Grab a hankie.
15 years ago, my little sister contracted a deadly disease by the scientific name of necrotizing fasciitis. It’s a fancy term for a streptococcal bacteria gone mad, and in layman’s terms it is called “flesh-eating bacteria”. Everyone has the streptococcal bacteria in their body. Occasionally, that bacteria attacks us when the white blood cells are down; usually that becomes no more than strep throat, or at most, Scarlet Fever. Once in a great while, however, it morphs into a bacteria that creeps through the blood and muscle system, systematically attacking the organs until they shut down and the person with the disease dies of Toxic Shock Syndrome.
That’s the simplified version. If you want a better explanation, I recommend you go to NNFF website and read more.
Sam, as we affectionately nicknamed her, had five living children. One was adopted out in a closed adoption, and I have no record of him other than his birth date and sex. The second was in his twenties when his mother died. The rest were under the age of ten. Each child had a different father and a different custody arrangement.
I tell you all of this to set the foundation for the story of Jessi. She was the youngest. Her father was still living, but had indicated to my sister that he wanted no part in her pregnancy or the child born. My sister had the child, named her, and a year or so later, married a man to whom she was still married when she died.
My father indicated that we would have no legal leg to stand on if we tried to take Jessi from my sister’s legal widower, at least without permission from her living father – and no one seemed to know how to reach him.
This is what I was told. I was grieving. I accepted what I was told. I took the necessary steps I needed to take to take on my sister’s only legal orphan. The little boy went to live with his father, who was named on his birth certificate and who stepped in immediately following the funeral to claim his parental rights. We left Jessi with the only family she knew: her step-father. He quickly remarried and his new wife became Jessi’s surrogate mother.
Flash forward a few years: Jessi is living on her own, putting herself through high school. She lives with her older brother’s wife. She remains close to her surrogate mother. She is searching for identity – a struggle that all of us go through during high school, but which, for her, must be amplified by the loss of her mother, and then the loss of her grandfather, and the distance from which her siblings live from her.
Jessi’s older sister talks to her. Sometimes Jessi & I have conversations on Facebook. It’s not the same as having actual family to live with. It’s the best I can offer without legal guardianship, and since Jessi will be 18 soon enough – that hardly seems the point. She still has a legal father out there who has to first relinquish his rights as a father.
Now – flash forward from the drama. Jessi and I had a short chat on the 2nd of March, which was the 15 year anniversary of my father’s frantic call to me about my sister’s declining health. Sam actually died in the wee hours of March 3, 2000.
Jessi and I were both feeling the weight of the anniversary. She reached out in a surprising way – she asked if I would paint a portrait of her. My choice of photo. She trusted me.
NOW – I have made a personal rule to do no such freebies anymore. So don’t ask. I reserve the right to do freebies when and for whom I choose. Jessi is family. She’s never actually asked me for a favor before.
So – I “stole” a bunch of photos from people on Facebook who are friends of Jessi, and a lot of them from Jessi. I have very few of “little” Jessi, but I really wanted the more-adult Jessica. I narrowed it down to 11 photos. What I noted among the photos is this: Jessi has a killer James Dean grin.
God. I really would like to do that. One side of the face! How does she do that?
She also has gone through a lot of hair styles.
I flipped this photo as it was taken in a mirror. Her nose piercing is on the left, not the right, as in the original photo.
Those three photos also made the grade, but they didn’t quite capture that James Dean grin and the wonderful, funky, hair-dos.
I settled on a compromise and combined a couple of photos for the final illustration:
I will eventually transfer this initial sketch to a final portrait, but I am reasonably happy with the collage. She has such a lovely jaw line, adorable crooked grin. and eyes just like her older sister, Chrystal. She has a strong face.