Some people just hit you in the heart. I was at Yen Restaurant in Mobile, looking for a hit of comfort food--Vietnamese food--and Cathy, Samantha and Brandon walked in.
Samantha reminded me of myself-- half-Asian, half-white, sort of a tomboy. I approached them. Immediately they were open and warm. I asked Cathy if they might want to read for the project.
She said sure. No hesitation. She appreciated art and music. Samantha did, too. Cathy stenciled boats for a living. Samantha wanted to be an illustrator or graphic designer someday.
Sometimes if people think something isn't going to look good to other people, they won't let you see it, let alone film it. But Cathy threw open the doors in full welcome. Before I visited their home for the first time, Cathy texted the normal caveats--noise, chaos, cats:
It's crazy with the kids home from school. It's loud. And the house is a bit of a mess. We are not wealthy so it's a bit of a poor home. Just simple. My mother has a lot of cats, so it's a bit over the top ...
Brandon was all over the place the day of filming - this little Einstein, running around. I wonder how well Brandon will remember the day we filmed. He'll probably thinks of us as those annoying people - the ones who tortured him and made him sit boringly still for an afternoon. If you watch the video, it's clear he embodies so many of the lines he read. "I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise...Stuff'd with the stuff that is coarse and stuff'd with the stuff that is fine ..."
When Samantha and her mom read, they just put it out there. They stumbled, but they didn't beat themselves up, they'd just start again. At the end of the day, Samantha seemed happy. She was taking selfies with us.
After that Sam and I would check in with each other every so often to catch up. We hadn't spoken in some time, then she texted. Cathy was battling small cell lung cancer. Sam was very optimistic about the prognosis.
It's a cancer that gets big n then small but they said it's treatable. But she wanted to know how the project is going?
When Cathy died, they held a service at Odd Fellows Cemetery in Bayou La Batre, Alabama. I remember seashells were embedded in the earthen pathways there.
Samantha arrived. Normally dressed down, she was dressed up. Like we can do when we face things that are unreal. We send in our skirted, suited stand-ins and we smile. We apologize, as Samantha did to me:
Sorry I don't feel like myself.
She opened her arms up big and gave me a hug. It felt like that, that she was giving the hug to me. She has that same generous spirit her mother did.
I think of my time with the Sullivans as a three-part story: You meet someone out of nowhere, you have no idea you're going to be so affected by them or understand all the ways and then they're gone. Maybe that's most stories.
I have so much emotion for this family, it's hard to even express. I was endlessly interested in them. The stories they contained could have made up an entire magazine piece. Told us so much.
I just wish that Cathy could see this.
By Liz Hildreth, as told by filmmaker Jennifer Crandall