I am writing this to you–knowing you can’t read it, knowing I can’t reach you by phone or e-mail (not that you ever used email!). I am writing this because I am thinking of you now—and have been thinking of you through weeks of rewriting this letter– trying to say the right words about our long years of friendship, knowing I will never see you again in bodily form.
I miss you. I missed you the moment I knew you were gone. I felt a sweet pang, with sharp tears. Just like that. Then I thought: you don’t have to struggle to breathe any more. You don’t have to cover your ass. Nothing. It’s all free for you, and I felt so happy.
When we last talked, ten days before you died, you said that you wanted to be remembered as having “passed away,” not “passed, for God’s sake!” People who said “passed” instead of “passed away’” were offensive to you. And remember, you said: “ I don’t want that song, ‘Amazing Grace’ either. Feh!”
Remember? We laughed! “Feh” and “oy”, “whatever ”, “yeah, right” and “ugchh.”(spoken with a long, dry, guttural throat chhh sound.) Our communication is sounds and gestures– exchanging looks and rolling the eyes–multi-dimensional.
And you aren’t Jewish. Okay, okay, you did convert. That gives you some kvetching rights.
We met in our twenties during the sixties. There’s a whole story in that one sentence. You knew me, my essence, and my neuroses before I was fully grown-up. You are a placeholder of my history.
We were hippies. We lived together in a funky commune–kids, cats, and six ”grown-ups”. You were a different kind of hippie; you had a straight job. You were older by five years. You had two kids.
We loved the psychodrama encounter groups held at the Forest Street commune down the street: Monday, Thursday, Friday nights and marathon weekends, led by Vic Lovell, the edgy psychologist. Psychodrama was all about exploring emotions, repressions, aggressions, depressions. We “worked” on our issues by acting them out in the fishbowl. This was the most amazing thing I had ever experienced! I was from New York. You didn’t talk about feelings. You said, “Get outta here.”
You and I were a part of the Psychodrama Workshop, where we learned how to “act.” We “actors” would step into the circle and play the role of parents, girlfriends, bosses, whoever the protagonist had a “situation” with. But really, what the hell were we doing? Experimental psychology? Guerilla theatre? Did any of us, including Vic, our fearless leader, have a clue?
I remember our meetings, sitting around the circle, smoking cigarettes, discussing someone’s ego, or id, or asshole. In that day the heaviest trip that you would lay on someone was: “You’re copping out, man!” And you and I, we were the “in” crowd–“the actors.” Of course, we never copped out!
I left the psychodrama practice before you did. The work didn’t fit me anymore, but it was hard to leave this group. You were my chosen tribe–my first homies away from home.
By that time, you married Ed and no longer lived in the commune. You had two more kids, boys– and our lives went in separate directions. While you were raising your boys and girls and I was going through something else. I went to college and other things.
Nonetheless we connected.
I remember a time you were smoking a cigarette in your VW, stopped at a light on the corner of University and Ramona. I was on the street corner with my boyfriend Bob. I saw you, impulsively jumped in your car, and we drove away. That’s the way it was with us. Big spaces of time with no connection, but our relationship was gold.
Do remember when you organized that psychodrama reunion? You got me, Fred, Nick, Richard, and others to come for a salute of our past and to the continuance of Vic’s work. We all went out afterwards. You were still connected to Vic and the practice. I couldn’t understand it.
We lived near each other in the late eighties. I would see you in the morning at the liquor store on the corner, buying cigarettes. You had just gotten off your night shift working at the hospital. We said ‘hi,’ but there was very little connection in our lives.
Then, something changed.
Grace died. Grace, the red-headed loud-mouth, with her eagle-eyed squint, the mater suprema of the psychodrama tribe, died. We reconnected on the boat in Monterey dispersing Grace’s ashes. Remember? You said “It’s no accident that we were meeting again. We need to reconnect this friendship.”
I don’t know if you knew, but I was hesitant to get involved again. I was so busy. I had a business, a husband, and a young child. I was drumming–taking classes all over the Bay Area, studying Hebrew at Stanford. I had a band, was writing a newsletter, and had a cable TV show. I had huge amounts of energy and excitement and involvement in all of my life, and didn’t know if I wanted to invest in someone else. But you lived right down the block. It was good to have a girlfriend to hang with, especially one that knew me.
I began to drop in and visit you. If your car was parked in front of the house I’d blast by for coffee and a cigarette in the back yard. We began sharing our current lives. Your husband, Larry, and my husband, Glenn, your kids from different marriages, and my son. Tantra classes with our spouses. My mother, who you adored.
Later, I fell in love with Terrance, and solving that problem–(Terrance wasn’t my husband yet, and Glenn still was) strengthened our bond. I lived in two worlds: in one I was ecstatically in love; in the other I was abjectly miserable, guilty, ashamed. But I was not willing to stop seeing my lover. You knew about this struggle. You read it in me. You shared it with me. And you covered for me. You had nothing against Glenn. You just wanted to see me happy.
Remember when you got bossy? In fairness, I welcomed it–originally. I needed your advice. You were my big sister, my mother. Over time I depended on you too much. But I was dishonest with you. I didn’t tell you,”Stop being like my mother!” Instead, I crept away from our relationship. I put on my cloak of invisibility. Looked like someone was there, but it wasn’t me.
When you decided to get a facelift I wasn’t honest enough to tell you that I didn’t want you to change your precious face. I thought your desire was vain and silly and unjustifiably expensive. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for your skin to heal after years of smoking. I didn’t tell you that. I acted it out. I didn’t show up post surgery. And that broke an unwritten law in your world. You fired me as your friend.
I didn’t want to be excommunicated. I called you and wrote letters. I begged for forgiveness and you resisted. You were so stubborn that you were admirable–in a stupid way. For six or seven years you wouldn’t communicate with me. I called your kids and asked about you, hoping that would encourage you to call. You didn’t.
Then, your heart attack. Your daughter, Wendy, called. I hate hospitals but I came immediately. You, intubated and unconscious. I came and went with the family, and I was there when you came out of your coma more than a week later. Do remember that?
In the beginning, you couldn’t speak. When you did, you told me to fuck myself. Then you thanked me for being there for your kids.
We had a good laugh.
Thank god, you stopped smoking.
As your heart healed, we’d talk on the phone or see one another again. Our friendship was in the eternal now.
Last year I noticed that you’d been wearing a wig. I asked Wendy about it. Wendy said, “Ask Mom.” I asked. You wouldn’t tell me. But, of course, I knew the answer. Wendy confirmed that you had been diagnosed with cancer– two kinds; brain and lung. I tried to talk with you about it, remember? I said, “I think I know what the wig is about ,” and you said, “Well, don’t tell me.” End of subject. The elephant was standing in the middle of the living room with wig on its head and we couldn’t talk about it.
Finally, in our last conversation, over the phone, you opened up: you felt shame that people would judge your cancer because of all those years of smoking. Do you remember what I told you? I said, “We do what we do to survive, even if we are killing ourselves by doing it.”
By the end I could hear you panting for breath. You didn’t let it stop you. You kept talking until everything was ironed out between us; everything was complete. You said that you wished you could see my face one more time and I would love to have granted that wish, but I was in Sequim, and you were in the Bay Area, and before I could make the time, you were gone.
So I miss you, my very dear friend.
I selfishly miss you as someone who knows me so well– who holds history with me–knew my mother, my son, my brothers, my teachers, my marriages, as well as our story. I am grateful for your kids and for all the gifts that you gave me– the support, the conditional and unconditional love. I want to ask you if I could have done or given anything more to make a difference in your life.
Sadly, the choice is taken from me once again. I can’t see you or call you. All I can do is write.