My friend Christine Zounek died last week. I drew Christine for my Trash the Block essay for PRINT magazine, where I included a bit about the Soup Kitchen where we both volunteered. (Christine was there at the Soup Kitchen’s inception about 6 years ago and was Head Chef.) She loved this picture I’d drawn of her, especially the patch of light on her butt, which I had done for no significant reason but she thought looked like she’d wiped flour on her pants. Our friend Emily Gould wrote the following tribute to Christine which encapsulates who she was: a larger-than-life personality and one of the truly good people in this world.
After my friend Christine’s dad died, she gave everyone who worked with her at the soup kitchen a plastic bag filled with birdseed. The bags had a little tag on them with a picture of cardinals and a note about how her dad loved feeding birds, so we should feed them in his memory. I had never met her dad and I only knew Christine from the hours we spent together every Wednesday afternoon cooking alongside a lot of other volunteers, but it was also impossible to be anywhere near her and not know her. She let everyone in to her world, which was fascinating, larger than life. She had been so many places and known so many interesting people. All the New York things I’d read novels about, Christine had experienced, and she also knew the people who wrote those novels. Now she worked as an art restorer and spent a lot of time cooking and dishing out food in a soup kitchen in Greenpoint.
I didn’t have a backyard or birdfeeder, so I just put the seed out on my windowsill. Birds came and ate it, which seemed slightly miraculous. How did they know to come? After the bag ran out, I bought more. More than a year later, I still put some out every morning. Mostly mourning doves come, but occasionally also juncos and finches.
Christine took her own life last Friday and no one seems to know why. It seems impossible. She was so much more alive than most people.
This morning I heard the unmistakable metallic chirp of a cardinal and went to watch him eat the seed. He sang as he ate, loud and full of life, with his majestic crest flaring in the early sunlight. Christine, I thought.
I know the idea that someone who has died comes and visits you in some reassuring form is silly, childish wishful thinking. I believe that at the same time that I believe that Christine’s spirit is in the world still, in birds and cats and people, in everything that sings loudly and proudly and is absolutely always purely itself.