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She Was Somebody

By Larry Gross · April 23rd, 2008 · Living Out Loud

As strange as it might seem, for the past few years I've started most mornings looking through the local obituaries online. On March 3, I finally could stop. My friend passed away.

She was difficult to know. We worked together more than 30 years ago at a machine tool manufacturer here in town. I worked in accounting, she in purchasing. Right off the bat, I knew she was different.

Organization wasn't her thing. Getting to work on time wasn't something she could do. Meeting deadlines? Forget it.

To many who worked with her, and that included me at times, she was considered a walking disaster.

Still, I was drawn to her. She was likable. We'd often have lunch or take smoke breaks together. We would sometimes hang out at her desk and bullshit away the afternoon.

She had a great sense of humor. She always made me laugh.

She was also beautiful: tall, thin, long brown curly hair and a pretty smile. To say I wasn't attracted to her would be a lie. I was married. She never was.

She was confused about what she wanted to do with her life. At one time, she wanted to be a singer, then a writer. She took up painting for a little bit. She liked to make up jokes and thought about trying her hand at being a stand-up comedian.

The thing is, she had all these interests but never quite got around to pursuing any of them. She would start something, then stop.

She'd often tell me she wanted to be somebody, not just a purchasing agent. I encouraged her to engage in those other interests. When I did, she'd sometimes look at me like I was crazy -- like she was just talking and thinking out loud.

After we stopped working together, months or even years would go by before I'd hear from her.

Then there would be a flurry of activity with several e-mails and lunches. Then nothing.

After my divorce, we had dinner a few times and then she disappeared again.

It was useless for me to try to keep up the friendship. If she wasn't into it at a particular time in her life, the door would be locked shut.

Years went by. I forgot about her, but she found me again. She read a column I wrote for CityBeat, and I got an e-mail. She wanted to meet for drinks. This was almost three years ago.

I was living in Clifton at the time, and she knew where Sitwell's was on Ludlow. We agreed to meet there early on a Saturday evening.

I remember getting there early and going to the back and getting a table where I could see the door when she walked in. When she did, I was alarmed.

She was still beautiful but painfully thin. There were slight, dark circles under her eyes. She didn't look well.

After a hug and very little small talk, I asked her honestly how she was. Looking me in the eye and without hesitation, she told me she had lung cancer. She told me she was dying.

Feeling shocked and disturbed, that's what I wanted to talk about. She didn't. I would try to approach the subject, but she would turn it quickly into talking about the "good old days," former coworkers, how she was still a purchasing agent, books she was reading -- anything except her cancer.

In those days, smoking was still allowed in Sitwell's, and we smoked like chimneys. I was drinking vodka, she was drinking Irish coffee. Without either of us saying it, I think our intent that night was to get good and drunk.

She continued to talk. I listened. The drinks were getting to me. I remember looking at her and thinking of our on-again, off-again history through the years.

She was a person impossible to figure out. Now she was slowly dying.

The early evening became late. She had some regular coffee to sober up a bit, and then I walked her to her car. It was a sad walk. Neither one of us said a word.

When we reached her car, she kissed me on the lips, then hugged me tightly. It was a lingering hug. She wasn't letting go.

I broke from the hug and kissed her. I took her hand, and we went back to my apartment.

That night, in a drunken haze, we made love. She was fragile but so beautiful.

I remember how we took our time and the passion we both felt. It was wonderful. It had to happen. I think that night was 30 years in the making.

When I woke up early the next morning, she was gone. No note, no goodbye, nothing. I knew immediately she had closed the door on us again.

After that night and over the next few years, I thought about reaching out to her again but didn't. Somehow in my head, I knew that evening at Sitwell's was her goodbye. I decided to leave it at that.

Still, I checked those obituaries most mornings.

I think about her and often miss her. I remember her saying so many years ago how she wanted to be somebody. Those words hurt a little now.

Despite her difficult approach to our friendship, she was somebody to me. I hope she knew that.

CONTACT LARRY GROSS: lgross@citybeat.com



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