It’s not the first time I’ve been haunted by ladybugs, though. The first time was after the murder of my friend and co-worker, Sissy.
Sissy worked at the same small company where I was a marketing assistant. Like all people employed by a small company, Sissy and I wore many hats. Our job descriptions changed hourly. Straight out of college with my two degrees, I was willing to do anything, and that’s what I did. I made Costco runs, secured paint color approvals, dropped sample kits at the post office, made client calls and helped create ads.
Sissy was working in the manufacturing end of the business when I started. She was the only woman in the factory, small of stature but big in presence. I liked her immediately. She not only kept up with the production, she pushed the line. She had a positive attitude and cared about the quality of the work.
The company owner noticed her contribution and when Sissy mentioned she’d like to earn her GED and then work towards a college degree, he did all he could to support her. He brought her into the office as the receptionist where the schedule was more predictable than the factory floor. Being in the office, she’d also have the chance to learn the business-side of things, since what she ultimately wanted was to be a business professional.
Sissy and I shared the same small office space. Between phone calls, errands and daily tasks, we became friends. She confided in me her dream to complete her education. She told me of her greatest joy, being a mother to an eight-year old daughter. And she shared the ugliness of her failed marriage, the details of an alcoholic man that was rough around the edges. He made life hard on her as a wife, but hadn’t improved much as an ex. She told me about her little apartment down the road and about a friendly neighbor that helped her keep her car running for free. She called him, “Turtle.”
I need to tell you something here. I describe myself as the psychic of small things. I can tell you seconds before the phone rings, who will be on the other end. I can feel a fight a day before it happens and help you to avoid it. I know the time without ever looking at a clock. I predict silly things, not life-saving moments. Yes, admittedly, I had a two-day migraine before the World Trade Center was attacked. I had no life-saving details, though. That day when Sissy said the name, “Turtle,” my arms should’ve broken out in goosebumps at the very least. But, nothing happened.
The Friday before President’s Day weekend, Sissy came to work wearing an adorable dress, red with black polka dots. The dress, her shiny high heels, her darling glasses, well I told her she was cute as a ladybug. The rest of the company noticed Sissy, too. Every vendor and client flirted, every factory worker made up an excuse to come in the office to ask a question, faces blushed pink and studying the tops of their shoes, they snuck peeks at Sissy – their Sissy – all beautiful and professional. When she left work that day she waved goodbye to me through the cut out window in the office wall. I waved back, wishing her a wonderful weekend.
I wish I’d known then. I would’ve followed her to the parking lot, dogged her to grab her daughter and sleep over at my apartment, stay up too late to watch junk TV and nosh on mini-mart snacks. But, I didn’t know. I’m the psychic of small things, remember? And what happened next is something I think about every day. It could never be classified as small.
Monday morning, Sissy was noticeably absent. The office manager was concerned enough to call Sissy’s home a few times, but no one answered. I took over the phones in her absence, but every caller sounded disappointed to hear me on the other end instead of Sissy. I tried to sweeten my voice as I answered the next call. The person sputtered, “Is my mom there?” It was a little girl.
“Are you looking for Sissy? Is this her daughter?” I asked.
“Yeah, but I think Mom was confused. I don’t have school today and she went to work. Can I talk to her?”
I tried to answer, but the words log-jammed in my throat. The office manager slipped the phone from my hand and spoke in a calm, quiet voice. “Hi, Megan? I’m going to call your dad. He’ll come pick you up soon, okay?”
Her next two calls were to the police and then to Sissy’s ex.
At work the next morning we gathered for our daily sales meeting. The office manager explained about Sissy. She was brutally murdered. Her daughter survived by hiding in a closet. Through sniffles and choking sobs, we talked about Sissy and as we grieved her, the lights in the office dimmed. I stared up at the cheap ceiling fixture above her empty desk and the surface of it was covered with ladybugs. Thousands of them crawled across the fixture and blocked out the fluorescent glow. At first it scared me, but then instead of thinking of my murdered friend, I remembered Sissy that last day in her red dress with black polka dots, beautiful and happy. And I knew she was telling us to remember her that way, not as a victim, but as a woman excited about her future.
Fast-forward twenty years. Not a day’s gone by that I don’t think of my friend Sissy and her daughter the survivor. I always hope that life will put us on a collision course, that I will meet Megan and be able to help her in some way. Maybe she doesn’t need help. She proved that she’s a fighter a long time ago. Anyhow, as the blue moon shone down on Seattle last week, I stood in the light of it and asked the universe, asked God, to use the magic of this night to illuminate my life path. “What am I supposed to do next?” And because I’m a writer, I asked specifically, “What am I supposed to write next?”
It’s a no-brainer if you know me. I’m in the throes of drafting book three of my trilogy, but I’ve had another series brewing for the last year. It’s a series of adult mysteries, and the first story would be written in honor of my friend, Sissy. Because I’m a mother and a volunteer fundraiser, I don’t have much time to write. I asked the blue moon to clarify my intentions. And that’s when a ladybug landed on my shoulder. As I always do, I thought of my friend. “Do you want me to write your story?” The ladybug crawled down my arm and flew away.
I took a walk and when I returned to the house, I tried unlocking the front door with my key. But, the key lodged in the front door and wouldn’t turn. As I jiggled and fussed, a ladybug crawled across the door. Impatient, I entered the code into the garage key pad. Once inside, I found the door still wouldn’t unlock. Frustrated, I went outside again and tried to turn the key. It turned easily and the door swung open. Was it all my imagination? No.
I’ve thought about it for a few days and I think Sissy was telling me it was okay to write her story, but to wait. Write the last book in the trilogy first and then write her novel. Her story would be waiting for me to tell later.
Today, as I drove my daughter to her riding lesson, a ladybug crawled across my rearview mirror. It made both of us smile. I miss you, Sissy.