To the Editor:
In memoriam Cheryl Stark — sorry for the delay, but it is never too late to share how amazing and wonderful a person she was, and will remain an Island icon and personal friend to our family.
It was 34 some-odd years ago, mid-July on the Island. The summer was just beginning to get into full swing for many. I just arrived for about a week to spend my summer at home with my dad — something I treasured more than anything in the world. It started off rough; I was sick with the flu, and threw up in the car in the standby line. That was about enough of a trigger for my father to tell me he would be right back with something to make me feel better. I watched him walk into the bar on the corner. It seemed like an eternity until he returned, drunk, with some paper towels from the men’s room. We made it on the ferry and into our summer dive rental.
My dad was in the throes of his disease of alcoholism, and I was just a kid who wanted to spend my summer with him and my Island friends. The next few days were nothing but hell. It was scary, not because my dad was a mean drunk or abusive to me in any way. But my dad was out of control, he could not stop drinking, and we were in the throes of his bottom. A few people stopped by and tried to help. One dear flamboyant, kind old man came over and unhooked the battery of the car so my dad couldn’t drive, and he proceeded to throw out all the liquor he could find. Including the booze he found under the hood of the car he just rigged not to start. Later that night, my dad woke me up to tell me he was going to the hospital for help. He came home that morning and told me he couldn’t get in, due to too many moped accidents.
Earlier that evening, still recovering from being sick, I remember throwing the “Big Book” at my dad and demanding he read it or he would never see my sister again. She was six years younger than me, and I had to protect her from this. Because I could handle it. He cried, and told me I was being too hard on him. Man, that pissed me off. I remember.
The next morning my father was sick — alcoholic sick, scary sick. He told me I needed to be strong and listen closely to what he had to say. I will never forget that morning. I felt I had the world on my shoulders; it was as if the rest of the world just slowed to a literal halt and I was the only person on the planet. My father gave me specific instructions of two places to go. It was early, before many of these places would be open for business. His instructions were to keep knocking, bang on the door till someone answers, or wait till they arrive. He told me to go down Main Street in Vineyard Haven and knock on the jeweler CB Stark — “the sign is on the front of the building; if she doesn’t answer, keep knocking, she’ll hear you.” I said OK, jumped on a bike, and rode like hell to meet a total stranger who “would know exactly what to do.”
Cheryl Stark opened the doors of her jewelry store for me that morning. She looked at me and asked me if I was OK. It took all of my strength and all the courage I could squeak out of my broken voice to say, “My dad needs help, he told me to find you, and you would know what to do.” She said in the kindest and most nurturing voice, “OK, first, are you hungry?” I remember thinking No, I am fine, and with panic in my voice I begged her, “Please, I need you to help my dad, he said you could help me.”
And that morning, more than three decades ago, I met my guardian angel. Cheryl Stark knew exactly what to do. Cheryl Stark saved my dad that day. The rest was an emotional drain — relief, hunger, sadness, fear — but in the cloud of angst and confusion she stood by my side. She told me that day how brave I was. I did not feel brave, I felt lost, and then suddenly found. Cheryl had my dad off to detox in a flash, and soon my family was there to take me off-Island while my father started the first day of the rest of his sober life, one day at a time.
Cheryl Stark is part of my story. As the years went on, no matter how much time had passed, she would come out from the back of her store anytime I sauntered in. The most wonderful warm strong bear hug. Then she would give me that look square in my eyes and ask me how I was. And how is your father? I don’t see him in the halls very much anymore; everything OK? Cheryl told me that she shared that story often, and never ever forgot that day.
I cried today when I read that Cheryl died. I was shocked and saddened to my core. It’s always sad to hear someone passed before what I feel is their time. Later tonight after dinner and sharing again the story of Cheryl and me with my husband, tears streaming down my face, I sat and read the article in the paper about her life. I laughed a little after my husband asked the same obvious question that my dad asked me earlier today. How did she pass, was she sick? And as if her voice were clear as day in my head, I heard her say, “If I die I don’t need anyone writing about how I died; I died, that’s done. You write that I lived — my story.” Yes, she lived! Cheryl acted that day selflessly for the love of one human being for another. Cheryl was human, she was approachable but tough. She was fearless when it came to sharing her opinions and thoughts, and completely and wholly generous with her support and love. That’s putting it mildly.
How could I not be saddened that my guardian angel here on earth passed away?
Thank you, Cheryl Stark, for your unconditional love, your strength and support, your kindness, and your life story. You saved my little family that day. I will forever be grateful to know that you are a part of my story. Peace, Cheryl.