I eventually located Lee, and left the phone message that made her cry. And then we picked up where we left off. There was some serious catching up to do. She had to absorb the news that my husband and daughter Gillian had died, and I learned about her bout with breast cancer.
We were no longer Manhattanites working in the rarefied atmosphere of Lincoln Center: Lee was a psych nurse in Alaska, and I was home in rural Pennsylvania. But our connection remained the same. We had much to share, much we needed to share. I changed my phone plan to give me unlimited minutes. We also emailed a lot.
As we got older, the topic of our health came up more frequently. We were both rather compulsive researchers, and learned quite a bit as we compared notes. We had our DNA tested at the same time. We got into genealogy and shared our discoveries. We read books together and discussed them.
Then Lee's cancer came back. That was scary, but it became less frightening as Lee's doctor assured her she could continue working and could even go to Europe, which she'd been thinking of doing. Soon after the diagnosis she had another scary experience: skidding on ice and crashing her pickup truck, totaling it. She bought a new Jeep, but after the accident she felt as though the other shoe was bound to drop.
In April 2016 she emailed that she was scheduled for another PET scan. She was depressed about that, but said Alaska was beautiful in spring and she hoped Mother Nature would work some magic on her. She ended the email with, "Thanks for hanging in with me. You are always in my heart. Love, Lee."
I emailed back, and at some point called her as usual, and then called again. Emailed again. But she didn't return my calls, and the emails had stopped with that one in April. I persisted, asking--later begging--for even just a line to let me know she was all right. Nothing. This went on for months. At Christmas I sent her a card and a letter. As with other letters I'd mailed, they were not returned to me. I felt that was good. But Lee's mailing address was a UPS mailbox, and for all I knew they could have been throwing them out.
A few years earlier we had talked about the possibility of something happening--illness or death--and I said she knew how to get in touch with my kids, but I didn't have the name of anyone I could contact if I were worried about her. Lee said, "I guess you could call Corinne Conti." I wrote the name down on a Rolodex card. It felt like half ace in the hole, half last resort. But of course I had no idea who Corinne Conti was, or where she was.
To be continued (last time) . . .