Monica Bagby was my beautiful student in a Los Angeles while I was her teacher for a brief time. Despite our ten-year age difference, I found we had much in common, and I believe we sort of adopted each other. I am a professional sculptor, supporting myself with teaching. I found in Monica an artist, a poet, and a creative thinker.
Monica was a gentle giant. Always very aware of her height, weight and blackness, she had no way to fade into a crowd. Her posture was supreme. Though her size led people to believe she was older than she was, her eyes betrayed a sensitive soul with a soft voice and non-intrusive stature with elegance and gentility. She was a living oxymoron.
But Monica went out of my life, when her mother abandoned her to Jim Jones and his satanic ways. Months later, in a clandestine collect call at 3 a.m. from an unknown man in South America, a voice whispered to me that Monica had been shot. The phone call abruptly ended in silence. Panicked, I lay in the dark, trying to comprehend what I had just heard, when the phone rang again. The unknown man – identifying himself only as her physician – was calling once again, still whispering. Then, with a quick comment that he was in danger, he hung up again.
Monica was in danger. I called the FBI and asked what was going on down there. They told me what they thought was happening, but all I really heard was that Monica had been severely wounded at the Port Kaituma airstrip during the shooting that killed Congressman Ryan. I asked for an agent to be placed at her hospital door. They did.
After undergoing several operations, Monica returned to the US, with no idea of what to expect. When I picked her up at LAX, neither did I. She was thinner but appeared in quiet good spirits. Appearances are deceiving. She was not well, of course. Who would have been? She, of course, had extreme Post Traumatic Syndrome – did we even know what it was called at the time? – and stayed with me for a few weeks. I regret that I did not do her justice in finding the help she desperately needed and deserved. I was very naive about what she had endured and about the lasting effects of Post Traumatic Syndrome.
I remember one remarkable conversation we had about her escape from the Port Kaituma airstrip. After being shot, she managed to crawl across the tarmac and hide under a palm bush deep into the fronds, while unknown people beat the bushes all around looking for survivors. Believing them to be the Jonestown assassins, she remained quiet. Bleeding to death from the bullet wounds in her back and chest, she saw a drop of water with rays of light shining through in a prism-like explosion of color. She told me she thought to herself, “I must stay alive to share this beauty with Elizabeth.”
Finally realizing that she would die if she lay unattended in the bush, she called out to those she heard all around her, hoping that these were good people. It took all of the breath left in her punctured lungs. As they carried her to a vehicle, then on to a hospital, the only phone number she could remember was mine.
We spent Christmas together with a friend’s family in Orange County. In a photo taken that evening, Monica is smiling, gloriously alive, shining beautifully in her stunning Christmas outfit. She was given funds for starting back to school, but she never used them. I regret that as well. Her poetry was advanced, and with some counseling and encouragement – since she already had the talent – she have become a voice for her age.
I found her on Google about six years or so ago, and emailed her, but never received an answer. I believe perhaps she died around that time. I wanted her to come live with me, but she never got to. I will have eternal regrets for not being there for a unique human being that could not be turned into a robotron of hate, propaganda and control. She was far too quietly independent with a beautiful mind and heart. I loved her dearly.
I will miss my Beautiful Poet, Monica, until I am no more.