Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cautionary Tails

Every day I look for her obituary. But now I fully expect there will be none.  It has been a month and one half since her death yet I can’t forget it.

She was my academic rival in grammar school. We had first met when she moved into my neighborhood, actually across the street.  We were kindergarten friends with her even attending my fifth birthday party held in the back room of my parents apartment. We started first grade together, sharing Sr. Barbara’s kind words to encourage reading and third grade listening to  Mrs. Gizzi’s war stories of her various surgeries.  She even showed me her glass eye in the palm of her hand. ( She had a retinoblastoma as an infant) Either she or I were the last ones standing after Sr. Gabriel’s “Math Games” where girls were called to stand in the front of the class by a frail old nun with a wicked laugh. “How do you spell “ISOSCELES” L?  “What is a PARALLELOGRAM” J?  “ The formula for the area of a RHOMBUS”? The questions only stopped with the last man standing.

While I enjoyed it, I never quite sensed the terror in my fellow students eyes. 

L went onto the corresponding high school of my grammar school.  She had won the coveted scholarship by scoring 0.2 higher on the qualifying exam.  I in turn went to another slightly more traditional high school just four blocks away. We had nonetheless kept in touch through mutual friends and going to school dances at local boys high schools.

She stayed local after high school whereas I left to find the midwest and the world.

She stayed even more local following the tradition of young adults in my city, living in NJ while working in NY, not unlike previous generations. 

She experienced privilege.  Her parents won a Million dollar lottery in NJ.  Yet like most lottery winners, their fate was far from luck.  Her father died soon thereafter and she and her mother fought viciously over the money, eventually suing each other. 

I remember going to a mutual friend’s wedding and seeing L for the first time in years.  Her face was hardened, steely and her attitude cold. She was stick thin. She was a bridesmaid and her walk up the aisle a swagger and her glaze daggers. She didn’t even glance at her mother seated alone in the back row, but if she had, her stare would have cut deeply.

Year went by.  Marriages, children, houses, etc.  L and I went our ways.  I was still living in Chicago when I heard of her diagnosis. Hearing someone had AIDS in 1992 was not a good thing.  It didn’t hold the promise of a chronic manageable disease it does now. Some hot shot stock trading boyfriend she had. A Bright Lights, Big City story that was a typical as moussed big hair in the late 1980’s. I remember mourning in a way. I would send her Christmas cards from that point on.  I guess I was trying to say that I was out there still thinking of her.  They were never reciprocated.

I would hear about her from time to time.  Her mother had passed away.  She bought a 5 bedroom house in a tony suburb.  Friends had helped her with that house, but she never helped them. There is only so much giving and not receiving a friendship can take.

I contacted her in earnest in 2010 for a mini Grammar school reunion.  I went to see her.  Words could not describe her condition.  Her house was in shambles, her dog, a large bull dog was as obese as she was thin.  My heart sank in disbelief. 

I tried to be encouraging.  I tried to help her understand that there were programs out there for her and her medical needs.  That she should reconnect with others, especially at the reunion.  People understand.  People generally like to help. Hope is allowed.

I left her with the blunt words “Please L, you need to come.”

She never showed.  I got the drunkest I have been in a while, a combination of not eating and enjoying reconnecting with people I hadn’t seen in 35 years. 

I called her the following week. “You missed a good show, L, I was plastered and even threw up the next morning. AM was mortified.”  She laughed but never fully explained why she didn’t show.

I saw her once more in 2012.  I was stuck on the NJ turnpike, near the exit for her suburb.  I was alone and for many reasons didn't want to rush home.  “Hey L I am in the area, mind if I stop in?”  I arrived at the house that was even in more disarray that the previous year.  “L you need help.”  When I am nervous I am even more blunt than usual: “You need to get out of here.”  She explained that she was unemployed now, not getting her meds and had trouble with her remaining vision.  Her words were punctuated by her now obsession with her dog who had grown even more obese.

She was concerned about her house. I tried to console, help and encourage as best I can, yet it doesn’t always come out that way: my parting words:  “Fuck this house, burn it down, for chrissakes, it’s just a house.”

I never saw her again.  Phone calls were never returned. Christmas cards were sent but never reciprocated.  Facebook birthday wishes were only answered with  thumbs up message.  She only posted about lost dogs on Facebook. They were cautionary tails. They were not the only ones who were lost.

She died alone.  She was found after four days.  Her dog was with her. I last heard her veterinarian had taken him in.

She had the world at her feet.  She was bright. She had loving parents.  She had good friends. She was educated. She had money.  But it was never enough.  In the end she reaped nothing because she sowed nothing.

Holidays are supposed to be festive, colorful and a family time.  I can not help but to think of L today now that Christmas is over.

Every year for the past 20+ or so I send a mutual friend of L’s and I a Christmas ornament.  I am not even sure how it started.  I try to be relevant.  The year she took her family for a European tour, I sent an glass ornament of multiple suitcases. It’s a silly tradition but it became more necessary this year.  Her friendship is one I never want to forget.  I send the crappy ornaments to connect, to remember and to be remembered.I have also known her since kindergarten.

My friend understands. 

L never did.

May she finally rest in peace.