Thursday, September 10, 2015

My Melancholy Birthday

Today's my birthday.  This isn't a contemplative gaze-at-my-navel post to lament the aging process. Or to bemoan all the months that have gone by since I blogged last (I cringe: 8 months).  I'm pleased to celebrate this day.  But I'm feeling sad because my treasured friend, Laine, passed away exactly two weeks ago.  This is my first birthday since the age of 9 without a long phone call from her.  

Laine (R) and me 2012

The first time I noticed Elaine was at our kindergarten Sunday School Purim party.  I walked over to a group of costumed children who were standing in a circle.  There in the middle was Queen Esther sitting on a chair, wearing a long white dress, her chestnut hair cascading down her back and her head crowned with a rhinestone tiara.  Her smile illuminated the room.  That was Lainie.

The two of us became friends in kindergarten, although we were in different classes at W.W. Smith School in Poughkeepsie, NY.  I remember one noon when we were dismissed for lunch.  We held hands and skipped down the sidewalk and noticed our shadows skipping along with us – silhouettes of 2 little girls with long braids and slips of curls surrounding our heads like wispy halos.  Our shadows were identical twins.

From 7th grade through high school, we were inseparable.  We’d go home from school and then be on the phone with each other for a minimum of 2 hours nightly.

As 14-year-olds we became Candy Stripers, volunteering on Sundays at Saint Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie.  One of the white-garbed nuns, whose face was imprisoned with a wimple, once asked us if we had gone to church that morning.  Laine and I looked at each other.  I replied that no, we’re Jewish.  The nun said, “Oh…that’s nice.”  Another woman working in the room came over to us and peered at our heads.  I knew she wouldn't find horns.   

In high school, we’d take the train on a Saturday from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan, and shop for clothes at stores like Orbach’s and Alexander’s, gaze with amazement at overpriced accessories displayed in Bergorf-Goodman’s windows, and flip through art books at Brentano's, where we'd feel sophisticated and refined. Then we would eat lunch at Lord and Taylor's, like grown-up ladies.  

Something else happened in high school.  We sat with 5 other girls for lunch every day during our senior year.  Once at an assembly during National Brotherhood Week, we looked at each other – a motley group of girls of different backgrounds and identities - and realized that that’s what we are: a Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood, 1985
Nancy, Betsey, Donna, Laine, Jan, Me, Jule
and Becky (Laine's and Howie's daughter)

One thing that always amused the two of us was how people who didn’t know us that well got us confused.  We didn’t look alike.  In high school I had short hair.  Hers was long.  In MY high school yearbook, one acquaintance wrote under his name, “Elaine, I hope you have a great time in college.”

During our last high school reunion in 2011, Laine's name tag had my photo on it.

Our classmate, Dell, and Laine with a name-tag with my photo, 2011

Laine's high school reunion name tag - with my high school photo

Even during Elaine’s and Howie’s wedding, the rabbi, who knew the two of us forever, came over to me, the maid of honor dressed in a long yellow gown, and asked me how I had met Howie.  “From Elaine,” I responded.  The rabbi walked away with a baffled look on his face.

We took separate paths starting in our twenties, with Laine a married woman settled in Albany, NY, and I a wandering anthropologist who lived in Iran, Israel, Boston, San Francisco, and France.  Laine became a graphic designer.  I became an academic and then an ex-academic.  She - my bff before bff became a term of endearment - was the matron of honor at my wedding in Berkeley, CA.  

Laine, Howie, and me in Albany - September 2014
This past July 4 weekend I visited Laine and Howie.  Another Brother, Jan (and her husband, Dovid), joined us for the day.  Laine was her animated, funny, vibrant, and optimistic self.  People who did not know her would not have guessed that she was ill.   Her kindness, wisdom, humor, and tact – as well as that glowing smile – drew people to her. It was that positive nature of hers that refused to let cancer define her and made her the person we all loved.

Jan, Laine, and me, July 5, 2015

At the end of the weekend, Laine drove me to the train station.  When we hugged our good-byes, I told her that I want to come back to Albany the last week of August to see her.  We’re joined at the hip, she said.  Yes, I responded, we are.

I did go back to Albany the last week of August.  To kiss my beloved friend goodbye.  Now Laine's memory is a blessing.  And my birthday is melancholy.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Dell. You must have been surprised to see your photo (with an orange glow because of the incandescent lighting).

  2. Oh my gosh. This is sad and funny at the same time. I laughed out loud at the stories of people confusing you (especially the rabbi!) I remember you long ago telling me about the "Brotherhood." I didn't realize until now that Laine was one of those women. I'm so sorry you lost her! You capture perfectly the unique grief of losing an old friend.

    1. When I finished this piece and hit "publish", I felt a cathartic release. My birthday melancholia began lifting. But it took me hours to deal with blogspot's horrendous programming: spacing, sizes of fonts, etc. No matter how many times I thought it was OK, it turned out weird. Then I just figured, the hell with it, and voila - it was in the world of cyberspace, bad spacing and all.

  3. Replies
    1. After 8 months of feeling guilty for not writing any blog post, I decided to write about something sad to me. None of my other posts are like this one. And I hope in the future that everyone I love will be alive a long, long time - because I don't want to write about loss.

  4. This is so sad and such a wonderful tribute to you bff!