Monday, August 08, 2005

Peter Jennings

Peter Jennings has died. I reminded myself almost daily to write him a lettter, telling him how much I thought about him, and that I was pulling for him, but I never did it. I would pass the handsome poster of him near ABC and tell myself again that I had to write, before it was too late. But I guess I always knew it was too late from the moment he was diagnosed and they announced he was going for chemo so the opportunity for surgery had passed. My friend Chuck told me in 1984 whenDon was stricken that his father had been a lung surgeon, and that what fixed it in the 20 and 30s was all that could fix it to this day, or at least that one. That Peter was given radiation is the sign of that same panic that overtakes doctors when they know there is nothing they can do, but won't say so.

I met Peter for the first time at the Apollo-Soyez shot at Cape Kennedy in the 70s, it must have been, when I was deeply involved with a mystic I had introduced to an astronaut who had a spiritual experience while standing on the moon, and they had fallen in love, both of them married to other people. Peter was full out darling, the bright look that was always on his face enhanced by something like happy surprise when we literally bumped into each other on the way to some private celebration. I remember I was wearing a light green dress, cut sort of low, and had a tan as we still did in those days, not fearing anything except never living fully, or loving and being loved enough. I suppose I had giant jugs, and the bump into was accompanied by some exclamation on his part like 'Whoa, Big Mama," or something like that. I was there with Don and my still lovable children-- we were taking them to Disneyworld after the event-- so though I thought him among the most attractive men I had ever met in my life, the full potential lust of it didn't register. But some years later, Kandy Stroud, a journalist in DC with whom I had become friends, told me that Peter had told her he would not rest until we'd had an affair. It did a lot for my romantic ego. Some years after that, Don died from lung cancer, and among the calls I made was one to Peter telling him he had to stop smoking, volunteering to help him from the distance I was. I called him when there were 'Stop Smoking' days, but he always brushed aside my help, as as we know from Bill and Jeanie from Synanon, people can give up heroin but not nicotine.
Then, some years after that I was walking on 62nd Street and bumped into the ever-lively and troublemaking Joan Rivers, who said she'd just come from a book party across the street, and I should crash, they'd be glad to have me there. So I did, and Adolph Green waltzed me around the room at my entrance, so I was glad to have gone, and then I saw Peter. He was in the midst of one of his divorces, so from my usual reticent and shy place, I told him what Kandy had told me he'd said. But apparently he'd gotten a lot of rest since then, as his immediate response was 'How is Kandy?'
I am so sorry he is gone, especially the way he went. I remember Don's last days, when the oncologist said "It's hard to lose a patient like Don." I'm sure it was hard to lose a patient like Peter. I said to the doctor, about the cancer, a word that sticks in the soul and dries the tongue, "they ought to find a new name for this fucker." And he said "Fucker is good."
The real enemy is still that Fucker, so friends shouldn't get mad at each other about anything that comes from the mind. Heal all wounds, Close all breeches. Write the letter. I wish I still believed in everything I believed in when Apollo-Soyez happened, so death would seem to me just a part of the journey. If it isn't, and he can't know how sorry I am that he is gone-- well, maybe there is still the hope that they have Internet in the sky.

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