Updated: May 15
By Susan Kastner
I know, and don't cease reminding myself and family and the socially distant circle to which we belong, that I, my family, and our circle, are all among the lucky. The blessed, in fact. Okay: Not among the .000- whatever per cent who own the mammoth stegosaurus share of the world's goodies; but surely in the whatever per cent who live above a whole lot of people, way above the ones who don't have the luxury of protecting themselves from the marauding microbe. The people who can't isolate, who are crowded in slums or shelters or prisons or institutions or workplaces they can't afford to abandon; or whose livelihoods are tanking because nobody can buy their wares.
Our particular family bunch are further blest to have each other: not to be freezing it out alone surrounded only by four lonely walls. We lucked into living in a three-generation compound: Granny me, my son and wonderful daughter in law and three rambunctiously perfect kids, age almost-13, 4, and 14 months. Having dinners together, the grownups a pair of gourmet cooks, me chipping in frenziedly from time to time. Hearing the thump-thump of kiddie feet off and on each day, as they come to get from granny what their cruel parents have denied them. The warm baby bodies, the perpetual readings of Goodnight Moon and A Very Special House and Big Red and...
And yet, and yet. What we, the privileged, miss.
"I was walking around Kensington market," said the son after dinner, him on his second Manhattan, me on my third, "and you can't just go in anywhere. There's nowhere just to go into. The air is full of anxiety. There's almost no one out, but you cross the street when there is someone."
Yes. I miss...
Not having to cross the street when there is someone else there. Not having people look at me when I'm out alone, and wonder if I, in my age group, am someone to give a wider berth to. Or if I should be out at all. If I'm out with any of the kids, the looks are even warier.
Saving a bundle of course, but I miss eating out, just because I can't. I miss pedicures - how did they ever make these scrabbly toes look so wonderful? And: what are those poor cheery underpaid scrabbly-feet-braving pedicurists doing, without all us privileged ladies' grungy feet to minister to?
The radomness: I miss that. Go out when you want, go where you want, shop when you want, with whomever you want. I miss the family, the sister I can't see whenever we feel like it. I miss my soulmate brother, who died not long before it would have been impossible to see him. I miss the fellows in my life who have become strictly virtual. I miss my friends, the happy random lunching and drinking and schmoozing.
To an inordinate and unreasoning and useless degree, I miss my oldest girlfriend, Dianee.
"Dianee" wasn't her actual name, it was the pet-name version of "Dian" that her father used and, since the later years of our loving friendship, what I've always used with her too. She and I went back to Grade 10 at Forest Hill Collegiate. We were both new to Forest Hill Village, both of us outsiders among the vaunters of cashmere twinsets and fathers with Caddies. Dianee happened to be assigned the seat behind me in Mrs. Maximonko's class. Poor Mrs. Maximonko, a supply teacher, dealing for the first time with a swarm of nouveau-riche brats.
Just behind Dianee was the first man of my instant dreams, to whom I would never exist, Michael G. But Dianee and I hit it off from the start. In no time, we were taking evening walks on school nights, packing it in before our 9:30 p.m. curfews, just for the dream glimpse of the other boys of our disparate dreams: mine was another Michael, hers was a Jimmy. As we walked, we would harmonize the songs learned in school choir from the faculty choirmistress, Mrs. Rutherford; speaking the "rests" as Mrs. Rutherford did. I sang alto, Dianee, soprano; I've always preferred the harmony:
Where e'er you walk (REST REST)
Cool gales shall fan the glade (REST REST)
Trees where you sit (REST REST)
Shall crowd into a glade, a gla-ade,
Trees where you sit shall crowd in to-oo a glade...
We never did happen upon Michael or Jimmy. What we imagined would be their responses, or what we figured might be the reaction to singing Handel's Messiah at the top of our voices after dark in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood, is unclear to me now.
But it was part of the cement in our friendship. That friendship went on all our lives, through different professions, different mates, different continents, and long spaces of separation. There was a shared silliness, openness, unconventionality; an unspikey unguardedness...a majorly joyous meeting of ids, which rekindled, unchanged, every time we got back together. I could tell her anything, she was the same with me. What was special was that our honesty with one another, including judgments and advisings, were without agenda - were openhearted, envy-free, without backbiting, without anything but caring.
Then one winter three years ago, Allan, her beloved husband of over 40 years went under. He was a dozen years older than she, they were, on the face of it, different in certain ways - she loud-voiced, voluble, social, he more taciturn and homeloving - but it was a profound love match of shared passions and values.
He had for some time had serious health problems, they had been treated; but all at once, as it seemed, the race had been run. He was gone.
In his death notice she wrote, "In lieu of flowers or donations, be kind to someone." At his shiva, she asked me to bring my guitar and sing some of the things from my 3-chord 9-song folkie days.
Instead, we harmonized once again on "Where e'er you walk." The fellow shiva-goers maintained a bemused silence.
We saw each other more frequently, in the months that followed.
And then, barely a year after his death, Dianee emailed that she was in hospital.
A seemingly unimportant respiratory problem. A persistent cough. A sore throat that wouldn't heal. Now she couldn't swallow. Exploratory this, exploratory that. Feeding tubes. Breathing tubes. Pain...
I'm not gonna live this way, she told me when I called.
Other friends visited, lots of them; I didn't. I had broken a wrist, I couldn't drive; the hospital was too far north; all of that was the reason, I told myself. Knowing that the reality was I couldn't bear seeing her.
She knew it. As ever and always there was no bitter judgment.
We emailed a lot and talked, as long as she was able.
She wrote a group email giving instructions for her shiva. For heaven's sake, make sure this time her kids ordered a lot more lox and chopped liver; at their father's shiva, it hadn't been nearly enough.
She was asking a few select friends to say a few words at her funeral: Would I be one? I wrote back that if she was going to be at the funeral, I would certainly be there, and say whatever she liked. She sent me a yuk-yuk emoji.
Maybe three weeks later, she was gone.
I did go to the funeral. I remember saying I would, forever, miss harmonizing with her.
Which, these days more than ever, having Dianee to share and giggle and harmonize with, even virtually, is one of the things I find especially especially wrenching to go without.