A Remembrance of Someone I’ll Never Forget: Jackie Demaline

July 1st, 2018  |  Published in June 2018

When I moved into a condo on the river in Covington in 2007, I heard that my neighbor across the hall was the drama critic for the Enquirer.I say heard, since I never saw her. She was up and out before I could walk the dog, and back late—after some performance. So Jackie Demaline was a phantom to me.

Eventually we did manage at least passing interactions. In 2012, she asked if I would be interested in reviewing the visual arts for the Enquirer,a column a week. It was fun to write for an audience that couldn’t have been any more different from the aeqai readership.

But my weekly column became bi-weekly. The arts editor, Julie Engebrecht left, and Jackie became my editor—just another thing on her plate since in addition to reviewing a massive number of performances, she also wrote more news-y pieces. Eventually the Enquirerdecided that the arts were dispensable, and in 2013, so was Jackie.

Now there was finally time to really become friends. She took me on her quest for good ethnic food—the Buddha Barn in Sayler Park; a Middle Eastern joint, the Blissful Café, in what was once Indian in Hyde Park; and an amazing Chinese place, Kung Food, just up the street from us in Covington.

We were both MSNBC addicts, calling each other when Trump trumped his egregious behavior, when Kelley Ann Conway told a particularly outrageous lie, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the zero tolerance at the border.

We were both fans of the Notorious RBG—Ruth Bader Ginsberg—and Jackie had the t-shirt to prove it.

And then in 2014, she knocked on my door and bluntly announced, “I have cancer.” My reaction was an incredulous “No.” It was inconceivable to me that she could really be ill. But she was.

Treatment started with a hysterectomy, then rounds of ineffective chemo, radiation, and experimental drugs.

Despite her illness, Jackie never slowed down, lunch and dinner with friends nearly everyday, attending performances, still chronicling the drama scene that she helped nurture. But Jackie was never a cheerleader and wielded a particularly sharp pen.

But then her fatigue, always there, finally forced her to slow down. We were supposed to join friends for brunch on a Sunday at 11 am. She apologized for the early hour, knowing I wasn’t anything close to an early riser, and I had this dog—Chica, a quite elegant black-and-white Chihuahua, who was once compared to Audrey Hepburn, who required a 30-minute morning walk. I had to set an alarm to manage it. But when I was out, Jackie called to cancel because she felt “ka-ka,” and apologizing for making me get up “early.”

That week she could barely get out of bed. People were always asking if they could do anything. Some brought her groceries; her requests were sometimes odd: Turkey and Braunschweiger, mashed potatoes, and one more chicken-and-broccoli with oyster sauce from Kung Food.

Some people did major food shopping. My contribution was to call from the grocery to see if she needed anything. Diet Vernors Ginger Ale, a specific steam-able frozen veggie, and, invariably, bananas. Other friends delivered all manner of food, naturally, including homemade chicken soup.

The final crisis came on Wednesday afternoon, June 13th, when Jackie suffered a small stroke. Her hospice nurse came amazingly quickly, asking if she wanted to go into hospice. With her slurred speech, she said yes. The ambulance arrived, and I mapquested St. Elizabeth’s Emergency Room in Edgewood. When she was transferred to the inpatient hospice unit, and I was given the driving instructions with what seemed to be more turns than I could cope with, the ambulance driver said, “Follow me.”

When she got settled into her room, the TV was on. And what did Jackie want to watch? MSNBC, but Direct TV only offered CNN and Fox.

At 3:15 a.m. (I think, but it’s a blur), the phone rang. It was St. E’s saying she had declined overnight and was nonresponsive. But people still visited and talked to her.

On Saturday night, hospice called to say, essentially, the clichéd, “The end is near.” I had spent time with Jackie earlier that day. Was there any reason to go out to say another good-bye? The nurse said she could put the phone to Jackie’s ear if I wanted. Other people did that, even calling from London and singing to her, but I just felt I had to go one more time. So at ten o’clock, with another of Jackie’s close friends, we drove the 20-or-so minutes to St. E’s to spend just a bit more time. A decision I will never regret.

My phone rang about 5:30 am on Sunday morning, June 19th, and the nurse said, Jackie had been “pronounced” at 5:10.

That was Sunday. I did my usual Sunday routine, checking out the Bellevue Goodwill, the source of many hats for Jackie, which I bought even knowing the last thing the girl needed was another hat. A stop at Kroger with no need to call to see if she needed bananas. And watching the Sunday morning shows when Steve Bannon asserted Trump “never, ever lied.” One of us would have been on the phone, saying, “Did you hear that?” And then the realization that that was never ever going to happen again.

A devoted Dem, I knew she would hate missing the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, the midterms, and the retirement of Supreme Justice Anthony Kennedy. But in my, perhaps odd, notion of heaven, I consoled myself that she would know what was happening, and might even discuss it with Tim Russert.

Jackie didn’t want a funeral or a formal memorial service. She, naturally, wanted an After Party. What else would a drama critic want?

Memorial donations may be made to The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, designated for the Jackie Demaline Fund, 200 West Fourth St., Cincinnati, OHO 45202, https://gcfdn.org. This will support the Jackie Demaline Regional Collegiate Playwriting Competition or PLAY/write!

–Karen S. Chambers

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