Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rest for the restless

I met Rita Sutter in the seventh grade at St. Cecilia's grammar school in New Jersey - I had moved from the Pennsylvania suburbs that summer. I briefly formed a trio of friends with her and another girl, Lynn and we made it our project that autumn to clean up the garage of the old Dongy place. This was a big old Victorian house in bad disrepair, torn down not long after our project, and eventually replace with two or three smaller houses. I still remember learning how to properly tie a bandana in order to keep our hair out of our faces, to look like we meant business.

I have no idea why we decided to do that. I went along for the camaraderie - it was nice to have friends in my new neighborhood. But we soon gave up the project and our little trio broke up soon after and while I was Lynn's friend through most of high school and attended her first wedding and remained friends, if distantly, right up to the present time - if you count a Facebook friendship,  and in spite of the fact that she seems to have turned into a Jesus freak, Rita was always in and out of my life. Mostly out, but very memorable when she was in.

Rita was a bad girl in school - a smoker who got into boys early, indulged in the occasional shoplifting (admittedly I did that once myself - I lifted the 45 single of Bob Dylan's "Hurricane" from the Sound Odyssey at the Cherry Hill Mall.) She was the first person I knew who was adopted - she and her younger brother were both adoptees of a nice middle-class Catholic couple - I met them a few times, although barely remember them. Rita's mother was most often exasperated by Rita, in my memory.

Rita introduced me to super-tight jeans and flavored lip balm and occasionally she would swoop in and drag me along for the ride to some teen-age gathering, but mostly we traveled in different circles. Actually I don't know for sure what circles she traveled in - she seemed to alternate among several. The main characteristic of Rita as I remember her was restlessness.

I lost track of her when I dropped out of school in the eleventh grade when I was pregnant with my daughter. So who was the bad girl, really?

As far as I know she was completely heterosexual but she did have a slightly butch affect - she always wore her hair short when I knew her, and had a squarish head and firm jawline - she was pretty but in a sort of boyish way.

I contacted her about 14 years ago, thanks to everybody suddenly having email. I hadn't seen her in about twenty years before that. It turned out she was planning a trip to Manhattan so we decided to meet up. She invited me to come along with her to see Tale of the Allergist's Wife, starring Linda Lavin.

Rita had done pretty well for herself for a bad girl - she was married to a doctor in Baltimore and was a free-lance writer.

We saw the show, had drinks after, talked a little and that was the last time I saw her or heard from her, although I did occasionally Google her name, as I tend to do with people from my past.

I Googled her yesterday and discovered this:
Rita Marie Sutter, 52, of Cleveland since 2005, died Feb. 6, 2014, in a local hospital.

She is survived by her parents, Francis and Helen Malloy Sutter of Leisuretown, N.J.; husband, Dr. James Ross Slemmer of Cleveland; brother, Gerald Sutter of Maple Shade, N.J.; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.
Complete arrangements will be announced by Ralph Buckner Funeral Home and Crematory.
Dead almost a year and I didn't know it.

It doesn't say how she died, but since it was in the hospital I assume cancer.

Two people posted memories of her at the funeral home web site. I thought this passage by her cousin was similar to my experiences with Rita, although obviously the cousin spent more time with her than I did:
She knew what to wear, what the 'in' expressions were, how to wear your hair and so on. I always wanted to be like her growing up. We had a lot of great times together, a lot of family vacations together, our annual trip to Parvin State Park for Columbus Day weekend and our combined birthdays and many other trips and holidays. As adults we lost touch and I always regretted that, although I kept up with her life through both of our parents.
So it wasn't only me she lost contact with as adults - in spite of easy access through Facebook, which she could have taken advantage of in at least the last 5 - 6 years of her life.

Rest in peace, restless spirit.