Last Tuesday I got a text message telling me that my friend Maggie Estep was in a medically induced coma after having a massive heart attack on Monday afternoon. There was no reason to expect that this could happen. They had placed stints in her heart, I was told. "That's good," I said. When I had been hospitalized after an arrhythmia several years ago, I was told by the doctors that if I was lucky the tests would show a blockage in my heart and a stint would immediately solve it. But they didn't find a blockage; my problem was far more mysterious. And yet I survived. "Stints are a good thing," I assured another of Maggie's many friends. But I also knew that surviving something that close to death was difficult to handle. I plotted out the conversation we would have when she woke up, the bits of wisdom I might pass on to her.
And I thought about her dog, Mickey. I knew he would be okay, and an enormous comfort to her in her recovery. But I also knew, from my experience, the thoughts that pass through those brief final moments of consciousness when your dog means everything to you and your body has been seized by something over which you have no control. You worry about upsetting your friends and family, and then you worry most about your dog because there will be no way for anyone to explain why you abandoned him.
Maggie didn't make it.
The obituaries, of course, focused on what the public knew: she was a slam poet, performer, and novelist. She had been featured on MTV and Def Jam Poetry. We had met in the literary world, back when we both still lived in New York City. Everyone knew of her, but I met her as a woman sitting quietly in the corner of my neighbor's living room. Later, after we both left New York, we became closer through the safety of distance and through the love of our dogs. We exchanged photos, and videos, and marveled at the simple wonders of the world as seen through our dog's eyes.
This is the story of Maggie and Mickey: