Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Year Later

I got emails today from the attorney who is handling the legal details of my friend Norm's estate, and from the real-estate agent who is handling the sale of his condo, which thanks to the housing market still has not sold. I realized with a shock that February 18 will be the one year (!) anniversary of his death, and thought of a letter I had written him shortly before he died. I posted it as a blog at the time, but somehow wanted to repost it now, by way of letting him know (I know, I know...) he's not forgotten.

Dear Norm,

I hope I might have the courage to read you this letter before it is too late, though it is far easier to write a blog for the whole world to see than it is to speak directly to the one person for whom it is intended. But to do so is to admit to myself and to tell you that I know that you are dying…which we both of course know. But avoidance is one of the silly games we humans play.

I wanted to let you know how much you have meant to me these past 52 years, and how integral a part of my life you are.

I remember the August night in 1958 when, two months out of college, I first saw you at the Haig, a bar near Chicago's Lawson YMCA. We didn't speak in the bar, and you left before I did, but when I walked out, you were standing there waiting for me. We moved in together less than a month later.

I remember how we built our couch from plywood—we painted it a high-gloss black, and used a foam pad, for which we had a cover made. I remember visiting thrift shops to buy tables and a dresser…the dresser I still use today. And I remember the 3-foot harlequin lamp we both loved when we saw it in a shop window, but could not afford it, and how, serendipitously, we found exactly the same lamp in a thrift store, it's base shattered, and how we bought it and remolded the base. I had it, too, until I moved from Wisconsin to return to Chicago. I remember the small faun's head I bought you one Christmas, which you still have.

I remember the party we had to which I invited everyone with whom I worked at Duraclean International, and how I broke my toe while we were all dancing the hora, and how we ran out of liquor and Phil Ward drank the juice from a jar of olives.

I remember how my parents adored you, and the time shortly after we got together when we all went to Maxwell Street and, as you and Dad were walking ahead of Mom and me, I realized "Hey, I think I love this guy." I remember our trips to the cottage on Lake Koshkonong with our friends, and how we helped Dad build an apartment for us above the garage. I remember water-skiing, and ski trips, and the time, coming back to Chicago from the lake in my then-new red Ford Sprint convertible, you spent most of the trip rummaging through a huge bag of potato chips looking for the perfect chip, which you then gave to me.

I remember evenings of cards and games with friends. And the one thing I remember most is that we never, in our 6 years together, had a really serious argument.

Of course I also remember that it was not all idyllic. Your job took you on frequent business trips, often several weeks at a time, during which we both, being young, were promiscuous, which inevitably contributed to our parting of the ways. I remember your never wanting us to take vacations together on the basis that we were together all the time, and that I could never understand that.

And after we broke was me who broke it off because my promiscuity got out of hand…I spent, literally, the next ten years kicking myself around the block for having hurt you, because I know it did, deeply. We had little contact over the next 25 years or so, seeing one another occasionally, exchanging Christmas cards, but it was awkward for both of us.

Yet you remained close to my parents, and were there for my dad's funeral, but were away somewhere when Mom died and I couldn't reach you.

And then when I decided, after nearly 40 years, to return to Chicago, I naturally moved in with you until I could get my own place, and our friendship, minus the romance, resumed.

You have been one of the largest stones in the foundation of my life, and I love you in a way impossible to put into words. You are my family and it is important for you to know that. But I fear I will not be able to bring myself to say so directly to you, because to do so would be to release you, and I simply cannot do that. You're part of who I am, and will always be.

I will try to let you know. I promise.

And a few days before he died, I did. And though he was by then in a coma from which he never woke up, I want so much to hope he heard me.

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Janet said...

Your letter to Norm was/is beautiful. Thank you for sharing - it was very so moving.

Dorien/Roger said...

Thank you, Janet. Its main purpose was to encourage everyone to tell those they care about how they feel before it is too late.