She may have been born with a pen in her hand. Christine “Cis” or “Cissy” White was a natural writer, one who made you sit back in your chair so that you didn’t miss a syllable, much less a word when she read her work to you. There was a cadence to her sentences, which were often much longer than recommended but had you wishing they were longer as she read them aloud. Her words would come to me, long after I had read them, which is the greatest testament to any writer’s work.
Cis didn’t write about easy things. Not like the mysteries I pen where there is always an answer at the end. Cis was better at posing questions, difficult ones about childhood trauma and abuse, where it left its victim, and how to go forward. She didn’t duck the hard stuff and when she saw other writers do it, she urged them to “press down.”
I met Cissy at Kripalu, the yoga center in western Massachusetts, during a Writing from the Heart workshop lead by Nancy Slonim Aronie, her mentor, colleague, and friend, where I first cracked open my writing heart. My son had given me the weekend workshop as a gift for letting him move back home while he pursued a college degree. It was literally the gift that has kept on giving.
Cis was from the South Shore of Massachusetts where she was starting a small writing group. Did I want to join? I did, though the thought of it made me more nervous than any courtroom appearance I ever made as a lawyer. Who was I to think I was a writer and how would I ever share all that I had been hiding even from myself.
Six of us began meeting weekly, faithfully, sometimes painfully. Though our membership changed over the next eleven years, Cis and I remained constant members. Early on, I mentioned that I considered writing a hobby, a creative pastime. Her eyebrows raised, Cis sternly told me that writing was not a hobby, that I was writing, which made me a writer, something I had previously been afraid to admit, to say out loud. Never again. Cis made me believe in me, that I could be and was a writer.
Although she was sixteen years younger than me, Cis had a strong maternal side. Her ability to nurture, not by lecturing but by asking those difficult questions no one wants to answer, she forced me to think about things I had managed to avoid. I hated it when she did that, until I worked through them and was lifted into a freedom I hadn’t realized possible.
For several years, Cis and I worked together at my law practice. She had never worked in a law office and constantly said it was the only job she had ever been bad at. It was one of the few times she was wrong. We were both experiencing painful personal situations. Not only was she excellent dealing with my distraught family law clients, but she was also a calming influence on me. We had fun, something neither of us believed we were very good at doing. We laughed (her laughter was so indescribable, I won’t even try), ate Greek salads for lunch while we solved the problems of the world and talked about our gardens, out pets, and our hearts.
Her life ended too soon on April 2, 2023, when she died after a long battle with ovarian cancer. One of the first pieces I ever read written by Cis, was about when as a young woman in her twenties, she moved in to care for her Nana while she died of ovarian cancer. I was moved by her devotion to her grandmother and knew early on, Cis was a very special woman.
Her one regret was that she didn’t have as much fun as she would have liked, so she began what she called “joy-stalking.” She asked that people wear bright colors to the celebration of her life this Saturday, preferably hot pink, her favorite color. Because I cannot attend due to a loved one’s illness, I plan to wear a hot pink dress all day Saturday and stalk joy in her memory. I know she will be smiling that huge smile while I sit in my garden with my husband and dog, thinking about her and how much better my life is because of her.
C. Michele Dorsey is the author of Oh Danny Girl and the Sabrina Salter series, including No Virgin Island, Permanent Sunset, Tropical Depression, and Salt Water Wounds. Her latest novel, Gone But Not Forgotten will be published by Severn House in July 2023.Michele is a lawyer, mediator, former adjunct law professor and nurse, who didn’t know she could be a writer when she grew up. Now that she does, Michele writes constantly, whether on St John, outer Cape Cod, or anywhere within a mile of the ocean.