleashed on us for a short while a few years earlier.

When Jade was in one of her creative phases, she would occasionally come over and borrow my acrylic paints. I remember she’d always ask for the colors she thought I liked or used the least. Even when she needed something specific, like when she was in a yellow phase, she’d ask for ochre, thinking I liked or needed that less than maybe the Naples yellow. Sometimes I gave her the whole basket of Golden acrylics, telling her she could use as much of any color she liked but that she shouldn’t forget to show me the painting when she was done. I only saw the finished product once but she always returned the paints. Eventually.

For the Jade I knew, art was therapy and she swung her brushes and pens with energy and enthusiasm. One day, I was priming canvases when she came over. Upon seeing me prepare one white background after another she asked me why I didn’t use my colored primers. They’re for special projects, I told her. When she left, I had a stack of canvases primed in sky blue and sunny orange.

The Jade I knew was unpredictable and sometimes unstable. She struggled with her demons and she didn’t always win. When that other Jade appeared, I was afraid of what might happen. I was afraid for her but also for Steve and I and so I avoided that other Jade. We missed her phone calls and left her messages unanswered. We talked about it but we didn’t know what to do, and in the end, we did nothing.

The Jade I knew wanted to be healthy. She tried to heal herself with work, with meditation, with poetry, with counseling, with projects, and with people. At some point we saw the same therapist. Jade had recommended her and I’ll be forever grateful because there was finally some progress. Jade, too, got better for a while but I think there was too much broken and any fix merely a provisional solution. For Jade, relief was always temporary, no matter how hard she tried. And I don’t know anyone who tried harder than she did.

The Jade I knew left flowers on my porch when she passed by the house. It made me happy and it always put a smile on my face. When the flowers stopped I noticed but I didn’t worry. Maybe I should have. When she had a new person in her life I was happy for her but I didn’t question him. When she told me about her new life that was about to start I was hopeful but I didn’t wonder if everything was truly all right.

And then something inconceivable happened. Our world was turned upside down because something so heinous and dark was committed on somebody we knew personally: a gentle soul, looking for peace and redemption, looking to leave the world better than she found it.

Today, the Jade I know is at peace at last. Partly because I need it to be, and partly because I fervently hope and think that there must be justice. And so I know that Jade has left turmoil behind and has found safe harbor. Where she is, everyday is a good day and her eternal light shines bright and steady because we remember all that was good.

For those of us still here, we also remember her because our little neighborhood is full of reminders of Jade’s generosity and creativity: the large rising sun on the front of Steve’s second cottage, the ocean-themed mosaic stepping stones in front of Leslie’s house, the fish mosaic on Bob’s house, the backsplash in Molly’s kitchen, the street number on Amy’s house, the Zen garden in Charles’s back yard, and many others. And so Jade lives on, in us and around us, as it should be.

And if I know her at all, she’s already oiled the creaky gates and is now painting the clouds from above. When I see a rainbow, it makes me think that Jade just spilled a few buckets of paint because she wants us to know that she’s at peace and to remind us to be happy.

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