Friday, June 09, 2017

Lee, part I

I still have her phone number on my night table. With a four-hour time difference between her home and mine, our conversations would often take place at my bedtime. I would have had more energy to talk at other times, would have been less brain-fogged, but I knew I'd get her voice mail.

At bedtime, I often got her voice mail anyway. I never knew if she was out or simply not answering the phone. Because we were such close friends, most of the time I assumed she was out. But it was never the safest assumption.

We met in our twenties, both living in Manhattan and working at one of the most glamorous music venues in the world. It's wonderful when you have a dream job and you're aware of it. I was aware. The atmosphere could be casual (I sometimes brought my dog to work) or beyond sophisticated. I took piano lessons in an office down the hall. My co-workers and I lunched at some of NYC's finest restaurants, and lunch almost always included scotch or a martini. I honestly don't know how we got any work done in the afternoon. Because this was the 1960's, many of the offices, mine included, were filled with cigarette smoke. We had free tickets to just about everything.

On our lunch hours, when we weren't eating and drinking, Lee and I would walk the streets (yes, in our heels), exploring little exotic shops. Sometimes we explored the building in which we worked. Thanks to a shared (if somewhat unbalanced) sense of adventure and my overdeveloped sense of mischief, we went places Lee wouldn't have gone on her own (and neither, perhaps, would I). I don't know if this was good or bad, but we had lots of memorable fun.

I was married and living in midtown. Lee was single and had her own apartment near our jobs. I took a bus to work, and one morning I got off a few blocks before my stop and dropped in on Lee. I knew she'd be just about ready to leave for work, and we could walk together. She was, and we did. But she was clearly thrown by my unexpected appearance, and asked me not to do it again. I would never have predicted that reaction. We were such close friends. Growing up in an apartment building where my best friends lived as well, I had never encountered an intensely private person, and I couldn't relate. I don't think I even heard the word territorial in those days. But I never dropped in on Lee again.

Lee's reaction was all the more surprising given her remarkable intuition and sensitivity in interpreting human behavior. She taught me more than I could ever write about here. Looking back, I was often more than a little dense in comparison. I remember my response when Lee said family patterns tend to repeat through generations: I thought that sounded silly. Silly me.

When Lee got married I was her matron of honor ("female witness" is more accurate), and shortly after that my husband and I left Manhattan and moved to New Jersey, then to our weekend house in Pennsylvania, then to a more permanent home in PA. Lee, whose marriage didn't last long, visited me in all these places before deciding to go back to school to become a nurse. After graduation, she began her journey west. We kept in touch while she worked in several states, but after she sent a post card from Alaska I stopped hearing from her.

"I cried when I heard your voice." Lee was talking about a message I left on her answering machine. By now it was years after she sent that post card, and months after I first started trying to find her. It wasn't easy, but I was like a dog with a bone. I missed my friend and wanted to know how she was. In the process, I found her ex-husband and called him. I scared the poor man, who figured if I was calling him it must be because Lee had died. But no, he didn't know where she was.

To be continued . . .