Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Help for Jemma and Shelly

Today’s story is about two people. It’s about Jemma and Shelly, the best couple I’ve ever met. They’ve outlasted every romance I’ve ever had, and every romance any friend of mine has ever had. They’re in a rough period and I’m going to ask you for a little help. But first, how I know them.

They met at college. Perhaps unsurprising, it was a Liberal Arts college. Jemma was a Quaker from Virginia, while Shelly was a northerner with a strange affinity for Chinese literature. Shelly didn’t even know she was gay when they met. When I met them, they were already inseparable friends. Sometimes they would eat lunch and dinner at my table, called the Long Table because our group of friends grew too big and we had to push two normal tables together to fit everyone. It was one of the most important settings of my life because everything was open to a friendly humor. Comparative religion, blowjobs gone wrong, Bush winning a second term – everything conveyed in the humor of acceptance, which I have pursued in my writing ever since.

It’s in that spirit that I say, if they didn’t know they were in love, I did. And this is from a very oblivious man. A gay professor once told me about stalking his boyfriend and I came away from it oblivious that he was gay. I could tell about Jemma and Shelly not because of social stereotypes, but just how they were to each other. They were so bonded, so warm, and arrived together so frequently, that I just assumed they were a couple. Sorry if I beat you to the realization, ladies.

They have been two of my dearest friends for years. They are often the first to see my newest short stories. My half-crippled body made a very rare trek across country to be at their wedding (there’s a photo somewhere of me trying to lift the two of them for a hug in their wedding dresses). When my family went so broke we couldn’t afford groceries, they found a local grocery store online and ordered a delivery for me. The night before my gallbladder surgery they were so worried that I had to call them to calm them down. A week later, when I was finally able to sit up at the computer again, the first thing I saw on GMail was Shelly’s status: “Missing John.”

They live in Virginia. Both worked at the same employer, which I won’t name because I don’t want to get my friends in trouble. Jemma mostly worked in the library and records, while Shelly was on the tech side.

In the last year Jemma became very ill. Her energy and appetite were sapped, so that many days she could barely get out of bed. On her good days a simple surprise like a door slamming would shock her and put her right back in bed. In addition, Jemma’s arms became incredibly tender, such that she couldn’t type on a computer, let alone stock bookshelves. She underwent a battery of tests, but the best her doctors came up with was that this condition was similar to Chronic Fatigue. Seeking treatment for an unknown disease has been arduous. Seeking it while fighting a torrent of paperwork from her disgruntled employers on made it worse.

Shelly took extra jobs to make up the slack. She helped a novelist with computer problems and took care of people’s pets. When she came down with Lyme’s Disease, she had to soldier through it. When she fell on the campus steps and hurt her knee, she limped through it. She had to work.

Last week they fired Shelly. It had nothing to do with her performance; they were “eliminating her position.” That was odd since she was one of two people responsible for a great number of services in the department, and the other woman is quitting before the Fall term. Who will pick up their work, they didn’t say.

So right now these two are out of work. They’ll lose their health insurance when they need it the most and they’re wading through a historically bad job market. That’s where we come in.

Today I’m putting a banner at the top of this site. It links to a Pledgie drive to help Jemma and Shelly. I encourage everyone to visit the page. Spread the banner wherever you like. If you can spare a few dollars, please consider contributing. Your donations will go to keeping the lights on and getting them to the doctor in a very rough period. They are not going to coast on your generosity; I know them, and as soon as they can do anything, they will. But we can help them in the mean time.

You can leave comments for them on this post. You can also reach the Pledgie page by click here.

Thank you.


  1. I love this post.
    It is my favourite of yours. And now, on to the pledgie page. I hope their luck changes, John.

  2. So sweet of you to do this for them. How awful about her illness. It's friends like you and others that help through the hard times.

    I'll check out the pledge site.

  3. Thank you for both for your interest and the kind words. The response so far has been touching - Shelly almost broke down in tears when I told her how much we'd raised today.

  4. I am late getting to this, but wonderful! I will head to the link now.

    Does she perhaps have fibromyalgia? I have that and the pain is sometimes excruciating and causeless. I would be glad to share with her if she is interested. You can find my email on my blog...


  5. Michelle, firstly, thank you for the kind sentiments. I appreciate it, and I'm certain Jemma will as well. I will forward her to your blog.

    However, I am pretty sure she has already been tested for fibro (insofar as you can really be tested for it). I thought of fibro, too, because some doctors thought my syndrome might be a collective of malfunctions including fibromyalgia. I'm so sorry that you have to suffer through it.


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