After the unexpected death of my dear friend, Leslie Jordan Clary, on September 7th of this year, I had to withdraw from Facebook and the online world for a time. I tried to let my friends and family know how to reach me, but it was impossible to let everyone know. I appreciate all those who reached out to me via email or Messenger. The love you shared was palpable.
I have lost other loved ones before, my mother, aunts and uncles, grandparents. But never a close friend. And never before have I lost a loved one so shockingly, just out of the blue. Leslie suffered an aneurysm and never regained consciousness. I did not know of her passing until I read about it on Facebook a day after life support was terminated.
Leslie and I met at the University of Nevada, Reno, when I was in the second year of my Master’s program in English, and she was just starting hers. We hit it off instantly. We discovered that we both lived in Lassen County, only 14 miles apart, and we began to car pool the 150-mile round-trip to UNR as often as our schedules allowed. We were both 30-something mothers with kids close in age. We were aspiring writers. We were nature lovers who enjoyed hikes in the desert and the mountains together. We had very different backgrounds and belief systems, but that didn’t matter in the least. We became the closest of friends and writing buddies. We read and commented on nearly everything the other wrote for many years. Leslie helped me set up the website on which this blog appears. I’d never have done it without her, but she helped me, encouraged me, led me, taught me how to make it happen.
Leslie was a restless spirit with itchy feet. She liked to move around, live in new places, experience other cultures. When her family moved to San Diego, we stayed in touch via email and occasional phone calls, sending each other poems, stories, and essays to read, but we didn’t see each other during that time. Then her parents passed away one after the other within a very short time, and she decided that she needed to get away from her present life. She spent three years in China, teaching English part of the time, free-lance writing for various gemstone and jewelry and travel magazines part of the time, traveling to different parts of Asia for free-lance assignments. She also traveled in Mongolia with her then-husband, Bob Clary. She’d also developed photography skills for her assignments, and she took many beautiful photographs during her journeys. When she came back to the states, she started teaching more classes online for National University and developing curriculum for them. Eventually, she and Bob separated, and Leslie returned to live in Lassen County. She worked for a time at the local college, won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Northern India, and stayed there for several months. She wrote quite a bit about that experience in her blog, “Cloud and Mountain.” Many pieces of writing came out of that Indian trip, and she began to think about a book project, which we discussed many times.
After leaving Lassen College in what were shameful circumstances on the part of the college administration, Leslie worked at the local paper as a reporter and began to develop a stronger free-lance presence in the magazine industry. Eventually, she quit the newspaper and began to free-lance full time while continuing to teach online for National University. At the same time, Leslie began to deal with some events and memories from childhood which had shaped her life in ways she was only beginning to understand. In an effort to gain clarity, she began to study Buddhism and eventually took the Buddhist precepts. Buddhist practice gave her an unprecedented calm and focus, and she began to write about those troubling experiences from childhood.
About that same time, while still teaching online and free-lancing, Leslie began a new business. She had become interested in making topical cannabis products for health purposes, particularly for people suffering from arthritis. She went through all the legal processes to license and register her business and began making and selling salves through cannabis dispensaries and to those who had a valid California medical marijuana card. She believed in the efficacy of her products and knew that they helped people in pain, and she felt so good about her business, Leafy Botanicals, and put a tremendous amount of effort into making it grow. Just this summer, Leslie told me that she felt she’d finally found her purpose and calling in life.
I remember that moment so clearly. We were sitting in the sun on the front brick steps of her house, with our feet on the wooden deck where we’d practiced tai chi together when she first taught me. We were looking at the herb garden she was creating in the rock pile that formed her front yard. I’d given her many of those plants from my herb garden, and in fact I’d stopped by that day to bring her some Johnny Jump-up seeds. She was exploring ways to incorporate many different healing herbs into her cannabis salves and oils. Earlier that spring, we’d both gathered dandelion blossoms, I to make a tincture to use in I wasn’t sure what, she to incorporate into her salves. “I love what I’m doing,” she said on that bright July day. “It just feels right, like I’ve come home in myself.” That was the last time I saw her.
Only a couple of months later, Leslie was gone. I could not believe it at first, and then I was thrown into a maelstrom of grief and loss. Leslie was my closest friend in Lassen County. She was someone I could talk with about anything, and we did talk about everything: our men, our kids, our faiths, our politics, our worries, our joys. We didn’t always share the same point of view about everything, but it didn’t matter because we loved each other, and there was never any rancor if we disagreed about something. We appreciated the differences of our viewpoints. Leslie also had a great sense of humor and a strong perception of irony, so we laughed about everything. There were many times we laughed so hard we cried.
I cried a lot the first few weeks after Leslie’s death. I’m weeping as I write these words because I miss her so much, and I know I always will. A few weeks ago, Leslie’s stepdaughter, Alia, contacted me and asked me if I wanted one of Leslie’s houseplants. Alia and her dad were at Leslie’s house, cleaning and removing the last of Leslie’s possessions, getting the house ready to rent. I drove up the next day and sat on the deck for a while with Alia and Bob, talking about memories of Leslie. It was a bittersweet time, but I’m so glad I got to know Alia a little bit and see Bob again.
Before I left with Leslie’s plant (now sitting by my big living room window), I picked some juniper berries from the trees around her house. Last fall, Leslie and I made soap together with bear fat, juniper-infused olive oil, and ground juniper berries. It came out great, and we gave a lot of it away last Christmas as gifts to our families. We’d planned to make another couple of batches this fall. She won’t be here to do it with me, but I will do it in her memory and with the memory of our laughter as we made our first batch together ringing in my ears.