None Shall Sleep

Virginia Darden Meeks died on February 23, 2017.  It was a Thursday. It was warm here in Charleston. Unseasonably warm.

Cancer sucks.

Ginny, as we knew her, was a lifelong friend.  She knew me before I knew myself.  Our fathers had served in the Marine Corps together.  I do not know a time when I did not know her and her family.  We were and are bound forever by wonderful times and horrible times. Births, graduations, weddings, deaths, funerals.  Four generations in at this point.

We went to school together, too.

Beaufort Academy

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of South Carolina School of Law.

Except for my three years at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, Ginny and I overlapped at all of these schools. That was the only school she did not attend which I attended.  Due to her working and my working between Chapel Hill and Law School, she ended up being only one year ahead of me there, while her younger sister, Sydney, ended up being two years ahead, even though she is only a year older than I am.  Follow that?  Good.  There will be a test later. Sydney also went to Beaufort Academy and Chapel Hill where she, Sydney, was only a year older than I am.  Got it?

Ginny, Sydney, and I all ended up in Charleston, too, rearing our families here.

There was never a time when we were not friends.  Never.  Ginny’s “Hambone” screamed at me loudly across a large group always made me smile. I could always make her laugh.  Ginny was the soul of wit not brevity.

Ginny’s death remains absolute misery for those of us who knew her and loved her.

In her final act of pulling a fast one on me, she requested that I read the 23rd Psalm during her funeral.  Of course, I would.  As she told her dear sister Sydney about Sydney’s eulogy during the same service, “You’ll never get through it.”  And, dadgummit, she was right.  My voice cracked just about the time of being comforted by Thy rod and Thy staff.   Dadgummit.  I had practiced, rehearsed, and repeated King James I’s version of that Psalm of the lost sheep over and over and over again between the time of Ginny’s death and the time of her funeral.   As my voice cracked, I could hear her hoot in my ear, “I knew it….whooo…I knew it” and then I could hear that inimitable laugh.  I hear it all the time.

Ginny’s fondest story of me dates back to 1976.  Ginny, Sydney, and their mother Lila came to our house to visit and call after the birth of my baby brother, Wade, who had been born only eighteen months after my middle brother, Arthur. I told another caller, “No more babies, please.”

In the most blatant attention seeking behavior of any child ever, I mounted my wooden rocking horse purchased from the Hammock Shops at Pawleys Island.  I began to rock back and forth screaming in my almost five-year old voice, “Look at me. Look at me.  Look at me.”

Whenever I told a story that went on too long, bored the collective group, prattled on about nothing, or turned something that wasn’t about me into something about me, Ginny would stare me dead in the eye, and, with the most wicked of acid tongues repeat, “Look at me.  Look at me.  Look at me.”

She could cut me to the quick better than almost anyone I know, excepting her beloved sister, Sydney, who can still slaughter and roast me like nobody’s business.

Keep it up, Syd.

I miss Ginny every day.

Seriously miss.

I still call her to tell her things.

Whenever a disdainfully funny thought pops into my head, which is often, I think, “Oh, man, I have to tell Ginny about that.”  And, then I do.  Wherever I am.  We talk all the time.

Now, please bear with me:

Lila Meeks, Ginny’s mama, was, and is, a huge fan of Luciano Pavarotti.  She saw him perform live and in the flesh more than once before he shuffled off his mortal coil.

I can’t remember if she saw him perform the aria “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot, but, for purposes of this missive, we shall assume she did.  At least once.

Nessun dorma!

Nessun dorma!

Tu pure, O, Principessa….

 None shall sleep! 

None shall sleep!

Not even you, oh, Princess…

In the months of rawest grief after Ginny died, Sleep and I were not the best of pals.

We didn’t get along.

We argued.

We fought.

We bickered.

We ignored each other completely some nights.

In those early months, while the rest of our house slept, I would creep quietly and sit at our kitchen table.

Some nights I would have a glass of vodka with me there.

One night I wrote a poem about the very experience of sitting in grief with an empty glass. See, infra, “Kitchen. 11:34 p.m.”

Another night, I sent furiously desperate text messages to our dear pal Lee Howell Inabinet, who, along with her brother, are truly my oldest friends. We all grew up in Beaufort together.  The Howells lived next door to my family when I was born.  Lee will always be one of Ginny and Sydney’s best friends in the world, too.  She is another true sister by another mister.

Another night, I flipped through the television channels hoping to find something really stupid to watch while I awaited a visit from Morpheus. I ended up being stuck in the specter and Spectre of a James Bond movie.

Another night, I engaged in texting with a friend who lives in New York, one of many who flew into Charleston for Ginny’s funeral in February, 2017.

Another night, I thumbed across the phone keyboard with a friend who went to UNC with us who lives in Charlotte.

Another night, I wrote a pal that lives in Beaufort with whom we all grew up and who is our brother by another mother.

Another night, I texted with a friend who lives three blocks away.

That night I saw that our local PBS station was airing one of its interminable fundraisers.

“Gotta go,” I wrote the pal who lives nearby, “ETV fundraiser is on. Ha.”

The reply:  “Give my best to Beryl Dakers. L8R”

[Ms. Dakers remains a staple of South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV)]

These fundraisers seem to happen regularly.  The only good thing about the fundraisers is that SCETV will broadcast old favorites to lure in viewers.

It was a Saturday night.

It was kind of late.

I was exhausted from grief and a lack of steady sleep throughout the Spring of 2017.

As soon as the usual cast of characters with a bank of phone operators behind them asked that we all give to keep up the sensational programming, the two cheery spokespeople advised that they would be returning to Pavarotti: A Voice for the Ages on Great Performances.  Sure enough.  There was the large man in white tie and tails.  The familiar strains of Puccini’s most famous aria crept over me.  I was compelled to watch. Pavarotti, as Puccini’s Calaf, began after the choir’s initial quiet tones.

None shall sleep!

None shall sleep!

Tell me about it, Luciano.

Tell me about it.

As the tenor’s timbre filled the room, the tears welled up, again.

Then, for unknown reasons, the tears vanished. Immediate calm. Peace. Goose bumps on my arms.

I can’t explain it these sixteen months later. A presence was with me in our kitchen. A peace of mind. A feeling of release. A belief that even in the misery of grieving Ginny’s death, we all would be fine.  Even if we weren’t. Even if we aren’t. Even if we never will be.

I shall not want.

It was like God Himself was speaking to me through the Italian words and through the Italian singer beloved by Lila Meeks.

None shall sleep.

None shall sleep.

It was better after being in the kitchen with Luciano that night sixteen months ago.

Not that it’s great.

It never will be.

Sleep returned.

We get along now.

At the end of that beloved aria, Pavarotti as Calaf exclaimed that his victory would come with the dawn.

All’alba vincerò!



The final notes were sustained.

Seemingly forever.

Incomprehensibly forever.

Ginny Meeks and Hamlin O’Kelley, Columbia, SC, 1997.  I could always make her laugh.



3 thoughts on “None Shall Sleep

  1. Jane Weeping for the chimpanzee. Hamlin, this is really special writing, describing an incredible time in your life. I hope to gett family to Africa soon. It will never be like this, but we must keeping seeing the world and the animals to treasure what we have.
    Thank you! Your memory is amazing!


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