Wednesday, October 1, 2014

No Chance to Say Good-bye

It happened like this in the dream: I was thumbing through the latest issue of Vanity Fair when, after surviving all the slick ads and free pull-outs hawking everything from perfume to People Magazine, I turned a page and stared at a photo collage of my husband at various stages of his life from childhood to the present, just a week or so from celebrating (well, not exactly celebrating) his 70th birthday. Why were these photos in Vanity Fair? I mean, my husband is a cute guy and all but hardly a household name, except, of course, in our household where he is known as the joker, the cook, the artist, and sometimes the jerk. And why hadn't my husband let on that he would be featured in a national magazine, best known for its coverage of scandals of the rich and famous. Yeah, there is some serious stuff, too, about war and business and start ups. Mostly, though, it's a step above the other gossip rags that pack the weekly newsstands. Then in small print at the bottom of the second page, I noticed the byline as that of an old friend who had died over two years earlier. Tom never liked dancing much, but, ironically, that's how he died --- dancing at a relative's wedding. According to what we were told, he collapsed, still conscious, mumbling about the pain. He was carted off in an ambulance to a nearby hospital where he was pronounced dead from a massive heart attack. Tom didn't believe in doctors and cavalierly said many times that there was no sense in preventative medicine because when it was time, it was time. My husband's best (and a close friend of mine) was a smoker, an avid tennis player turned golfer in a cart, and a hardy eater who paid little attention to the food he ate. But he must have known something wasn't right because, ironically, he'd scheduled an appointment to see a cardiologist for the week after he dropped dead. My husband and I heard all of these details from our friend's sister who called early on a Saturday morning to insist that we attend a memorial service for Tom before his body was flown back to Miami Beach for a proper burial to be officiated by one of that city's most revered rabbis. (Quite an honor because Tom, born and raised a Catholic, was a convert to Judaism in order to please his soon-to-be wife's parents who otherwise would have disowned their daughter.) "But we haven't spoken to him in two years," I said. "Just a misunderstanding, I'm sure," she said. A misunderstanding? Simply ruffled feathers? Cross signals that destroyed a friendship that spanned more than five decades? And now no chance to understand what had caused the rift or to make amends. No chance to say good-bye. We went to the memorial where we were embraced by Tom's family but all but ignored by his wife. I had followed her into the women's room for a moment of privacy. I hugged her, but she felt like dead weight in my arms. "I'm so sorry," I said. "It's too late for that," she said and walked away. Hurt, baffled and then furious, I wanted to leave immediately. But I put on my Zen robes (even though I'm Jewish), and my husband, who had gotten the same cold shoulder, and I decided to stay for the sake of Tom's brothers and sisters whom we'd known for years. The minute the service concluded, we offered our condolences to the siblings and got the hell out of there. One of Tom's sons visited several months after the funeral. He and my husband met for lunch. "My mother has written you off as dead," he said. "But you should write her and apologize." My husband was stunned. "Apologize for what?" "For saying 'No' when my father asked you to come with him to visit my uncle." Tom's brother was dying from brain cancer, the result of Agent Orange unleashed during his stint in Viet Nam. "Are you kidding? Every time your dad was in town, I begged him to let me meet him wherever his brother was being treated. He turned me down every time." "Well, that's not true." "Were you there?" "No, but . . ." "But what? "That's my mother told me. My dad, too." "Your mother is dead wrong." "Write her and apologize. It can't hurt." Alan stood up, tossed his share of the bill on the table. "I can't apologize for something I didn't do. And what's the point? I'm already dead as far as your mother is concerned, right along with your father." My husband turns 70 this week. I'm convinced that his beloved but estranged friend has been hanging around. He wants to wish him a Happy 70th and wishes for a long, healthy life --- something he wasn't able to enjoy. Why after all would he have published the photos in Vanity Fair?

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