By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I did what I went to San Diego to do, interview the astronaut Sally Ride. We stood in the Aerospace Museum before a replica of the Apollo spacecraft and talked about the Challengerexplosion and how Ride is a hero to young girls. I was so disconnected, she might as well have talked to a leg of lamb. When I got home, my boyfriend had laid the table with wine, bread and cheese, and told me not to check the Web for Jesica, but I had to. I read she’d been taken off life support, and died. I sat at the table, drank the wine, ate the cheese, and after my boyfriend went to sleep, locked myself in the bathroom and knelt on the bathmat and shrieked through my teeth.
I kept a vigil at the Internet. I sent homemade cookies to Jesica’s Hope Chest. I sent a check. Four days after Jesica died, I phoned JHC. Mack Mahoney answered, which I considered an incredible stroke of good fortune. I asked if there was anything I could do besides send money and pray; he said, just keep that up, and hung up. I sat at my desk and stared at my hands. I knew I had to call back.
“Mr. Mahoney, my name is Nancy Rommelmann, and I want to know if you need a writer.” I had no idea what I could do for him, but would have folded laundry if it would have helped. “Ma’am,” he said, “I got 400 writers here and I want to put them all in a hole.”
I told him I might be able to write press releases, anything; he told me to send something to the Hope Chest and he’d get it. I immediately composed a letter, saying, have pen, will travel, and that my father had a home nearby where I could stay. That night, my daughter showed me a poem she’d written for Jesica. I sent it with my letter.
The next day I was at the Los Angeles Zoo, where I worked at the time one day a week writing grant proposals. During my lunch break, I asked Jesica what animals she’d like to see. She said, “Monkeys!” I wondered if this were true, if she did like monkeys. I climbed to the top of the zoo to see the baby chimpanzees. Then I told her I would take her to see my favorite animals. I got lost trying to find the lemur enclosure, walking in the rain, eating an egg salad sandwich, and crying.
I was shelling peas a few nights later when the phone rang. “Nancy, this is Nita Mahoney [Mack’s wife], and I want to let you know your daughter’s poem was read at Jessie’s interment.”
Hearing her voice felt entirely normal, as though I were expecting her call. I mentioned I’d sent Mack some writing.
“We have had so many writers here, and publishers calling, but your name keeps floating to the top,” she said, and asked me to come to Louisburg, “to write about Jessie, while it’s all still fresh in our minds.”
I said I would. Then I went back to making dinner with a sense that I’d been all-consumed by Jesica’s story because I was meant to write about her, and here was the proof.
Bind the wound and grease the weapon. I began to download everything I could on Jesica: how she’d been born with restrictive cardiomyopathy, a condition that meant her heart was enlarged and inefficiently oxygenating her body; how she was originally from Arroyo Hondo, Mexico, a tiny town 100 miles from Guadalajara; how the family, while being smuggled by a coyote over the Texas-Mexico border, had been robbed at gunpoint of everything they had, including the earrings in Jesica’s ears. How Magdalena wanted to bury Jesica in her hometown — a trip the Mexican government offered to pay for — but could not for fear of not being allowed back in the U.S.
I read Duke’s early opaque press postings regarding Jesica, and two days after her death, a message from Ralph Snyderman, M.D., president and CEO of Duke University Health Systems, which began, “I have never been more proud to be a part of the Duke University Medical Center family,” and concluded “. . . the institution has been open, honest and forthright [and has] risen higher than ever before.” I read about a man in Florida who claimed Jesica’s angelic aura had cured his cancer, and was now petitioning the Pope to make her a saint, and this from syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin, author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores, posted the day before Jesica died: “We cannot ignore the tough public-policy questions in Jesica’s case that the sob-story writers at The New York Times prefer to paper over: When resources are as scarce as the supply of voluntarily donated organs notoriously are, why shouldn’t U.S. citizens get top priority? If Jesica recovers from the second heart-lung transplant, will any federal immigration authority have the guts to enforce the law and send her and her family home?”