A little over a week ago, we buried my father.
Yesterday, I learned that my old friend Pam had been buried too. There is a 36-year difference between the ages of my father and my friend. Both are gone too soon.
I remember the first time I saw Pam. We were twenty-somethings working at an entertainment company in midtown Manhattan. We had big dreams, like many twenty-somethings do. It was the mid-1980s. Times were flush economically, though not necessarily for us, trying to “make it” in the big city, restless, eager, curious, and energetic. We worked as secretaries in different departments of the company, but our paths crossed one day as I walked down a long hallway on another floor delivering a memo or an interoffice envelope, as we did in those pre-Internet days. We were walking in opposite directions down this long hallway, so — unless you deliberately snubbed the other person (in those days there were no smartphones to use to avoid eye contact) — it was impossible to pass without a pleasant greeting.
But with Pam, a pleasant greeting was never enough. It had to be full-on engagement. She stopped me in that long hallway on an otherwise dull weekday afternoon and talked. Not just a simple, civil “hello, nice to meet you,” but a characteristic Pam inquisition. One question led naturally into another. And another. And another. There was flow.
Even after that initial conversation in the midst of the workday, Pam fascinated me. It became radically clear to me in a very short time that Pam was, on some level, a kindred spirit. Or maybe she just had a knack for making a person feel that sort of kinship. But for me, it had been a long time since, if ever, I had met someone who was that open, inquisitive, even slightly scandalous, and as naturally playful as Pam.
Increasingly, we spent time socializing outside of work, making friend connections, and planning adventures. One of those adventures was to live overseas. She spoke of moving to Paris, and I to London. One afternoon, we went out during a lunch hour to get passport pictures taken. I got my passport; she got hers. I never followed through on my plan, but she followed through on hers.
The next couple of decades were marked with visits — her two visits a year back to the States, and my periodic visits to France. Each stay contained the singular marks of Pam: conversations filled with talk of relationships, art, travel, work, career, the past present and future, and adventures unique to her: Bypassing the entry fee to the Louvre. A free night-time boat ride on the Seine. I still have my prized Karl Lagerfeld-designed jacket that I bought when Pam got us into a private Chanel sample sale. She bought one too — each the same item in our respective sizes.
I remember the last time I saw Pam. For years, perhaps over a decade, our conversations were marked with stories of accumulated heartaches — the kind that takes tolls on our lives, of opportunities that weren’t panning out, of increased disillusionment, of continued searching at every turn. Her contact with me diminished. My birthday wishes to her went unanswered. My phone calls not returned.
When I kept on, believing that the worst that could happen is that my calls and emails would go ignored, I decided to try once again in advance of my April 2012 visit. I was pleasantly surprised to get an answer that I should contact her when I arrive.
I did. It would be the first time I had seen Pam in at least two years. There was some apprehension on my part because of her stark withdrawal of the recent past, but that unease vanished when I saw my familiar old friend, smartly dressed as always, on a vibrant Parisian corner. Classic Pam: I followed along with whatever her plan was for that evening. An art history presentation at the home of a colleague, in a grand room filled with expatriated intellectuals and artists. Somehow, it was yet another reliably-unique experience with Pam, this time evoking precisely what I imagined Paris to be at the height of its twentieth-century artsy grandeur.
Afterward, we went out to dinner. We talked. Pam shared a similar refrain — that she felt lost, couldn’t find love, tried everything, looked everywhere, was open to anyone, wanted children, was dissatisfied with her work, ran into closed doors. The forlorn themes of the discontented soul. I shared some of her outlook, that same disillusionment. I understood the desolation, the sense of loss, of hopelessness that comes with passing years and stages of life. I reached for consolations, suggestions, sharing how I handle my darker moments.
“Recite the twenty-third Psalm.”
“Try going to a synagogue.”
“Try another religion.”
Mostly, though, and most earnestly, I said, “Pam, it is time to come back home.”
I left Pam that night feeling that my words had fallen on barren ground. That was, almost to the day, two years ago.
Pam made her mark in so many ways in her life: As art historian. Writer. Leader. Friend. Rule-breaker. Vibrant. Sensitive. Courageous. In her smart and charismatic manner, Pam found her way into events and hearts, usually outside the boundaries of how things were supposed to be done.
It has been said, now famously, that one remembers a person not by what they do, so much as by how they make you feel. Pam always left us feeling something. Not always was it pleasant. Sometimes it was bitter. Sometimes it was flattering. Usually it was warm. Often it was hope. Always it was stimulating.
No matter, Pam inspired others to feel something more than they felt before they had interacted with her. This is how she touched us, and this is the mark she left on me.
Pam, I will miss having you in the world. Beaucoup d’amour à tu.