Well Maya died, and Lucy quit, and I just don’t know.
One minute you’re cosseted and swaddled in your cocoon of privilege, slathering it on, living it up, your righteous outrage about how the world done you wrong with unsatisfactorily luxurious refreshments, and the next everything shifts just a little bit to the left and you aren’t sleeping you’re out in the tall grass, sailing away on the shifting sands of the iceberg of loneliness mixing your metaphors like whoa.
I hadn’t seen Maya in like fifteen years, and Lucy didn’t leave in anger, her leaving had nothing to do with us, but hurt is hurt and I’m in the hurt.
Normal to feel hurt, I guess, but it feels deep. It has a pull.
Maya was my mom’s best friend for thirty-five years or forty years or so. They met in junior high, went to Woodstock together with his first wife, where they sold oranges & famously saw tie dye & oh also, met my dad for the first time, he wearing the stupid white jumpsuit & all that. Maya told me in a letter once he remembered him being a terrific dancer.
Maya was sort of I guess you could say a godfather to me though it was sure a lot weirder than that. We spent time together every summer in Chicago, he was good friends with my grandmother who lived there, right off Lake Shore Drive, Grace Street where she kept her elegant apartment. Every summer Maya and Harriet, the third in the trifecta of my mother’s childhood circle, those cultured Jewish Chicago kids who read all the right books and went to private schools and then did a lot of drugs and married people who ruined them in various ways, would come to my grandmother’s (she was their queen, she was everyone’s) for chilled grapes, grasshopper cookies, and chocolate mint ice cream in the green Depression-glass dishes I use for dinners sometimes. We must have at times eaten other things, but I remember those crisp green grapes, the Pepperidge Farm cookies from the Jewel, and the Breyer’s. Maya took huge pleasure in food, which surely must at least partially explain my preference for a partner who can always eat one more cookie.
Maya and I wrote hundreds of letters to each other for ten years or so, until I went to college. Then we emailed but it wasn’t ever the same. I was in college and his third wife was busy swallowing him up, ushering him away from everything that was Before, which naturally included my mom & me.
The company he started’s real successful now. Maya was an anti-capitalist, but his third wife’s smart & she made him rich.
What baby boomer wasn’t an anti-capitalist what baby boomer could resist riches.
I’m bitter & probably it was as much him as her, I shouldn’t judge when I don’t really have a clue.
I sent him chocolates once but I doubt he got them.
Wrote him maybe two letters in these 15 or so years.
It wasn’t like I was trying awfully hard.
We weren’t in contact ever again / it hurt, but only sporadically. I wonder if it hurt him, ever?
Now he’s dead though so of course that hurts.
Not him, me—I’m the one hurting tonight, of course. Him being a Jewish Buddhist, one of those leagues of baby boomer JewBus, he’s not currently hurting at all. The Jewish side of him is sitting in a plain box in his body like Jews believe you do when you die, his wife is sitting shiva for him, silly, he who never believed in god, and the Buddhist side of him is I dunno, in a rock or nirvana or something.
There is nothing left of him, and I’m still here, friend of his from long ago friend who was once my best friend, damn near only friend.
My own heart more of a JewBu than I want to admit most days. I can’t sleep and I meditate. Can’t sleep four nights now. First it was excitement about Mandatory Relaxation Time coming to an end and the Beloved Sweatshop starting up again. Then it was all those hours on the red-eyes. Then it was the Maya dying, and last night it was dying + the Lucy thing. It’s around 2:30 am I’m not sure I’m going to even try tonight.
Focus on my breath, that clear mountain pool.
Maya taught me about the clear mountain pool of your thoughts: that they are what you want them to be, might as well make ’em pure, sparkle ’em up a bit.
“The thing is, Gussie, you don’t have to have the thoughts in your head.”
Three people called me Gussie: Maya, and Harriet, and my grandmother. Once day I offhandedly mentioned it to Lucy, and she picked it up. Anyone else, I woulda shut it down right away. Maybe it’s because Lucy’s a Jew, too. Who knows, but I let her have Gussie.
“If you don’t like ’em, you’re allowed to swap ’em out. Pretty trippy, right?”
He read me Walden we were transcendentalists together. I guess maybe this was around when he had just separated from Hiroko, his second wife. Him in his austere/stylish Japanese-style place near Sheridan Road: leafy side street, cats. Me doing legs up the wall before I knew it was a thing, stuck in that house in that city.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”
That’s Emerson but, you know, close enough. Obviously if he was telling it to me it meant I wasn’t a little mind.
Maya was my first real friend, and Susan was my second. Susan was murdered a decade ago & Parkinson’s killed Maya on Thursday and I guess I have no childhood friends now guess I’m all grown up now guess that’s what that means. Exactly one straggler from high school whose photos I sporadically like on Facebook that’s what I’m down to.
Basically Maya was the first person who gave me a window into the life of an intellectual. It was because of him that I wanted to go to good cities and see things and be a part of a cultural world. He would go to Japan or India, send me stationery I’d use to write him back. He would tell me about Zen monasteries and art shows he’d been to, all this stuff when I was like 13 or something.
We had some weird connection. Or maybe it was just you know, a weird dude and a young girl & I thought it was a connection because had no other connections with anyone else, didn’t know what connections are, barely do now. Yeah probably if my parents had been better parents I wouldn’t have been talking on the phone to my mother’s best friend until the sun came up, but they weren’t and I did and it was weird and it never bothered me, & doesn’t today.
Sometimes he’d read me entire books on the phone, & one of those books was Lolita. I was 17 or so by then, and I liked the inappropriateness of it like all 17-year-olds like weird fucked up shit. From the outside it sounds so predatory and typical, and I don’t care. I just liked Maya and if he fetishized me as a long legged skinny kid who liked books and liked him most of all, I’m still here today and I just can’t bear myself to think one bad thought about Maya, is that unfeminist and awful? I don’t care if it is—I miss my friend. My weird Humbert Humberty best childhood friend.
You take what you get when you had what I had. You know?
I was always in awe of him, and he’d write to me and encourage me to always be an artist, he’d tell me about his parents, classes he took in college, books he was reading, so much stuff. It gave me so much. We talked a lot about Plath and Salinger because that’s all I ever wanted to talk about. He really loved Elizabeth Bishop. He was the only person I talked to about home life stuff, and I didn’t do very much of it, but he got the picture. He was always making up bullshit “scholarships” and sending me money here and there, just little amounts, and when I went to college he sent me $1000 and a gold cocktail ring with a pink coral I still have.
He had my secrets and now he’s just a dead person.
People come into your life, and then they go. I was thinking idly the day he died about him, because I was writing a letter and letters make me think of his letters. Loopy handwriting on cream colored thick company stationery. It was maybe a 30 second thought, it came and went. Did he die just then? I think of him often, it didn’t seem weird he popped into my head.
How odd, to be alive and then dead.
Even when I knew he was in a wheelchair and wasn’t so mobile, I loved going to Chicago to visit my mom and thinking maybe I’d run into him on the street, & he wouldn’t recognize me—until he did. All grown up. All that. Of course this never happened. I’m going to Chicago in April, and the streets won’t be alive with possibility, ever again.
I’m down to exactly literally one person on earth who knows me now who knew me—like for real knew me, my soul and my everyday thoughts and all that crap—when when I was a kid, & that person birthed me.
I guess my brother knows me too, but I just don’t think he was really paying attention. I do have a dad somewhere but I stopped counting him nearly 20 years ago. So it’s my mom. Some far far away family members I saw once a year or so. Some friends of my mom’s I wasn’t so close to. C’est tout.
The circle shrinks.
And now Lucy.
Loss two ways.
You know, stuff comes up sometimes, & it can’t be helped. So she had to quit, because of the stuff & man I know it’s killin’ her to have had to do it. Lucy was one of the main pillars of our shop, and then—she wasn’t. All her specialities, the turtles and caramels, anything sugary, all the recipes we worked out together, the pate de fruit and the maple pecan caramel, not to even mention the dinners, how we can’t do em without her as the hostess (though we can’t do em anyway because Selmi stole the space we need for em but still). I could go on and on about what Lucy brought to the shop, all that sweetness and light and poetry and sensitivity, god who knew there could be a person more sensitive than me but there she was, so much like me as a kid—before I got hard.
Maya-era, me, really.
On fire with books and the entire world bursting all around me. I ached to look at her sometimes, Lucy Lucy Lucy. The world is so hard on the soft ones. God I want her to stay soft.
And now whoosh from being around her sweet endless energy five days a week to—nothing. Ah, it hurts so much to write it. How can we even function without Lucy? Today was our first day, Day One Post Lucy. We’re still all here & all, obviously, but, the heart, you know? Jacob asked me if the new pot I bought for caramel would really hold a 2x recipe & I said, “Hmm. Good point. Lucy will know for—oh.”
When someone’s good, you turn so much over to them. And then they leave and I realize that though I taught Lucy how to make turtles I can no longer make turtles and tomorrow I have to teach Brendan how to make turtles. Pretty sure Kate & Marena can teach me & Brendan at the same time. We all hold each other’s hands until our steps are no longer shaky & it’s going to be a while.
I hate feeling abandoned, but who doesn’t. I can see now that I have to get used to it.
What I want more than anything is to work as a team, in a collective way, with an amazing group of people. But then I realize that no one will be or should be as committed to this silly little world as I am, and therefore we will never be a true team in the way I imagine it and so this will keep happening. Over & over & over. People will come here and I will love them and they will leave me. Over & over & over forever. I just have to get used to it. My desire for perfection means nothing here, I cannot perfect this because people’s lives are not mine to arrange, even when I love them. People will leave, and I will just have to sit with it, in the void in the tall grass on the iceberg of unintentional but real abandonment.
I like a tight circle, but that doesn’t leave much wiggle room. Few close friends. I like it this way, because I need so much solitude & work time, it doesn’t leave much time for a vibrant friend circle, and this suits me. People so often feel suffocating, tiring, more work to do. So my circle’s tight and I hug it close.
When your circle shrinks, shrinks by two people in two days, say, it just hurts.
PS: I wrote this two days ago. I’m feeling better now. <3