Sunday, July 28, 2013

Capturing A Missed Opportunity

Heidi Moore once told me I was "the biggest missed opportunity at a best friend, ever." I had to agree, and I did not take those words lightly.  As young Goddard undergrads, we were never friends. We were never enemies, but we rarely moved in the same circles, no matter how tiny those circles may have been. It took 20 years, and the advent of the Internet and social networking to discover one another. When we did, it was over our shared love of reading and writing.

At some point, about six years ago, before she knew she was sick, Heidi put out a request for new titles to assign her students. I believe she was teaching at a junior college back then. Still relatively well, still working full time, working on an ambitious writing project that she was hoping would someday be a book. I saw her request and made a suggestion - Rachel Ingalls' bit of Magical Realism, a wonderful, quirky novel called Mrs. Caliban. Heidi got a copy, read it, loved it, and reached out to me with a sort of, 'Hey, I think we might possibly be suited as friends' attitude. After that, it was on, and we never turned back.

Her instincts were right on target. We certainly were suited as friends, and became very close over the next few years, exchanging book suggestions, chatting online about writers, emailing one another and, most significantly, engaging in marathon phone conversations. During the last four years, especially, I'd come to really love the one or two times a month when one of us would call the other and we'd talk for three or four hours - usually until Heidi was just too tired to go on any longer. In retrospect, the fact that someone who was that sick and that exhausted, and who had so little energy gave so much of her time to me is humbling. But, Heidi was like that: she didn't want to miss out on anything, even when she felt like crap.

People who know me know that I love to tell stories, and Heidi just loved to hear a good story.  While we talked about everything - books, politics, religion, our trials and tribulations with women, family, food, health, television, cartoons, music... - what she loved the most was to hear a good story.  I think the fact that her deteriorating health made it more and more difficult to have adventures of her own made her hungry for the adventures of others. If a story had humor - most of mine do - all the better. She loved to laugh, and I liked making her laugh. She made me laugh, too, with her wicked sense of humor and her snarky delivery of a one-liner.

It's sort of preposterous to me that it took so long for the two of us to become friends. We had so very much in common.  Heidi spent years teaching special education. She loved to read and write. She didn't suffer fools.  She rolled her eyes at "woman's music." Family connections were important to her and she adored her mother. She loved children and regretted never having had any of her own. She was opinionated. These were all things we shared.

If it seems somehow tacky or self-indulgent to blog about a friend who has passed away, let me say this: Heidi loved the written word and, when it become clear she would never write the book she wanted to write, she turned her energy towards blogging.  And her blog was and is a thing of simple beauty.

It seems like such a cliche to say that a dying person is brave, but Heidi was fucking fierce. No matter how sick she was, she was going to create. If a book was out of the question, a blog documenting her journey made perfect sense. Read it. Don't be afraid. It's not depressing or tragic. Nothing about Heidi's way of dealing with her situation was depressing or tragic. During the hundreds of hours we spent talking on the phone, we talked plenty about her condition, the many doctors she was seeing on a regular basis, her restrictive diet, the many treatments she was trying...and none of it was depressing or tragic. She refused to make it so. While being that sick definitely annoyed her, it also fascinated her. She made it a point to learn everything she could about what was happening to her body, how and why each of her many symptoms presented itself, and what the latest medical research had to say about it. That said, she was never complacent. At one point when she was hospitalized last year, a doctor told her she had maybe one week to live. She didn't have access to a telephone at the time, but she managed to get an email out to me. In it, she mentioned this prognosis. It made my heart ache. Heidi on the other hand took the news with a grain of salt. She did not feel in any way that her life would end in a week. Just words uttered by a mere mortal, not a god. Of course she was right. Just as she'd been right about beating the odds and living past her 48th birthday. Heidi turned 48 in November - a birthday she'd been told she probably would never see. I like to think that every day she lived after November 13, 2012 was a polite-but-satisfying FUCK YOU to every doctor who was glib about her prognosis.

I want to say this, because it's important, and because it's the best and most honest tribute I can think to make to my friend: knowing her made me a better writer. Having a close relationship with someone who was living on borrowed time, and whose ability to create had been compromised by illness changed my life and my outlook as a writer. One day I told Heidi about a novella I'd written, and how I'd been made an offer by someone who wanted to develop it into a script. I told her about how I'd been flattered but turned down the offer. Her response was, "Why? If you don't want to get it out there, why did you write it?" The truth is that I was afraid to. Afraid of failure. Afraid of exposing parts of myself about which I'd always been guarded. Afraid, even, of success. Heidi forced me to face that fear, ask myself why I'd bothered writing, at all, and let go of my cowardice as a writer. When I accepted the offer, it was Heidi and her refusal to let fear guide her that spurred me on. It also made me go back and rewrite the novella, almost from scratch, because Heidi's words made me see, for the first time, that I'd written as if walking on egg shells - every word tinged with fear and cowardice. Heidi didn't seem to have time for those things in her own life, and this made me examine how I was spending my time and using my talents and creative energy. What I was forced to admit to myself was that I was playing it safe and living under the delusion that there would always be time in the future to get things right and be brave. Heidi was a living, breathing reminder that there isn't really time. Not for any of us. And, again, she didn't show me this in any tragic, heartbreaking way. She did it by just being her stroppy, determined self. If she challenged me and and my motives, and encouraged me to always seize the day, she challenged herself even more. Heidi's time was way too short, but she made good use of it. She didn't squander it.

I am so sad that Heidi isn't in this world, anymore, but I'm glad that she's free. And I'm glad, too, that the opportunity we had to become great friends wasn't really missed, at all: just delayed. Having her in my sphere during the last six or seven years has been profound. I will never forget her.

1 comment:

musing manatee said...

Oh Lana, I'm so sorry. I'm glad you are treasuring the gift of your friendship, sending hugs during this time of loss.