We had made a short inroad into real friendship some years ago, even though she had declined to represent my Venice book, although admitting she had enjoyed and been fooled by it, but didn't think she could sell it. But after that we went out one night to hear her friend Nancy, a contemporary, (meaning that she, too, was tiptoeing into her seventies) do a cabaret act of Yip Harburg songs, Yip having been my mentor and lyrical father figure for the beginning of my would-have-been career as a songwriter.
But I was really looking forward to the lunch, as my return to New York had been less than wondrous, there being few people here to whom I feel connected, and the general sense of urgency surrounding almost every step you take in this city being in direct confrontation to the peace I had managed to maintain the past few months. The lunch, being so happily anticipated, had been nearly scuttled by some hysteria surrounding my daughter in Arizona, and I was relieved to be still in New York to catch up with Wendy, and threw the whole unpleasant story on the table when I got to the restaurant, late, which she immediately pointed out was not my usual style. She fielded all the grim personal stuff with gentle panache, and we ordered lunch. I know better than to reveal stuff I am going through with my children to someone who would rather be someplace else, but I couldn't help myself. And she was very kind, but then, even though she didn't have children, we shared a love for dogs.
Anyway I told her not to worry about my new manuscript, which I thought I'd brought with me in an envelope, that she should just read it for pleasure, as I understood from the way things were in the book business, that it would never be published. When it turned out I'd brought the wrong manuscript, she walked me back to my apartment, so I could go upstairs and get the right one, and waited in the lobby while I scoured through my papers to find the right one, which I couldn't. When I went back downstairs she smiled and said "I knew you were looking for it and couldn't find it," and assured me that my e-mailing it to her office would be fine, even though we were both of the generation that liked to turn pages.
"And you don't know that it will never be published," she opined most sweetly, and we said our goodbyes. The next day she e-mailed me that my e-mail hadn't gone through, and the day after that, that her office e-mail had been corrected, and she had the book. That was Friday.
Saturday she died.
I did not find that out till Monday, when her office e-mailed everybody I guess. I have not been struck so low, or so unexpectedly, in all the years since Don died, and for that I had some preparation. I have been off kilter since I heard, deeply sad and feeling... what? Things so deep and unexpected they puzzle me. I think of the Quakerly things we might have discussed had the friendship had time to flower. I think of the gentle, smiling way she said "You don't know that it will never be published," and wondered if that was her Inner Light, the Quakerly thing that guides that religion, or some prescience she might have had.
Whatever it was, I have been blown away since, sorrowing over her, wishing there was something I could do, when that's the thing about Death-- there really is nothing. It's over.
Then last night I suddenly understood the depth of my grieving, for this woman I believe was wonderful, but in fact hardly knew. It was not just Wendy I was grieving; it was Death. It just seems so irrational. Much as we know it is coming for everyone, it appeared, this time at least, completely out of line.
She was there, she was perky, she had light in her eyes, she was kind. And then she was gone. It makes no sense, for all that it is real. The realest.