CeeCee Was My Friend… Christine McDonald

A couple of years later, after I had gotten off the streets and had my son, I received a call. My son was a few months old at the time. CeeCee was on the phone. I still don’t know how she found me. She was in hospice care and was dying of AIDS. I knew she was HIV positive. I had known a couple of women who worked the streets who were HIV positive. It did not change that they were my friends.

CeeCee had contracted HIV in L.A. She had been gang raped and was addicted to heroin. Her family had disowned her. She had been HIV positive for 17 years. She said she wished to infect every man who tried to buy sex. She carried so much hurt, so much brokenness, and so much anger.

After her phone call, I visited her daily for months at the hospice, sneaking her cigarettes, only one each day I visited. I also sneaked in candy bars and soda. I had thought many times, Gosh, if my friend is going to die and you guys can’t do anything to save her, what’s the big deal about a cigarette?

I’d sneak in her stuffed animals and also bring treats for the girl she shared a room with. She was dying, too, but she didn’t have visitors, so we often shared my daily visits with her.

The brain lesions caused CeeCee to drift in and out, so she wasn’t always aware of my presence. She called me one last time when she had a moment of clarity. It was dinnertime at our little home. She said, “Christine.” It was the first time in the 15 years or so I had known her that she had ever called me by my real name. “I’m going to meet my Maker,” she said.

I was at a loss for words. What do you say to someone who matter–of–factly states that they’re going to meet their Maker? What do you say to someone who knows they are about to die? I struggled to remain calm for my friend.

I asked, “Have you made peace?”

“I have no regrets,” she said to me, “no guilt for anyone I infected.”

I went to see her the following morning. She was unaware of my presence. I held her hand and spoke to her, telling her stories of our past experiences in life. Then I went home, holding onto CeeCee’s smuggled–in cigarette, just in case tomorrow’s visit would be better.

About an hour after I left, I got a call. It was the hospice. CeeCee had died. The nurse said it was almost as though she had waited for that daily visit from me before she allowed herself to drift away. Then the nurse said, “I wish everyone here had an Ellie in their lives.”

I took the cigarette from my jacket pocket and put it in the trash. By the time CeeCee passed, everyone who was HIV positive there, all those dying people, knew my name. They would wave and say, “Hi!” I’d smile and say, “Hello!” After getting to know so many of the folks in the hospice, I tried to become a volunteer there. But I was a convicted felon, a criminal, and the law wouldn’t allow me to come in to do such a thing.

I don’t know if CeeCee spoke to God before her death. I know her family never let go of their shame over her life as a prostitute or her contraction of HIV, even though it resulted from the violent acts of seven gang members. Her family refused to put down their pride and see her one last time. In fact, they didn’t even come to pick up the body after she died.

CeeCee lies in a markerless grave in Kansas City. I share her story because she was my friend. Both her life and death were a tragedy. By my sharing about her, others can know of her and that she was cared for. I just wanted to give her a voice.

I often wonder how different CeeCee’s life—particularly her last days—might have been if her family had been able to look past the shame and embrace her with arms of love. I wonder the same of the many people in that hospice who spent their final days isolated and alone. Where were the other Ellies? Where were the people who could love them, freely and unconditionally? And what difference might that kind of love have made in their lives and hearts?

We all have people—whether close to us or at a distance—who have made choices we disapprove of or have experienced horrific things we don’t know how to deal with. We can hold them at arm’s length and shun them, pushing them further into isolation, hurt, and shame. Or we can draw them near with arms of love, saying, as Jesus says, “Come as you are.”

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Christine C. McDonald

“Love your neighbor, all of ’em.” -Christine Clarity McDonald


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