Talking with my friend, Cecilia - Shannon Jenkins

When my good friend Cecilia and I call each other our greetings are usually reminiscent of the ending of the movie "The Color Purple."

"Shannon!" she'll squeal in her often cheerful voice.

"Celie!" I'll reply in an equally enthusiastic tone.

If we had a field of purple flowers to run through, we'd probably do it.

But lately, our sporadic and brief calls are emotional, heart-breaking and numb.

This first such conversation occurred shortly after 9 p.m. on the Thursday following Hurricane Katrina. I had been desperately trying to reach my dear friend on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for about five days.

"Shannon," her defeated voice cracked.

"Oh my god, Celie," I breathed.

I had tracked down Cecilia's sister in California earlier that day or the day before. My pal had been on cruise and wasn't home when Katrina hit.

Although I already knew Cecilia was alive, just hearing her voice sent shock waves through my body, and tears clouded my eyes.

I listened as she cried from somewhere in Houston, Texas, where the cruise ship had dropped her and the other passengers off.

She knew in her heart her home was destroyed. We cried together and promised to check in with one another as often as possible.

A few days later, we spoke again. Cecilia was on her way home to see if she could salvage any of her possessions. I asked if she had plenty of water and gas. She said she did. I told her to be careful and to leave the area before dark. She promised she would.

I tried calling her the next day and the day after, but cellular service along the Gulf Coast area has not been reliable during the last two weeks.

Finally a call went through. Cecilia was staying with her brother in Louisiana. I didn't ask if her home was intact. I had spoken with her brother-in-law in California earlier, and I knew her home had flooded, the roof had collapsed and she lost everything, including family antiques and her deceased husband's ashes.

During that last conversation, I told my friend that I loved her and that she was in my prayers.

She thanked me for caring so much and said she can't wait to see me.

In time I know our greetings and conversations will once again become cheerful, and we'll be running in a virtual field of purple flowers.

Shannon Jenkins is the education reporter for The Daily Herald. He can be reached at sjenkins@henryherald.com or (770) 957-9161.