It’s been a long time without you, my friend

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Somebody asked me what I usually do on 9-11, and while I don’t really have any rituals, writing here has become a tradition of sorts. It helps me. It’s therapeutic and it’s important.

I believe that 9-11 enters my mind in some way most days—certainly more often than not. And while the visceral memories fade during the year, on the anniversary they return.

I remember so vividly that I could re-enact my experiences on that day in stunning detail. I don’t remember what I was wearing, but I remember what I was doing, who I spoke with, what I saw, what I ate. I can picture myself in my little apartment on Charles Street, blowdrying my hair and watching the news. I’d turned it on just after the first plane hit. I remember the anchorman’s tone when the second one came, when we could no longer pretend it was an accident.

I remember the phone calls, first to my mom and then to my ex. Nothing registered – at least not the loss of life at that moment, nor the implications for the rest of mine. I think on some cellular level we all knew that nothing would ever be the same, that life would be divided into pre- and post- , but I’m not sure most of us could have understood  just how intractable the change would be.

It was a perfect day. It was sunny and crisp and blueskyed, where the night before had seen torrential downpours. The night before we’d attended a benefit party for Women in Need and then darted from awning to awning to have burgers at the Cedar Tavern.

I remember standing on 6th Avenue in a stunned crowd of people watching the towers burn. Wondering, briefly, if I should go back for my camera and deciding not to. Ron, the homeless man I knew in my neighborhood, called out to me as I crossed 10th Street. “Laura! They hit us!” I spoke with him briefly and told him to stay safe, not yet understanding that that was impossible.

I got on the subway and most people knew. Got off in mid-town and learned that the towers had fallen. Loss of life was beginning to register, but certainly not to the extent that it would.

My coworkers, gathered around a live news feed, one in tears because her husband had gone to the buildings for a meeting that morning. He would walk in hours later, stunned and alive.

The rumors about the planes heading to Los Angeles and Chicago, learning about Pennsylvania and the Pentagon. Phone calls coming in from friends and family all over the country. Emails from people abroad.

Erika and I walked to my parents’ place, where my mom made us lunch (tuna salad on toast and potato chips) and from their windows we could see the smoke and chaos consuming lower Manhattan.

Walking, more walking, visiting with my dad, heading west and meeting Michel, then going down to my apartment. We went to Gus’s for dinner that night, ate Greek food because that was our plan and what else could we do? The couple behind us, an older couple, sounded as though they were on a very early date.

We went to a bar after to meet up with friends, including one who had yet to hear from her mother. She would learn, at some point, that her mother had stayed home from her job in one of the towers.

The Missing posters all over my neighborhood, the trickling in of information about so-and-so’s friend or family member who had died. The smell, that acrid smell of death and chemicals that clung to the air for months afterward.

I’m not sure which day I found out about Jonathan, but I think it might have been two days later. I hadn’t seen him in a bit, hadn’t known he’d changed jobs, hadn’t even heard of Cantor Fitzgerald until it was demolished.

That Friday a group of us volunteered at the site, feeding the rescue workers. We wore hard hats and goggles. The piles of steel were still burning. The heat was palpable.

The next day I went up to the country, travelled up with Phil; he had a house not far from my parents’. My dad picked us up and I spent the weekend with them. I remember taking a walk down their road and fearing snipers hiding in the woods. I remember seeing the biggest f-ing caterpillar I’ve ever seen.

How many times did I watch the planes hit and the buildings fall? It was unavoidable and yet I didn’t resent the coverage. I needed to see it, it was part of the process. My process.

The dreams continued for months. Dreams of buildings exploding and airplanes falling from the sky.

I remember the Portraits of Grief. I saved Jonathan’s and one day, months or maybe years later, I reread it, turned it over and saw the Portrait of someone else I’d once known.

In a very weird way, and please hear me out on this, I miss the aftermath of 9-11. I miss the closeness and kindness and we’re-all-in-this-togetherness. I miss the burying of hatchets and the overlooking of petty differences. I miss the tacit empathy and comfort we provided one another. The feelings of pride in my city, of gratitude for what we were able to do together. The checking up on one another. The collective therapy.

I don’t miss the flyers that stayed up for far too long, and I don’t miss the smell, and I don’t miss the frantic barking of dogs.

I don’t know what I will do tomorrow, I’ve started my 9-11 ritual early this year. I will think about Jonathan and I will think about others and I will probably watch some of the reading of the names. I will try to be a very good person tomorrow.

I will wish that we would all be kinder to one another, that we could all have compassion and celebrate our differences, that we would always remember to tell people we love that we love them, and that we would never take another day for granted.

I think I post this every year, too, because I think it’s beautiful, a snippet of a poem by my supremely talented friend:

In the blinking of an eye
Soon everything will change
From a blue September sky
The brimstone falls like rain.
If true Love
Soars the heavens
Pretend and we can fly
Soon everything will change
My love
In the blinking of an eye.

Neil Thomas, September 2001

I may write again tomorrow. Then again, I may not.

 

Better to have loved and lost

IMG_5798Take him and cut him out in little stars and he will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night. 

–William Shakespeare

We’ve lost some legends in recent days and the one that’s impacted me the most is the great actor — Shakespearean and otherwise — and our dear family friend Charles Keating. If you don’t know the name, Google him and you’ll recognize his beautiful face. Charles has been an integral part of my life since I was 9 and his family moved to the States. He and my mother acted together in the early 60s, and the woman who would become the love of his life, Mary, was their wardrobe girl. We’ve spent the past 33 Thanksgivings together, as well as countless other celebrations and events. As a good friend said the other night, “They broke the mold when they made Charles. And then fired the mold-maker.” He was a poet, a dreamer, a rebel and a rogue. He taught me to memorize my favorite poem:

When you are old and gray and full of sleep, 

And nodding by the fire, take down this book

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.

How many loved your moments of glad grace

And loved your beauty with love false or true

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled,

And paced upon the mountains overhead,

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

That’s Yeats. Charles recited it to my mum at her surprise 50th.

A couple of years ago I was going through a difficult transition and Charles and I had a long talk during which he imparted the following advice: Ride the horse in the direction its going.

There is so much I could say about this man. I could write volumes. I can’t imagine a world without him and I’m sad that that world now exists. But I’m blessed and better for having known him and I will take his advice as best I can.

Love you, mate.

 

Listen to the river sing sweet songs

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I have not had this particular type of insomnia in a very long time – I feel ill and wide awake and physically and emotionally exhausted. Not fun, but this too shall pass.

Our friend Phil left us yesterday morning and this makes me very blue. Phil was a wise and wild man, a sweet slip of a thing who could build, fix, or refurbish anything. We enjoyed one another’s company and it had been a couple of summers since I’d seen him – but we have many mutual friends and I knew what was going on with him, health-wise. As such matters do, this has led to a deluge of love and memories and people coming together and all those things that are supposed to ease the crushing blow of grief ever so slightly and leave in its place a bittersweet ache.

I don’t know what more to say about Phil right now – I’ve said a lot in the past 48 hours – and nothing I write here will do justice to this being who was the essence of vitality, an absolutely straight shooter who lived fast and hard and with utter authenticity every moment of every day. There is much to be learned from a person like him. And as these matters also do, as I’ve had the great misfortune to write about a couple of times since I started this thing last spring, I realize in his absence the strong hold he has on a piece of my heart. Through loss we realize our capacity to love.

Damn it.

There are a great many others for whom this is an acute loss, and I always feel self-conscious about “owning” grief when it comes to people I’ve not seen in a while, like Phil, or people I hadn’t spent all that much time with, not like Phil. It is such an intensely personal experience.

The passage of my book I’ve been stuck on for many days (please excuse grammatical and syntactical errors in this post it’s late and I feel like my brain is in aspic) is actually about grief – my goodness I sound maudlin and macabre and something-else-that-begins-with “m”, though I suppose one can’t really write a ghost story without touching upon death. Contrary to how it might seem, I need to think and talk about these things in order to live life more lightly. Talking about it doesn’t make it harder for me, au contraire mon frere, it helps me to release some of the sadness – a pressure valve situation if you will, and really if you’re reading this you have no choice in the matter. I needn’t dwell but I do need to purge. I promise this isn’t all I’m going to talk about, ever. Promise promise promise.

Went to beautiful music on Monday night, to Buckwheat Zydeco at City Winery and WOW do I know what it means to miss New Orleans. I have to get myself back down there soon. One of my main characters is from New Orleans, so perhaps I can justify it as research. Which it would be, in part. In large part actually – wait – what am I talking about?! I HAVE to go down there soon for that very reason. Though the music, food, magic, and dear friends there might play a tiny role in this desire.

Wanderlust. Such an overused word for such a perfect concept. Travel bug doesn’t have the same ring.

I want to keep writing – I feel like I could go on and on and on about many many things – but I should attempt to sleep. Not gonna happen, but I should try.

Friend-I-spoke-with-yesterday, yes, dear girl, I will write about the things we discussed in the very near future I promise. Now hush and start writing, too. You can do it. You have the life experience and we know you’ve plenty of fodder. Start somewhere. I’ll help. Just … make it happen.

Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
To rock my soul

Rest, sweet one. Your light is eternal.

Too cool to bluff

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I was having one of those if-not-for-Lou-I-wouldn’t-leave-the-house mornings. One of those thank-God-there’s-no-cafeteria-for-me-to-sit-alone-in days. A sort of bad mood/existential crisis hybrid. You know what I mean.

But because my dog is so needy I took him out (I kid, I kid, he’s not the needy one) and it was delightful! The neighborhood is very smiley and friendly today – and now I have that line from Scarlet Begonias in my head – and I had a lovely conversation with a French bulldog owner who said of Louie, “Oh my God – what a fox-monkey he is!” At the bank I ran into a woman who used to live in my building – the stunning, tall, ambiguously European blonde who flirts with my boy friends and spends a lot of time unabashedly naked in the locker room at Chelsea Piers – and we had a really good conversation about the neighborhood, the building, and the aforementioned locker room. I didn’t bring up the full-frontal thing. I came back and bought three barstools from a neighbor who is about to move to Amagansett – which sounds so perfect I couldn’t ask him about it for fear of getting in my car and driving east and never looking back.

And now I’m here.

I’m also in the process — several of us are — of saying goodbye to an old friend who is very close to the end of his earthly days. I have lost a lot of people – close and distant – and that is because I have loved a lot of people. Not in the romantic sense, in the soul sense. In the recognizing another’s intrinsic beauty sense. It sucks. It hurts like hell. But I’d rather be someone who loves too much than someone who doesn’t want to love at all. I think I would – I don’t know because I’ve never not been this way. I had this conversation with my sweet new friend/brunch partner yesterday, that as challenging as it is to be someone who walks around with her heart galloping ten feet in front of her, and who throws herself full force into her friendships and relationships, we would rather know that we’ve shown all of our cards and lived authentically reaching for what we want than build walls and wonder what might have been.

But I digress. Our sweet Phil is leaving us soon. I’ve known this man for 20 years and he is part of some of my strongest and greatest memories in that time. ‘Tis better to have loved and lost.

Thank you for reading this. I mean it.

We can work it out and get it straight or say goodnight

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Some things have happened around me lately that serve as poignant reminders that we never know what others might be going through, that we can never assume others have it all together and think as highly of themselves as we perceive them to be. That good fortune is not so much about material comfort as it is about internal strength, and that success means something entirely different to every single one of us. We tend to get so wrapped up in our own heads that we believe our beliefs before they’re fully formed. We convince ourselves that this one’s a this-person and that one’s a that-person and he/she/it has more this/that/the-other-thing than we do and therefore they’re winning or at least they have a higher score than we do. Someone said to me, someone who reads this, “I didn’t know that people like you get depressed”. Someone said to me today, “If I can’t feel good, at least I can look good.” We assume all sorts of things about others based on who we think they are and in so doing, we lose the opportunity to see them as they want to be seen. Pain knows no boundaries, doesn’t care about physical traits or higher education or income bracket, upbringing, race, creed, religion, doesn’t care how popular you are or how clear your skin is or how easily working out is for you. It doesn’t care that so many people love you and you have so much to offer or you’re funny or honest or hardworking or talented. It finds the cracks and it seeps through and if we’re not prepared, inured to its power to wreak havoc on life, we can very easily give in to it.

Be kind to each other. Know that we all have something we wish were different. We’ve all had our hearts smashed and our spirits broken and our dreams ridiculed. We’re all in this together. Love as much as your heart will let you, whatever that means for you. Love, in all its many forms, is actually all that there is.

You’re a butterfly, and butterflies are free to fly

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Yesterday was the funeral for someone who was once a very dear friend, a brilliant, artistic, successful, strong willed, exotic beauty who was a good friend in high school and then again for a few years in the early – mid 2000s. Unfortunately we had a falling out in 2006; we were both going through transitions in our personal lives and we met up for dinner on a night when we were in entirely different head spaces and there were drinks involved and it spiraled out of control and that’s the last time I saw her.

A few years later we exchanged a brief email; I apologized for my part in things and we agreed to, as they say, let bygones be bygones. I reached out to her this past spring when I was getting ready to host a gathering in honor of the people who’d come to town for my high school reunion; I wanted to let her know that she was absolutely welcome in my home if she had any desire to attend. I didn’t know  then  – in fact, none of us did – that she was sick. A few weeks ago – September 5, actually – I had what I guess was a prescient dream about her. I don’t recall the details, just that it was troubling. I sent her this: “You were in my dream last night. I hope you’re doing well.” I didn’t expect a response, but I certainly didn’t expect that she would be no longer with us less than two weeks later.

This is a very weird grief – at first it was just bewildering, then I felt an uncomfortable detachment that I rarely associate with death – I guess it was due to the fact that so many others are mourning more viscerally. Now that’s gone – Saturday it turned into heartbreak, sadness, confusion, and regret for the way things ended between us. I chose not to go to the services yesterday, not because of any ill will whatsoever; these sorts of things evaporate immediately in the face of death. I chose not to go because I felt that I need to mourn this one in a private way. And I’ve begun doing so. I’ve prayed, I’ve asked for forgiveness (and I know I’ve gotten it), I’ve wept and I’ve done my best to keep to myself on this. I tried to talk to my mum a bit about it but she doesn’t, as we know, like to hear about these things, so I keep it in and talk to myself and the universe and to my departed friend. I had second thoughts about not attending yesterday but I feel in my heart it was the right thing for me to do, to mourn her in private and let those who were more actively connected to her spend time together. I’ve been through these things enough that I know there are no rules as to how or where or when one grieves. It is such an intensely personal thing; I remember when a friend died some years ago and another friend made the active decision to not attend the services. This was confusing but she told me that the services are really hard for her for reasons that have nothing to do with our friend – and that she chose to honor him in her own way. I absolutely get it now.

And so I will choose to do the same with our beautiful Khakasa, who is now in the stars. She was always a star, and she always will be.

Gone from my Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

 Then, someone at my side says, “There, she is gone.”

 Gone where?

 Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,

hull and spar as she was when she left my side.

And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me — not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

-Henry Van Dyke

With only dreams of you …

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In the night sky is a perfect crescent of a moon and two blue beams reaching up for the stars. On this night 12 years ago it rained hard, so hard that the clear blue skies and perfect feel of the following morning were a delightful surprise. That Monday we went to a fundraiser, then sloshed through the puddles to Cedar Tavern for a late-night burger. When the skies open up in the city the city comes together. In blizzards strangers offer strangers rides. In hurricanes dogs have more options. I’ve never been as grateful for this town as I was in the aftermath of 9-11; twelve years later I sit in Bottino with a glass of wine and watch the people stream in from Fashion Week and gallery openings and hear them get incensed by the tiniest glitches and in my building neighbors ignore one another and feign ignorance as the elevator doors close too soon.  Every [wo]man for [her]himself it’s a dog eat dog world look out for number one blah de blah blah. Oy vey. Tomorrow night twelve years ago we went to Gus’s on Waverly and Waverly, then (no longer) the spiritual vortex of Manhattan, according to Nicholas Christopher. We went despite it all – we needed to eat – we needed companionship – we had no idea what the fuck to do and all around us was kindness and shock and the stages of grief personified and amplified. Then we met friends at the pub up the road and “rallied” around the one who hadn’t yet heard from her mother, who worked in one of the towers. The towers. I visited them once, on a class trip in second grade; they were new to the skyline. I needed my mum to come with – I was (am) terrified of heights – and she did. Two weekends ago twelve years ago we hosted a surprise 30th for a friend – Yankees/Red Sox then El Parador then plans to go to Windows on the World diverted at the last moment. At the last moment. My lost former love’s last words, “Oh fuck!” from the 96th floor – he was on a conference call and this was reported to his then-wife. Sweet you you’re forever in my heart.

So much more to write – so many Fashionistas and Galleristas in my lines of vision and hearing. I knew this walking in here, but I needed to be around people tonight.

Live, love, laugh.

And, in the spirit of all three, please follow this beautiful project.