If you don’t believe me, make a note of this date; put it in your iCal, or scribble it on a Post-It and stick it inside a book you like to re-read every few years. On the day I die -- if you haven’t beaten me to it -- you’ll remember this blog post, and you’ll find the note, and you’ll marvel at my accuracy.
It doesn’t matter if I leave this body in 7 months or 47 years: my life is almost over. I know this because, even if the genes of my now-89-year-old mother and my late grandmothers (paternal, 86 -- maternal, 100) allow me to be a centenarian, I will look back and wonder where it went.
The last time I saw Gale, she said this to me. 7 years older than I, she’d been whipping ovarian cancer’s ass for several years. We hadn’t seen each other since she and her husband came out to LA in the early 90’s, when they met me and my husband for dinner and drinks and lots of laughs at the Beverly Hills Hotel. After all the tsuris (Gale taught me much of the Yiddish I know) she and I had been through ‘til that point, we were happy for each other. Then, Facebook put us back in touch, and it was as if we’d spoken last week.
In the sweltering summer of 2010, I was in New York on business, and she invited me to lunch -- she chose Fred’s at Barneys on Madison Avenue. She looked her usual beautiful, stylish self, almost as she’d looked when she was 26 and I was 19. Her makeup and manicure were always perfect, clothing always tasteful and expensive, hair always -- well, this wasn’t her hair, but it was a damn good facsimile.
She wanted to know about my life as an independent writer/producer and divorcee, how I was maneuvering the blind curves, the detours, the potholes. She was proud of my years of sobriety. She said I’d never looked better. We talked about her parents, both of whom had passed not many years before. She asked about my mother, the survivor of two types of cancer and open heart surgery and an amputation. She was so glad my brilliant one-legged mom was still kicking.
She didn’t want to talk about her cancer. She talked with love and gratitude and pride about her husband and her daughters. We compared notes on our dogs -- her Cosmo and my Lulu. We reminisced as much as time would allow about our work (and play) at Elektra/Asylum and RCA. Old boyfriends, and drunken parties, and swinging Manhattan by the tail, and future dreams.
We walked east on 57th Street at an unusually slow stroll (it was 100 degrees, and she’d had chemo the day before), laughing at every little thing we could remember about the girls we used to be, the women we’d become, and the tricky balance between the two. We both noticed she’d parked her car in a garage directly across the street from the building in which she’d lived when we first met. We squeezed out a few more memories, followed by good hugs and promises to see each other again before too long. “Write!” she shouted over her shoulder.
At the end of January 2012, I sent her a short story I’d written on commission, and she responded via email:
“Just finished reading your short story, which I really enjoyed. I'm recovering (trying) from pneumonia, which I've never experienced before and I'm sure is the result of a weakened immune system. It sucks.
As I have no experience whatsoever in writing or television, I can't give an opinion on what you should do with this piece - I can only tell you (which I've been saying for years now) that you are certainly a talented writer, which is why I used to so look forward to your letters (hint, hint).
Keep me posted on your activities/adventures. Give that old girl Lulu a kiss on the nose for me.
I responded with the promise of “more soon.”
In the spring of this year, I’d been thinking about her every day for a week. She preferred the email to the phone call -- talking took too much out of her -- and I was poised to write her a good one, focused on the project I’m producing about my father. On April 24, my phone rang, and her name popped up on the screen. Happens all the time -- you think of someone, and they call, right?
“I can’t believe it, I have been thinking about you ALL WEEK! How ARE you?”
The long silence was followed by the somber voice of one of her daughters. I was on the list of people to call.
Her birthday was 5 days ago. I won’t say, “it would have been her birthday” because, even though she wasn’t here to celebrate it, December 6 is still, and will always be, the day she was born. Lately, she’s been back in my thoughts again. I’ve said things aloud to her in the ether, even imagined her response, even heard her voice in my head. I miss her clear, intelligent perspective, her pithy New York City wit, the indelible life shorthand created by our shared years of experience in the music industry. Her friendship was rock-solid; the kind that’d take a nuclear blast to destroy. And she suffered no fools, even as she suffered the pain of the fucking cancer that chewed away at her from the inside out, and took her -- as if often does -- too soon.
She was a Sagittarius, like my mother, and shared a few of Mom’s traits and influences: an impeccable sense of style, an arm’s-length way of showing affection, a tendency to lose her bearings -- even in her mothership, Bloomingdale’s.
She was a photographer with a quick, perceptive eye (no surprise, as her father was a well-known Broadway art director). With Nikon almost always in hand, she caught many great stage and studio performances by iconic musicians; she felt the buzz of the moment through her camera, and she let you feel it, too. Even her casual shots of her home and yard, and photos of her beloved pooch, were beautifully composed and lit. For years, I begged her and bugged her to publish. She got as far as posting several on Facebook.
She loved my writing. When were working at record companies, writing skills weren’t key to our respective positions. But I was also a singer/songwriter and a poet, and she was my fan and booster. She became a fan of my jazz guitarist father, and came with me to his concerts at the Lincoln Center halls of Avery Fisher and Alice Tully. She made fun of the fact that I referred to my mother and father as “Mom” and “Dad,” without the possessive adjective “my,” as if Mom and Dad were their given names. She’d ask dryly, “Are we going with ‘Mom’ to see ‘Dad’ tonight?” Only one of our many little inside jokes.
We wrote funny memos and revealing letters to each other in those pre-email days, especially after I left New York for San Francisco and Los Angeles. She called my new state “Cacafornia” whenever we spoke on the phone. For the first couple of years, she was certain I’d return to my hometown. I did return for her, to sing at her first wedding in the St. Regis Hotel. If I hadn’t fallen in love with the man I would marry, it’s likely I’d have moved back to Manhattan, and my life would be completely different.
When I watch Sex in the City, I see us. The glamor of our work lives landed us backstage or in the front row at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, at A-list parties and award shows and clubs and bars. I was Carrie, she was Miranda, and we went to the movies and the library and shoe-shopping together, had the talks, shed the tears, and ate the cuisine, from sushi to Sabrett’s, in the only city I’ll ever call home, no matter where I live.
She’d have good, practical advice about the challenges I’m facing now. I know that’s why she’s been so present for me; I crave her wisdom. But I know she’d just tell me I have plenty of my own.
She would be mad at me for the title of this post. She’d say (I swear, I can hear her!), “Don’t push it, Zan. It’ll come soon enough. Trust me.”
Okay, Gale. I’ll take your advice. And I’ll think of you as I caught you here, one perfect autumn day, in your Gramercy Park apartment -- on the phone, locking a publishing deal before we headed out to lunch. I won’t count the years past or the years ahead. I’ll just be grateful for them all, one at a time. I’ll do that with you in mind and heart. I’ll write more soon, dear friend; I promise.