Lost and Found

January 25, 2009

Quintessential Evelyn

Quintessential Evelyn

I found an old friend today. She was my best friend. I thought I’d never ever see her or hear her or sit beside her again on a hot humid day in Washington,D.C., arguing the finer points of the Maplethorpe exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery. Never hear the emphatic and amusing high note in her voice as she stretched out a syllable to make an extra added point. Never again see her in a red silk suit, spaniard-with-flamenco-guitar1watching a flamenco dancer and holding a glass of ruby red wine as we celebrated her birthday. Never be amazed yet again at the shoes she would wear – pilgrim style all black with big silver buckles and clunky wooden heels or white suede flats with laces and white leather fringe – that I called ugly at the store but which looked infinitely stylish the minute she slipped them on her feet.

brazier2This is the friend who took me to an old-fashioned lingerie shop in downtown D.C., and taught me the value of a well-fit bra, who helped me learn how to put on eye liner, blush and pick the right shade of lipstick. This woman taught me that black can be worn with brown (I had a limited clothing color palette). She is the fashion-forward friend who pronounced that Red is the New Black then Gray was the new Black and finally Black was the new Black.

elvisThis is my friend who traveled from Baltimore to Graceland on a charter bus with an all woman Elvis fan club. She had a professionally framed picture of Elvis, girdled and zipped into a white leather pantsuit, which hung in a place of honor in her apartment in Adams-Morgan. She believed that the South was the true promised land, that professional wrestling was athleticism at it’s best, understood the writings of Jean Genet and quoted Christopher Lasch from “The Culture of Narcissism” frequently; I don’t remember any of the content but I will never forget the name of that book.

adam-and-eve1This woman made a small black and white film staring a lovely couple named Tony and Collette who played Adam and Eve in a visual poem about the Garden of Eden; Collette, a locksmith, later blamed my friend and the film for her subsequent break-up with Tony. But as my friend explained, “It wasn’t that their lives fell apart because they made the film, it was because the story was actually a blueprint, a coding that predicted the path their lives would take.”

This was my best friend and she taught me how to laugh. She shared her secret for making pasta al dente and dreamed up the most original dinner parties. One them was an calla-lilies1all white event where everything was white – the food (think turnips, potatoes, cauliflower and yogurt), her grandmother’s white lace tablecloth and Calla Lilies in the Milk Glass vase at the center of the table. Or the alphabet dinner party where the entire alphabet had to be represented in food, wine and table decorations. There were apples, and brocolli, camembert and daisies, eggplant, fringe on the table runner and garlic cloves hanging in the hallway.
My best friend taught me to look at the universe in new ways. She was like a kaleidescope; each time we talked about the writings of Roland Barthes, deconstructed Thelma & Louise or discussed the latest issue of Vanity Fair, my brain would fill up with more colors from more angles and suddenly I was Dorothy entering the magic kingdom, ruby slippers on my feet, Toto at my side, living a technicolor life in a technicolor world.

I am not a happy person. I’m not funny and I always drink a glass that is half-full. With my best friend at my side the cup was full to overflowing, the world one giant oyster and we were the life of every party.

When we broke up, as women friends sometimes do, the colors in my kaleidescope faded, the turning device broke and I was stuck at a crooked angle in a colorless landscape wondering how I would ever recapture Cerulean Blue, Alizarin Crimson or Burnt Sienna. How I would ever plan another dinner party or pick out the right pair of shoes without her at my side?

I have dreamed about her every so often during the past 14 years since we last spoke. In each dream she was with a group of women I did not know and they were talking and walking together and I stood on the side watching as she and her entourage of fascinating friends flocked by, unaware that a lonely large-eyed woman who had forgotten how to smile stood on a street corner dressed all in black.

I told new friends about my old friend. I described her thick brown hair which changed monthly from long to short, blond to black, bangs to chignon and back again. I described her garment bag filled with elegant suits from Saks and how she never washed her face with water, instead opting for a facial cleanser which she took off with balled cotton. I regaled them with stories about her relationship with a quirky boy named Jeff who was obsessed with talking chimps and heavy metal parking lots: he was Jewish and as they fell more deeply in love she checked out a book from the library called “So, You Wanna Be A Jew?” I described in detail the short story she wrote called “How To Read A Fashion Magazine” and mused that although I loved the concept and never tired of hearing her talk about the narrative, story structure and her literary choice of an unreliable narrator, her endlessly fascinating ideas became obscure and convoluted when translated to the ever-flat surface of paper.

Mardi Gras King Cake

Mardi Gras King Cake

And finally I remembered so sweetly the time she decided to plan a Mardi Gras party at work and spent hours researching how exactly to order a King Cake that was to be sent straight from New Orleans to our downtown D.C. corporation in time for our very own Fat Tuesday.

I told my new friends how my old friend was one of the loves of my life until I got married, moved away and needed her too much for our friendship to survive. I ruminated over our final conversation and replayed it in my mind, listening to it like a verse on a broken phonograph record that gets repeated over and over again until you tap the needle and finally move on to the next part of the song.

Our last conversation went something like this: She told me that I needed to be fully myself, to say whatever was in my heart or on my mind. I told her there were things too painful to talk about or act about at that moment in my life and I asked her if she could say what she needed to say to me in a gentler way. She said she couldn’t be herself if she had to edit her words. I felt judged. She felt misunderstood. We didn’t speak again.

Until today when I heard her voice for the first time in 14 years. The voice that was as familiar to me as my own. The voice that sounded just like yesterday but wasn’t. The friend I lost and thought I would never find. A friend. A best friend and I used to be her best friend until the last time we visited in June of 1996 in Washington, D.C. and she introduced me to her new boyfriend as her friend not her best friend and my heart stopped cold as I recognized what she already knew.

I found an old friend today that I haven’t talked to since my divorce from a man I never loved but decided to marry hoping that friendship could grow to passion. She never knew that I dropped into a deep, dark depression from which I thought I’d never return or that I sat alone in an apartment in NW Portland watching the World Trade Center collapse and wishing I could call her to talk about witnessing the towers crack and fall from grace and hear her explain in terms of metaphor what was happening to our world. A friend who never sat beside me in my two-door white Saturn hatchback, dogs stuffed into the backseat, the CD-player blasting Sheryl Crow as I drove down to Chico, California every month to see a therapist who would put me into a trance and help my unconsious mind untangle years of crooked pathways and anxious synpases.

Design by Gaultier

Design by Gaultier

My best friend had no idea that I went to Paris for my 45th birthday, dining on apple tarte tatin and beef bourguignon, sipping chocolat chaud at the Angelica Cafe and walking the Champs-Elysees, wishing she were there beside me staring into shop windows and exploring the Jean Paul Gaultier Salon on Avenue Georges V where I imagined she would have intrigued me with stories of how the enfant terrible rose to Parisian fashion fame.

Voodoo Donut Donut Doll

Voodoo Donut Donut Doll

My friend wasn’t the first one I called to tell her I’d met a man named Laurence who called himself Lars who had wavy copper red hair, a strong jawline and a great smile with gaps between two of his teeth. I dubbed him the “Irish God” and our love story was beset with starts and stops, Voodoo Donuts, an antique garnet promise ring, and a meglomaniacal pitbull named Gretel.

I didn’t call her to tell her I was engaged. That Laurence rested on one knee in a small steam-heated hut hidden in the woods at Breitenbush Hot Springs and handed me a soapstone box covered with carved roses and vines which held between layers of purple silk a mine-cut Victorian diamond engagement ring. She never knew my wedding dress was tea length or that my shoes were Wizard of Oz-like Stuart Weitzman mules topped with large crinoline golden bows; the very same shoes that I wore to my first wedding. The wedding where my best friend was my maid of honor, stunning in a long black evening gown with criss-crossed straps, her newly trimmed puff of dyed blond hair showing just enough black roots to make her the most fashionable woman in the room.

0241She never received an invitation to my second wedding at Genoa with a seven-course sit-down meal for 50, negronis for apperitifs, orchids on the tables and in my bouquet and a three tiered bittersweet chocolate torte cake covered with chocolate roses topped by a bride and groom statuette circa 1958 that I bought on eBay.

My friend never saw the pictures of our honeymoon in Zihuatenjo, Mexico where we stayed at a villa on the side of a cliff, looking down at the bay and the Pacific Ocean, eating lime pancakes, drinking fresh grapefruit juice and tequila, reading in the swinging hammock on our private balcony and taking multiple photos of the giant dead tarantula Laurence found in the middle of a small village road.

for-sale-signShe wasn’t there to call when I got my real estate license. I couldn’t talk to her about how I felt like a failure, that with a BA in Photography, an MA in Film and the credentials of an international executive on my resume, I was trading in everything I had accomplished for a gold jacket, a lockbox key and a For Sale sign.

She didn’t see my career take off or watch as I realized that real estate was actually a pretty cool career. She never knew I was helping people find home (she would have appreciated all the metaphors) and building myself a small empire: Buying and selling houses for myself and my clients, making more money then God or at least more then I had ever imagined making and using that money, rather unwisely, on private guest houses in Ireland, Italian hand-made shoes, beach cottages in Manzanita, vintage diamonds and black patent leather handbags from Paris.

She missed my recent mid-life crisis that lasted an entire year from my 49th to my 50th birthday. I didn’t call her from the depths of my overstuffed down chair

Marseille, France

Marseille, France

where I lay curled up for endless hours staring zombie-like at the large black and white photo of a street scene in Marseilles, wondering if I had enough time left to pick up a few of the pieces of the many dreams I had dropped on my way through the decades; artist dreams, creative dreams that haunted me like angry old ghosts refusing to retire gracefully to another dimension until I finally picked up a pen or camera, a pastel crayon or a block of sumi Japanese ink and scribbled my inside visions outside so I was no longer invisible to all but myself.

And through all these years that I was missing her and looking for her and imaging what she would say about my retreat to Long Beach, Washington or what she would think about the low-VOC colors I had chosen to paint the interior of my house, all this time I was convinced that she never wanted to see me again. After 14 years of nursing a broken frienship heart, we are talking on the phone and she is telling me how she tried to find me too and thought I had e-blocked her messages and today I finally heard her voice again and it all came rushing back, what was lost has now been found and time has compressed itself and I wonder if 14 years was merely 14 days?

I found an old friend today. Heard her voice and caught the edges of her new life and the first thing we talked about were celebrity couple names where you combine two names into one and she told me that she and her husband were “Tomelyn” and we tried to tease out something for Rachel and Laurence but “Laurchel” just didn’t sound sexy enough to appear on the pages of People or US Weekly.

lockShe told me about what it was like at 40 when she felt most connected to herself and rented the first floor of a house owned by the locksmith Collette who lived on the second floor. During that time my friend was constantly interrupted by beautiful, young men knocking on her door in search of Collette and she would tell them to go around to the steps at the side of the house.

And one day in June a guy named Tom with salt and pepper hair and a chiseled face and body stood outside her front door and knocked. He was a friend of Collette’s but wasn’t there for Collette. He had been watching my friend from his woodworking shop across the street and hoped they could strike-up a conversation. Instead she flung the door open and stood there annoyed; he quickly retreated upstairs.

The following November their son Thomas was born and the following October they were married. I missed her wedding, a small affair she explained. I missed her pregnancy and the birth of her son and his christening at the Catholic Church where she and Tom take Thomas every Sunday to hear mass and take communion.

I’ll never get to see her pregnant and although she insists that her friends in D.C. romanticized the event (as her friend Joan once remarked “Even a pottie-trainingcow can get pregnent.”) I would love to have seen her body grow round and get swollen with the promise of a tiny new personality inside. I would like to have watched as she prepared for an experience I would never have: Days of changing dirty diapers, breast feeding at 3:00 am, pottie training, tantrums and the first smile, the first step and the first word – barely more then a breath – recorded faithfully in a satin-bound baby book kept carefully on the shelf for special occasions.

I found an old friend today and she told me that she loved my intelligence and the fact that I would insist on giving time to acknowledge important interior moments in her life and mine. She told me I had a moral voice that she admired, that our relationship was special because of the way our personalities formed and fit together and that she felt that I added a burnish to her life.

Burnish: bur-nish
Function: transitive verb
Date: 14th Century
Etymology: Middle English burnischen, from Anglo-French burniss-, stem of burnir, alteration of Old French brunir.
1 a : to make shiny or lustrous especially by rubbing
b : polish



I found my best friend today after 14 years of second-guessing our relationship, of wondering if I ever meant anything to her in the way she had to me. I found my best friend today after 14 years of imagining her life without me as filled with experimental filmmaking, published treaties on the cultural significance of the World Wrestling Foundation and why theology needs depth psyhology to survive; magical motherhood and one endless romantic marriage covered with buckets of sweet-sceneted freesia, long lanquid nights on Kiawa Island and an old Victorian home filled with loud bursts of laughter and the smell of pork and sauerkraut mixed with the tart taste of apple pie.

I found my best friend today and she told me she lives in a ranch house in the suburb of Silver Spring, that sometimes she feels flat and tired, that she feels she has written out everything she has to say, that she doesn’t see herself as a perfect mom and that she, like me, struggles for a deeper connection with her husband and close friends.

Her perfect life existed only in my imagination and by knowing her true details she becomes rich and textured again and the colors in the kaleidescope of our friendship start to return and shift into new directions throwing light and truth onto a surface that once again takes on dimension.

I found my best friend today and realized, finally, that I have burnished her life as much as she has burnished mine. I’m excited to choose our celebrity friendship couple name – Ravelyn or maybe Everach – and I am ready to pick up the string of that long-lost conversation and turn it together, like wood on a lathe, as we watch the symmetry of our friendship rotate and spin into something new and well-crafted, something that can only be made by two, together.

I found an old friend today. lathe1


In Memoriam

January 15, 2009

I have put off sitting down to write this entry. This story that began nearly sixteen years ago in a cardboard box at a veterinarian’s office when my kitten-to-be issued forth a three-week old howl letting everyone know that he was a force to be reckoned with. This story that ended on Saturday at 6:00 pm when the now elder-statesman of a cat let me know that no matter how much money I spent on vet bills or how many pills I forced down his little throat, or how often I treated him to fresh salmon and cream, that he was done. Tired of organic catnip and litter boxes, Boppho let me know that he was ready to move to a place where I could not follow.

The difficulty with losing someone or something you love is that they may be done with you before you are done with them. You are still in the same space waiting for them to put their key in the lock, clump down the basement steps, turn on the dishwasher or bounce up on the counter for the dinnertime bowl.

I have lost too many beloved people and pets in my life. Some to death and still more to misunderstandings, relocations and irreconcilable differences. The losses are starting to pile up one on top of the other and with each new grief the old griefs are pulled up again like a series of paperdolls joined hand to hand and foot to foot.

My griefs stack up like body bags on a military transport plane flying home from Iraq and all the other deaths from Vietnam to Tianaman Square, The Ghaza Strip and Virginia Tech, from American Airlines Flight 11 to the cancer ward at Rainbow Babies and Children’s hospital in downtown Cleveland, all those deaths rise up and remind me that I too am terminal, that one day I will be ready to go where no one else can follow.

But until then I will lose and grieve the losses of the ones who go before me. It seems much harder to be the one left behind, much harder to get up in the morning expecting the sounds that have become so ordinary that you don’t even hear them until they are gone: my father singing “Moon River” in the shower; the irritated meow of Boppho demanding his breakast at 6:00 am; the sniff-snuffling of Gretel as she noses along the kitchen floor in search of run-away crumbs; the husky soft voice of Ralph on the phone from Chico reassuring me that change is possible and I can, for the first time in my life at 41, live without depression; the clip-clop of Cousin Jan’s saddlebred outside the kitchen window as she puts Abu through his paces. Now there is only silence.

I start imagining more deaths. I see Laurence curled up on the side of the road, the victim of driver in an SUV who didn’t even notice my husband as he proudly rode his brand new bike home from work making sure to stay in the bike lane. I guess at what it will feel like to get the call from Cleveland letting me know that my mother collapsed on the steps of her church leaving a Sunday service and chatting with a friend about what she would be bringing to the upcoming Circle Supper.

And then I see my own death, hiding right around the corner of tomorrow, each new pain signals a rare form of cancer, a heart attack, a stroke. I check and re-check the tiny pink mole under my left eye convinced it is a fatal melonoma that will eat me alive before I even have a chance to see a dermatologist. I call my doctor and make an appointment certain that she will find something to cut short my life because why do I have the right to be alive when those that I love have been taken?

I close my eyes and see people and pets who I love who have died or just disappeared. I watch my childhood, my youth and my current middle-age winding and unwinding like a giant ball of twine trying to stay together but being pulled apart by the forces of gravity and death.

Kent State Unversity College Graduation

Mom & Dad: Kent State Unversity College Graduation

I remember my father on his hospital bed, watching the NCAA basketball tournament and flirting with a blond nurse, his lungs so damaged by cancer that to breath at all was an act of unrivaled courage. He told his girlfriend that he wouldn’t be there in the morning. She called me and I raced down to see him, to touch him, to question him. I called in a special hospice nurse who told me his vitals were strong, like an ox he could keep going and going. I asked “Daddy, will you be here tomorrow?” and he tried to smile, nodding his head up and down in the signal for yes. He had spent his life lying to me and everyone else who loved him, why was I surprised that he’d leave me with one more lie on his death bed?

Boppho my kitty had a death bed, or at least a death floor. The warm carpeted floor of my special room, my reading room, my writing room that is filled with books, a 1940s dressing table piled high with rhinestone brooches, Chinese bracelets and beaded earrings spilling out of a small purple glass that a friend carried gently home for me from Paris.

The room contains my enormous down-filled chair where I sit, snuggled into feathers and pillows, my feet stretch all the way out in front of me because the chair is so long. Boppho liked to sit on the top of the chair, right behind my head and purr to me as I wrote or read or fell softly asleep, my pets surrounding me, my husband peeking in every so often to make sure we were all still breathing.

Jan’s death bed was made of steel with moving parts and stood starkly on the 7th floor of Mass General as we surrounded her and the bed – the cousins, my aunt and uncle, my mother and me creating a family circle to hold her while she took longer and longer pauses between each breath. All of us holding hands and watching her long golden curls waving around the ventilator that had been forced down her throat one last time when her second pair of lungs finally failed. As they put the vent line in she mouthed to me “Let me go” and we did, after ten long years of collapsed lungs, pneumonia, one transplant and a permanent address at Massachusetts General Hospital, my beautiful 45 year old cousin with eyes the color of cornflowers and a grin that stayed with her through her fight with an illness with an unprounceable name, died in a hospital bed. Before she died I asked her how I would survive not having her to talk with and she replied “I’ll still be talking. You just have to learn to listen.”

Boppho & Laurence

Last Day: Boppho & Laurence

We brought Boppho home from the vet on Friday night after two full days of antibiotics and fluids being pumped into his little 11 pound body. His kidney functions were worse and we had all but decided to have our baby put to sleep in the “quiet room” at the clinic but the instant we got him in there he perked up, started exploring and head butting our shoulders. He purred and he ate bites from his food bowl and we scooped him up to take him home, hoping for a miracle. For his damaged kidneys to repair themselves, for his fever to go down, for him to stop sitting at his water bowl licking the side of the rim hoping for water but tasting only metal.

I wanted a miracle because people say there are miracles. That completely broken people or animals barely balancing on that line between life and death can choose life. Get up out of bed and go play tennis or plan a dinner party for eight. I’ve read reports in the paper, watched the interviews on TV, scanned the non-fiction accounts that detail the journeys of remission, return to consciousness, a trip to the light and back again to awareness and health. I’ve watched it in the movies, but I’ve never seen it in real life.

Death is cagey and likes to play games. It takes you to the edge of the end when you’ve just been told that not only does your dad have lung cancer but now he has brain tumors as well and suddenly your father looks up and suggests you go out for ribs at Tony Roma’s. Or your cat looks up at you and winks and gobbles down an entire can of food after refusing to eat for one full week. Or your dear friend and therapist in Chico, California talks with you on the phone and mentions he has a cold, never hinting at the fact that two weeks later you will get a call from his friend Shangra who tells you “Ralph is gone.”

And you scream “No. No. No. No. It’s not possible, it can’t be. I just talked to him and he was fine. He is fine. It’s not real. It’s not real.” And you call his cell,

Large Landseer Newfoundland

Large Landseer Newfoundland

wanting to listen to his voicemail message one more time or maybe to hear his live voice when he picks up the phone and you both realize it was all a misunderstanding and he is there waiting for you to come visit again. You drive down again and there he is, a turkey basting in the oven, his Newfoundland like a giant rug sprawled across his floor and you will go together to the Chinese restaurant one more time for chicken and almonds and read your fortunes and you will tell him that without him you wouldn’t have survived the many losses leading up to his loss and that he has saved your life if not his own.

And in this dream of life not to be lived he will drive away in his tan and cream van with the handicapped license plates, his oxygen machine pumping away and still, somehow, you don’t realize he is sick. That the small canisters of canned air he carries with him aren’t just for asthma or a bad cold. That I am so determined that he be well that I forget to remember he is slowing dying and that the one person in my life who truly understands the depth of sadness I have suffered is not waiting for me in Chico, nibbling on a muffin at the French bakery, drinking black coffee and asking me how I am feeling. And right now I’d say “I feel terrible. I lost my best cat friend,” and he would know exactly what to say but he’s not here and I search for the words but I’ll never find them without him.

Boppho lay on our bed, sandwiched between us, purring for most of Saturday as we read, we slept, Laurence played solitaire on his iPhone and we started to believe with the bravado that only comes from trying to cheat death that we would soon be cancelling the 4:30 appointment with the vet who was coming to the house to perform last rites.

And then amidst our relief and slight embarrasment that we had “jumped” too quickly to conclusion, Boppho gave us a sign. He began to pant and gasp and it took Laurence 30 minutes of holding and calming him for the pain to cease and his breathing to go back to normal. Laurence called the vet and asked them to try to come sooner and I prepared the room.

Kevin died last year. It had been decades since we had seen each other or even spoken but he was still so alive in my memories of my freshman year at Macalester College in St. Paul. An Irish-American, Catholic-born and bred wiry and skinny guy with red hair and freckles, giant blue eyes and a huge smile, he became my college sweetheart under the late lilac blooms in a Minnesota May. An actor, a hysterically funny raconteur especially when loaded with green beer on St. Paddy’s day, he traipsed across campus in overalls and a checked short sleeve shirt, a pipe in hand and gorgeous girls (far more beautiful then me) waiting for him as he trotted from dorm room to dorm room. And for some reason he picked me and we kissed in the privacy of lilacs, stayed up ’till 4:00 drinking champagne and sifted through family albums as he showed me pictures of his many siblings, cousins and friends.

Our love story lasted several years and ended in angry shreds when he kicked me into a closet at our rental home in Maryland where I had moved to live with him. I lost 20 pounds and he lost, or so he told me, the love of his life. Thirty years later I received a call from his best friend Marc who told me Kevin had died a week before his birthday in April 2008. He was found ten days dead, alone in a rented apartment near D.C. He died of cirrohosis of the liver, a full-blown alchoholic who had lost his license to practice law, his wife and two daughters and nearly everyone and everything that had ever mattered to him. And I wished for months to have the chance to transport back to my eighteenth year where I would warn him of the tradgedy that awaited him or at least have had the chance to say goodbye.

I lit candles in my special room for Boppho. The large candle we bought two years

Brid's Candle

Brid's Candle

ago when our darling pitbull Gretel was diagnosed with cancer. The smaller one, a Tuscan Blood Orange candle, was a Christmas gift from Laurence’s sister Brid. The beautiful auburn-haired Brid, with the lovely long neck and white skin like frost who had faced down the the worst that death has to bring – the illness and passing of her husband Jerry, her soulmate, her most beloved who was diagnosed with ALS shortly after we attended their wedding on the Cliffs or Mohrer on the West Coast of Ireland four years earlier.

I arranged pictures of Boppho at six weeks old, wrapped in my hands, a tiny, red-

Boppho & Rachel circa 1994

Boppho & Rachel circa 1993

nosed little elf of a cat, curled up in my palm as I tried to pose him for the camera. I also added the picture that Laurence took of him sitting silent and Boppho-like in the downstairs utility sink. Peering out over the top of the concrete sink, all the secrets of the unverse inside of him, unbeknowst to us since we don’t speak cat. I brought over a picture of my Buddha-dog Emma, the Akita I found at an animal shelter in West Virginia many decades ago. Emma was there even before Boppho and left me a year after we all moved to Portland.

Her death was the first of the many bad things that happened after I left D.C. for Oregon. I hoped that Emma’s spirit could help Boppho on his lonely journey. Alongside Emma’s picture sat Gretel’s beautiful Chinoiserie urn, filled with pitbull ashes, someday to be buried in a garden when we finally found a house we would stay in for more then three years. Gretel and Boppho spent 11 years together and although I’m not sure they actually liked each other, I knew she’d want to be included.

Laurence gently carried Boppho into the candlelit room and we sat with him for two more hours before Dr. Fletcher appeared at the door. I lay on the floor staring into his face and studying every detail, trying to memorize the little white tabby markings that covered his forehead, the soft white kitty eyeliner that emphasized his emerald globes, his racoon tail which flicked back and forth like a metronome when he was irritated. I stared at him for two hours and Laurence stared at me and every moment we did our best to be present with him during the last hours of his dear, sweet life.

Dr. Fletcher came at 5:15 and sat with us, letting us take our time. She explained that the euthanasia proceedure happened with two injections. The first was to bring him to an unconscious state where he wouldn’t feel the prick of the second final needle.

And nothing I could do at that point could stop it because the miracle never happened. He was resting quietly, too sick to purr or open his eyes or sip the water in his bowl. Dr Fletcher bent down to give him the first shot. His rest turned into a deep, unconscious sleep and I put him on my lap and Laurence held us both and the second shot was given and he left us. Peacefully if death can ever be peaceful.

We held him and stroked his little furry body, talking quietly with the vet, exchanging pet stories, listening to her tell how it was for her to lose her cat Albert, talking about how Boppho was one of a kind. A cat amongst cats. Of course we don’t know any other cats but Laurence and I are convinced that he was an entity to himself.

Boppho’s friends got in touch too. Diane sent an email we read out loud about how he was a great teacher and friend and Liz, the patron saint of all cats everywhere, lit a candle for him and meditated on his life and his passing. His pet sitter Lori sent a sympathy card and my mom put his picture on the dining room table to remind her of her favorite and most cherised grand-cat.

So many deaths in so short a time for life is short and each death is long and large and no matter how much we try to ignore it, death will always return to find us, our families, our friends, our animals, the pansies in summer and the primroses in spring. Death will take the trees in winter and the bees are fed to death after they dare to challenge the reaper with a brief, sometimes fatal sting.

I thought it would get easier but it doesn’t. It just gets harder as one death stacks up into another and another and they are linked together and each grief brings up the last grief and the one before and I imagine the deaths – real or emotional – of those I have loved the most and wonder if the reason I don’t make close friends anymore is because I can’t stand the thought of losing them.

Has death shut me down even while I am still living? Has death stopped my heart or is it still beating? Without death would I love more or less?
paper dolls

They are gone now. My dogs, my cat, my father, my grandparents, my cousin, my brother-in-law, my therapist, my first love, my broken romances, missed opportunities and long-lost friends. I have grieved for those living and dead who have disappeared or dissipated and I will continue to do so. For one death leads to another and one grief belongs to the next, like a row of paperdolls joined at the hands and the feet, forever linked and not soon forgotten.

Gone Away

January 13, 2009


My new favorite song is by a young chanteuse out of LA named Lucy Schwartz .
Her music and lyrics resonate with the empty places inside of me. The places usually filled by watching the funny cat antics of my beloved Boppho, may he be resting in peace with organic catnip, a window to watch the birds through and lots of dog noses to swat.

Just click on the link and it will take you to her myspace page where you can listen to her new single “Gone Away.” I keep playing it over and over and over, just letting it run through me. It unleashes my tears and gives me permission to feel my sadness, my grief and aloneness now that so much has “Gone Away.”


January 9, 2009

broken-heart1 I am breaking. Cracking into a million small pieces. A glass heart dropped onto pavement shattering into slivers of sadness. My cat is sick. His diagnosis has gone from chronic to terminal and right now he is in the veterinary hospital with an IV of fluids and drugs going up through his little paw. He has a soft “Elizabethan” collar around his small, sweet neck so he can’t pull the needle out. The collar looks and acts more like a bib as I lean into his cage and encourage him to lick tiny bits of food off my index finger. Anything to get him to eat. Anything to get him to live.

His kidney function is down, the numbers up, he has a fever and they call it lymphoma or at least that’s what the vets say. Can he live without an IV and if so, for how long? Will the fluids we are able to give him at home keep him comfortable or will we be back at the vet one day or one week from now, his warm furry body enfolded in our arms, tears pouring from our eyes as we move towards the inevitable.

The vet told me today it is about keeping him comfortable until he knows he is sick. When he knows he is sick, it is time to say goodbye.

Goodbye to my dearest, most loveliest most wonderfulest of cats. My only cat since I’m not technically a cat person. The cat I held in my hands at three weeks of age and nursed with an eye dropper. The cat who has hopped around the house for the last 15 years, full of cat spit and vinegar, standing his ground against anything or anyone that got in his way. Such a character. He is fearless.

He has a little cat house/scratching post, a two-story cylinder wrapped in gray carpet punctuated by two round portholes that act as windows for when he sits inside, one paw hanging out over the edge. Laurence says he looks like a tugboat captain in his tug.

He never liked being petted until now and suddenly he invites my fingers scratching his puffy jowls, his little cat forehead and under his chin. He purrs for me alone and for Laurence. We go to visit him each time wondering if this will be the last time.

Last night I sobbed in Laurence’s arms and suddenly he drew me back and said “Look in my eyes,” and there he stood, the saddest of drops forming and spreading silently down his broad, handsome cheeks and I realized that he needs me as much as I need him. He cries for Boppho, the little guy who he adopted when we moved in together. He’s not a cat person either. But now we are both Boppho people.

I know he will be gone soon. So excruciatingly difficult to envision the moment not too far away when I will hold him in my arms and Laurence will hold me in his arms and the vet will lean down with a syringe in hand and instantly he will stop breathing and I will stop breathing with him.

I don’t know if I can do this. My pets are my babies, my babies are my family and without them, without him, I don’t know if I want to keep breathing.

Time heals everything or so they say and I know someday I’ll think of this without the tears and without the pieces of my newly cracked heart tearing me apart each time I think “this will be the last time I hear him purr, this will be the last time I kiss his soft, warm fuzzy tummy and this will be the last time I look into his enormous emerald eyes flecked with gold leaf, the size of large teacup saucers.”

I also know that once he is gone I will never be the same again, I don’t want to be the same again, I refuse to be the same again because without Boppho a piece of me will always be broken.

When I was in film school we were bombarded with movies. Everything from Nanook of the North to Klute to the baby carriage careening down the steps in Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potempkin. We watched documentaries by the brothers Maysles featuring Big and Little Edie, Mick Jagger and Bulgarian artist Christo who wrapped a 24 1/2 mile long white nylon fence over the California hills and into the Pacific Ocean. We studied John Wayne in The Searchers and for the first time I “got” why he was considered one of America’s greatest Western action figures. We deconstructed Apocalypse Now, discussed the violent hooligans who raced through Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and couldn’t stop talking about the long camera takes in Citizen Kane.

But of all the films I watched at school, there is one that still haunts me, that continues to echo through the crevice in my heart on certain black and white days when the only company I keep is my own.

The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner, based on a book of the same name by writer Alan Sillitoe, was filmmed in 1962 in the gritty and grimy world of the British Working class. The film was directed by Tony Richardson and stars a young Tom Courtenay as Colin Smith, a rebellious teenager sent to reform school for robbing a bakery. Michael Redgrave plays the privileged Governor of the school who cares less about Colin’s re-entry into society and more about his talent as a long-distance runner who can win a prestigious title for the school.

My professor said the film was part of the “Kitchen Sink School” of British filmmaking which focused on “social realism” by presenting realistic portraits of working class British life. He explained that the term “Kitchen Sink” was coined because every film had a scene set in a kitchen where inevitably there would be an overflowing, dish-filled sink somewhere in the frame.

I was taken by the term and the idea behind it. A kitchen sink is such a catch-all for everything you want off the counter of your kitchen or the counter of your life. A place where a pile of black and stark white British films can sit stacked and draining after a good scrubbing by film critics, professors and grad students.

So why does this film linger when others have faded to black? Is it the gaunt, haunted face of Colin running over the wild and windy woodlands of Claygate, Surrey or is it the lovely stream of allteration of words like “loneliness” and “long” strung together by the letter “L?”

nike-air-pegasus1I am not a runner but I am envious of anyone who can run a mile or a marathon. My body was not designed to be squeezed into a track suit, a pair of Nike Air Pegasus running shoes and a sports bra so tight that my breasts become permanently smashed into one giant boob. My lungs were not created for taking big breaths of air; I have asthma, I wheeze and gasp like a Grouper fish whenever my legs attempt to break into a trot let alone a full-on run.

I am not a runner, but I am fascinated by anyone who is.

Tom Courtenay as Colin Smith

Tom Courtenay as Colin Smith

I would like, just for one hour, to know what it feels like to be Colin Smith: brown hair short and plastered to his skull, chin thrust forward, his white face an ugly mask of an athlete straining with every cell of his body to win the big race. Arms flung forward and back, hands cramped into fists and legs barely touching ground, he sprints down a trail while bare, leafless trees stand solemnly watching his lonely run.

And as Colin races towards the finish line hoping to prove himself worthy to the headmaster, his family and his mates, he is overtaken with jump-cut images from his past that set him wondering if pleasing the crowd is a win or a loss.

And that’s when Colin becomes universal. And I realize that whether we can run or walk, swim or sink, we often push ourselves to go faster, be better, smarter, richer, noticed, accepted and applauded for winning whatever race we have chosen to run. In our lonely rush to reach the finish line we end up running towards the future without even being aware of the present. So busy with going to something we forget where we are right now and miss the extraordinary beauty of daily moments – a baby’s tiny fist wrapping itself around the end of an index finger, the time just before dawn when the sky is hazy and azure blue and the morning star shines down for anyone who is up and awake to see it, or the split second you take that first bite of the best chocolate mousse you’ve ever tasted at the tiny bistro in Paris’s 13th arrondisement.

In our race, we lose the moments and the more moments we lose, the emptier our lives become.

We can learn a thing or two from The Loneliness of The Long Distance Runner for as Colin nears the end of the race he suddenly stops, letting another slower runner get by him to win. Colin has decided that the only person worth pleasing is himself and although he is no longer the Governor’s pet and has lost all his special privileges at school, he has found a peace within himself and on his own terms.

Maybe next time we find ourselves sprinting through our lives, we may want to slow down or even stop and consider what we get versus what we are giving up, because ultimately we are all long distance runners and it’s up to us whether or not we want to stay in the race.

I want to be Jon Raymond

January 4, 2009

Jon Raymond

Jon Raymond

I just opened the HOW WE LIVE section of Oregon’s daily newspaper The Oregonian (known to many of us as the “Boregonian”) to find a feature story written by journalist Jeff Baker about a Portland writer named Jon Raymond who, according to Baker, “With the help of his friends. . .sees the subtlety and emotional compression of his work realized in Oregon films.”

I’d be hard pressed to figure out exactly what that sentence is trying to say about Raymond’s work or about the state of Oregon, but I guess what really matters is he made a film set in Portland with his friends who just happen to include Todd Haynes: award-winning film director of Poison, The Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven and I’m Not There; Kelly Reichardt: director, screenwriter and winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize for her debut film River of Grass; and Michelle Williams: actress in the teen soap Dawson’s Creek who went on to costar and fall in love with Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain; Williams won a Golden Globe plus an Oscar nomination for her portrait of a cowboy’s wife confronting the fact that her husband is gay.

When you throw all these personalities into a pot of Portland soup and stir, out pops a new film called Wendy and Lucy based on Raymond’s story Train Choir, from his short story collection Livability. The film is directed by Reichardt and stars Williams as Wendy alongside Reichardt’s dog Lucy, who plays herself.

According to the International Movie Database (IMDB) the film examines:

wendy-lucy1“A woman’s life, derailed en route to a potentially lucrative summer job. When her car breaks down, and her dog is taken to the pound, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she is led through a series of increasingly dire economic decisions.”

It is indie, it is hip, it sounds rather depressing (which is also hip) and takes place in and around the not-so-beautiful parts of Portland like the grimy, gray Walgreen’s Drugstore on North Lombard where much of the action takes place.

Lombard is a street that belongs in a city like Cleveland or Detroit, not the green, urban, cycling, hiking capital of the Pacific Northwest. Lombard is a four-lane major bus line that is a mix of gas stations, pawn shops, supermarkets, The Salvation Army Thrift Store, Master Muffler & Brakes plus homey little storefronts like The Orleans Candle Shop and Pastry Cat run by shopkeepers determined to personalize a street known for fast food joints and used car lots.

I haven’t seen the film, and although I love Williams as an actress, I’ll probably avoid it. Not because it isn’t good, it’s probably great, but because the thought of watching one hour and 20 minutes worth of Walgreens on Lombard with a dark-haired Williams wearing a blunt choppy haircut and a dog on the way to animal control seems like a prescription for Prozac. One reviewer happily noted that Williams only cracked a smile three times during the entire film. Frankly, I think I’d rather stay home and watch America’s Next Top Model as there is never any chance that the cheesy uber-model Tyra Bank’s ratings winner “Who Will Be America’s Next Top Model?” will ever, even remotely resemble my own life.

If I want to see Wendy and Lucy all I have to do is walk down Lombard to Walgreens with my pit-mix Ramona and stand outside the sliding doors and watch people come in and come out, clutching white plastic Walgreens’ bags as they face the depressing strip mall of a street.

I suppose I should find it moving that something ugly could be made beautiful through the proper viewfinder. That Raymond and his friends have discovered a way to illustrate the humanity in a big box store and a girl with three smiles. I wish I still had the desire to find that secret drop of truth buried in difficulty. Instead I prefer to take a nap or read a murder mystery, anything to block out the ordinariness of every day life.

Maybe I’ll be inspired again, but for now I’m just glad that someone like Jon Raymond is out there finding and uncovering those tiny flashes of grace that turn even the most mundane of moments into something divine.

Jon lives right down the block from me near Lombard Street. He is part of the NoPo ‘hood and I stare at his picture in The Oregonian trying to remember if I’ve ever seen him before. In the photo he is dressed in a forest green parka, hands in the pockets of his blue jeans leaning up against the trunk of a large tree; his short brown hair floats feather-like around his pale face which has neither a smile nor a frown. He just looks. . .for lack of a better word. . .nice. The kind of guy you’d find at Walgreens who would let you go first in line if you had less stuff then he did.

This is the guy, who with a small but very select group of friends, made a movie from one of his stories and now has his very own Wikipedia page. He is the guy that is nice and comfortable enough with himself that he doesn’t have to plaster on a giant smile for the camera. He is the kind of guy I want to be.

He is the guy who, with yet another group of cool artsy friends, was part of a plazm1 collective of Portland designers and writers who created and contributed to Plazm, a magazine documenting creative culture by creative people. As part of his work on Plazm, Raymond found himself running around Bagby Hot Springs with world-famous filmmaker Todd Haynes who was dressed in a Bigfoot suit for a spread in the magazine.

Haynes hired Raymond to be his assistant on Far From Heaven and in turn Haynes became a fan of Raymond’s writing which led to an introduction to Reichardt and Williams from which a creative collaboration was born.

It seems, according to Oregonian journalist Jeff Baker, that Raymond’s work and life are based on the theme of friendship. Baker writes that Raymond “mentions it repeatedly, praising his friends for their achievements and saying how lucky he is to know them. They return the favor. Haynes calls him a ‘close personal friend and creative touchstone’ and Reichardt said that she ‘can’t imagine making a film without Jon.'”

I stare at Raymond’s picture again and think of all the hours and days over all the years that I’ve wished for a creative partner, an artistic community, a mentor, a moment when everyone and everything comes together at the same time to blossom into a completed screenplay, a finished documentary, a self-published magazine or an award-winning book of essays.

I look at his face, mild and well-mannered in b&w newsprint and wonder how he has found these wonderful friends, these people who have helped him, as he has helped them, to take an idea from conception to birth and watch it grow up to a height where other people can share in his creations, comment on his books, watch his films and archive a copy of Plazm complete with Todd Haynes as Bigfoot, a collector’s item to be sure.

Lana Turner at the Lunch Counter

Lana Turner at Lunch Counter

Is it luck? Hard work? Talent? Or just being at the right place at the right time? Like the story of Lana Turner being discovered at the lunch counter at Schwab’s Pharmacy in Los Angeles. What made her go out of the house that day at that exact time to that exact lunch counter? If she’d overslept and stayed at home would another starlet have been discovered instead or would the agent have found her the next day or the next at a dry cleaners on Sunset Boulevard or working as a hat check girl at the Brown Derby?

I’ve spent my life collecting experiences and degrees in theater, drawing, printmaking, photography, design, filmmaking, television and writing. And although I have loved the first read-throughs, the messy black inks, the collection of lenses, the scripts and finally the carefully filed stories to be sent out upon request, I still have yet to be at the right place at that right time or, perhaps, to notice it when I am there.

When I grow up I want to be Jon Raymond. I want to work with people who turn their ideas into celluloid, print and paper and who want to help me do the same. I want to meet Michelle Williams, play Bigfoot with Todd Haynes and have Kelly Reichardt vow to never make a film without me.

In the meantime, I’ll be hanging at Walgreens with Ramona holding up a cardboard sign that says “Will Work For Jon Raymond,” hoping to catch a glimpse of Jon and his friends. And maybe, just maybe he’ll let me be hang with him on the sidewalk or at least let me go first in line, because I think that Jon Raymond is just that kind of guy.

To Everyone on New Year’s Day,

Yesterday I found something beautiful. Discovering it was like finding the perfect sand dollar washed up on the shore, bathed by the sea just waiting to be held carefully in your hand as you run back up the beach to the place you are staying at the edge of the ocean. You take the polished sand dollar home and place it gently on your desk so you can look up from your work from time to time and be reminded that something divine can happen if you open your eyes and your heart.

My something divine, my found object, my thing of beauty is a blog entry by Brazilian novelist Paulo Coehlo. He says the most complicated things in the simplest of ways and rolls out his prose without too many words or metaphors, periods or adjectives to give us a love story for the new year.

Here is his gift that I share with you.

“I have just had dinner, now I am having some coffee and contemplating the painting in front of me: it was put in a river and left there for a year, waiting for nature to give the final touch to the painter’s work.

Half of the painting was carried off by the waters and bad weather, so the edges are all uneven, but even so I can still see part of the beautiful red rose painted on a golden background. I know the artist. I remember 2003, when together we went to a forest in the Pyrenees, discovered the creek – which at that moment was dry – and hid the canvas underneath the stones that covered the river bed.

I know the artist, Christina Oiticica. At this very moment she is physically at a distance of 8,000 kilometers, and at the same time she is in everything around me. That makes me happy: even after 29 years of marriage, the love is more intense than ever before. Never did I imagine that this would happen: I had been in three relationships that did not work out right and was convinced that eternal love did not exist until she came along – on a Christmas afternoon, like a present sent by a angel. We went to the movies. We made love that same day. I thought to myself: “this won’t last long”. For the first two years I was always expecting one of us to give up the relationship. For the following five years I went on thinking that it was just an arrangement, that in a short while each of us would go our own way. I had convinced myself that any commitment of a more serious nature would deprive me of my “freedom” and stop me experiencing all that I wanted.

Twenty-nine years on, I am still free – because I discovered that love never enslaves us. I am free to turn my head and watch her sleeping at my side – that is the photo I have on my mobile phone. I am free for us to go out, enjoy a stroll, go on talking, discussing – and occasionally arguing, as always. I am free to love as I have never loved before, and that makes a great difference in my life.

Let’s go back to the painting and the river: it was the summer of 2002, I was already a well-known writer, I had money, I felt that my basic values had not changed, but how could I be absolutely certain? By testing. We rented a small room in a two-star hotel in France, where we began to spend five months each year. The wardrobe could not get any bigger, so we had to limit our clothes. We wandered through the forests, dined out, spent hours in conversation and went to the movies every day. The simplicity of it all confirmed for us that the most sophisticated things in the world are precisely those that are within everyone’s reach. All that I needed for my work was a portable computer. But it so happens that my wife is … a painter.

And painters need gigantic studios to produce and keep their work. By no means did I want her to sacrifice her vocation for me, so I proposed renting a place. However, looking around, seeing the mountains, the valleys, the rivers and the lakes, the forests, she thought: why don’t I work here? And why not let nature work with me?

And thus was born the idea of “storing” the canvases in the open air. I carried my laptop and went on writing. She knelt on the grass and painted. A year later, when we removed the first paintings, the result was original, magnificent.

We lived in that small hotel for two unforgettable years. She continued to bury her canvases, no longer out of necessity but because she had discovered a new technique. The Amazon, Mumbai, the Way to Santiago, Lubijana, Miami. Today she is far away, but tomorrow or next week she will be close again, sleeping at my side. Content, because her work is beginning to be recognized all over the world.

At this moment I see only the rose. And I thank the angel that gave me two presents on that Christmas of 1979: the ability to open up my own heart, and the right person to receive it.

A happy 2009 to all.”

Written by Paulo Coehlo

The original can be found on Paulo Coehlo’s website posted at http://paulocoehloblog.com/