Rosalie was born about two weeks before me in 1955. We’re both partially of Irish descent. We grew up at the same time in different parts of the same country in two very different worlds.
I first met Rosalie in 1985 when she was an inmate in the Women’s Detention Facility at the Philadelphia House of Corrections. We were both just exiting out twenties. She was a wild thing with a head of thick, curly, frizzy, red hair. I had a lot more brown than white in my beard and hair, wore no moustache and had aviator wireframe glasses. (They were the closest thing I could find to round at the time.)
Rosie told me her sad story of abuse and love. This was the first time I had heard this sort of tale, which by now has became all too familiar, of a woman who is physically abused by her mate, yet loves him still, to the point of endangering their children. Rosie was vivacious, persuasive, irrepressibly happy and a tease.
I saw her on and off through my four years as a chaplain in the Philadelphia prisons. She was one of our first students in the tutoring program I started in the WDF. She always was telling the tutors and the guards what a great guy I was, followed by some kind of left-handed compliment.
It was sometime in 1990, about the time we were turning 35, while I was serving sandwiches, iced tea and goodies at the wall of the “Love Park”, I heard this woman holler: “Hey Rev! How ya been?” Rosie ran up to me and gave me a big hug.
Since then, we have seen Rosie from time to time. Sometimes she was a regular customer. Other times, she would just stop by to say hello and catch up on the news.
We met her brother, Pete. Rosie had a couple of different boyfriends that she introduced to us. Then she got serious about Jerome several years ago. Pete befriended an older man whom he would look out for and help out. We only ever knew him as Pops. Pops got housing assistance. So Pete and Rosie and Jerome moved in with him. It was a way of surviving off the street by pooling their resources. Some nights we would take them all home after we were done serving.
Rosalie and Jerome got married several years ago by Judge Valentine on Valentine’s Day at City Hall. They all got evicted from the house. Rosie and Jerome ended up getting violent with each other. Jerome was arrested. There was a restraining order. Jerome says it was a horse apiece, that Rosie gave as good as she got, and I can believe it. She was feisty. They divorced.
For a time Rosie lived in New Jersey with relatives, but she still came over about once a month to see us and let us know she was all right. Her relatives moved and she was back on the street.
In 2005, about the time we were turning 50, Rosalie was diagnosed with leukemia. She went through one round of chemo. It seemed she was doing better, then not so much. She went through another round in the Spring of 2006. This is while living on the street. Her brother and Pops and a few other guys were looking out for her and trying to provide protection and moral support. Finally some health worker was able to figure out a way for her to get a room in a group home, as she was about to start her third round of chemo.
Pops passed away last year. Pete got a good job and a place of his own. Jerome spent most of the last year in jail. He just got out. Rosalie passed away sometime around our 53rd birthdays.
Rosie was a joy to know. She always gave thanks to God for even the smallest acts of kindness. I consider it a privilege and blessing to have been counted among her friends. May her memory be eternal.