A late 40-something birthday of mine celebrated at Patty's New York apartment, and
my favorite picture of us over the years.
Because of a new job, Pat had missed coming out for her annual Labor Day visit. She had come every Labor Day since I have moved to Portland. She wasn't sick, or at least wasn't sounding sick on the phone. In fact she seemed more chipper than I had heard her in months. We rang off with her usual "I love you." When I got home from the ballet on Friday night, she had written me two e-mails, one saying she was beginning to search for flights and the other to praise me for my latest blog post. The next morning, she was gone.
Her daughter, Amber was in Europe, and Pat's step-daughter was frantically trying to reach her. She had stepped off the plane at JFK and her iPhone lit up. It is a wrenching thing to hear after you've been away on a pleasurable vacation. I received a lovely call from Amber this afternoon, but more on that later.
I met Pat through her ex-husband, Neil, an agent, financial manager, and consultant to the publishing industry. I had been hired to do the public relations promotion on a rather difficult book based on Nascar statistics, written and compiled by one of Neil's authors. I can't remember how I came to be recommended. Neil and his daughter and I hit it off right away, and Neil had been urging me to come up to Danbury for a visit at the family's compound there for months. One gray Saturday, I made the trip. He told me his wife would be on the same train, but we would connect once we got to Danbury. A tall blonde woman in her 50s, all in black was at the train exit when we arrived. I had a premonition that was Pat. Indeed, I was correct. We started talking immediately and there was an instant bond between us. She was friendly, a little sassy and a little bawdy. I liked her right away.
Neil picked us up at the station, and in no time, he realized Pat and I would be talking out heads off to each other and he would be kinda left out. It didn't completely turn out that way, but it was clear, Pat and I were to be friends. She lived in the city and commuted to Neil's home where he lived alone on the weekends (the weekdays, the big Tudor house was the office for his business). We had a casual lunch in the living room on trays and talked about publishing, the authors I worked with, Neil's clients, and Patty's website design business. By two PM, it was declared cocktail time. Patty poured me a big tumbler of Dewars and water and in two hours, I was a big cock-eyed. It was time for me to leave. I had to be back in the city and get on a train to Westchester for dinner out with my boss and his wife in the burbs. The train that would take me closest to their home wasn't working and so I took an expensive car service to Larchmont. Just as I was ready to leave, Patty came out of the house with a large traveling cup and when I rolled the window down, she handed me a "roadie" of more Dewars and water. We promised to call each other in the city and meet for dinner. Once the car was out of sight, I opened the window and drained the glass. I was already crocked, and didn't need anymore stimulation.
In the coming months, Patty and I went out to dinner often. She would read about a new restaurant she was dying to try and off we'd go. Patty loved to eat and drink and smoke. We would often go to Raoul's, the standard-bearer of French bistros in Soho. Patty loved steak, pork, lamb--any red meat with a bone on it. She loved marrow bones, and she loved red wine. She could sit for hours over a steak and potato. She didn't much care for vegetables though she always ate salads. We would talk about movies, new books (she as a voracious reader of popular fiction) she was reading, the difficulty of family, her worries about one of her employees who had AIDS. He was a close friend, and she moved him into her two-bedroom apartment during a particularly dark period of his health problems. Pat was a very generous friend, who often came to the aid of friends in need. She was also the patron saint of no-longer-wanted house plants. I would have to be careful if I intended to toss out an old and tired looking orchid, or other living houseplant. She would rescue it and bring it home with her and nurse it back to health or bloom. She was every dog's champion. We once found a dog in the back of an open cab of a truck in Soho. The dog was barking and making a nuisance of itself. Suddenly Pat was walking into every bar within a five-block radius to find the owner of the dog. She didn't mind the dog's barking, but she was concerned that someone might call the police and report the dog. Finally, I convinced her to stop and we jumped into a cab and headed home. My stop was first, but I knew she was going to turn the cab right around and look for that dog's master the minute I left the cab, which is precisely what she did.
At some point, both Pat and I were experiencing financial difficulties. But I didn't want to stop our dinners, so I began to invite her to my home for supper. We'd rent a movie, or just have dinner and talk. She was over the moon about my French bulldog, Beau, and sat on the floor of the living room, just outside of the kitchen and play with Beau while I cooked and we caught up. There were two things I usually had difficulties convincing Patty to love: vegetables and fish. She liked roasted cauliflower, or roasted Brussels sprouts, and asparagus was always welcomed on her plate, but not much of any other sort of vegetable appealed to her, and if it didn't she would move it around her plate and then ignore it. The same with fish though she would eat Salmon and I gave up trying to convince her veggies and seafood were good for her heart. One recipe in particular was a favorite--a sauté of sweet Italian sausages with red grapes, a little balsamic vinegar and red wine. She constantly asked me to make it for her.
Patty was the only person I let smoke in my house. She was so addicted that it was pointless to lecture to her about it. She had surgery on both carotid arteries, and suffered considerable heart disease. I learned to live her her constantly leaving the table in a restaurant or in my apartment to go have a cigarette. I finally relented. As a former smoker, I felt sorry for her habit. She was never going to quit. After surgery last year, she told me she was quitting. She would brag how well she was dong for weeks after her surgery, but stopped talking about it. I finally said, "are you smoking again?" I don't know what I asked. I knew the answer.
Patty didn't' much care for politics and had no head for it. She aped the Republican views of Neil, and when we were by ourselves, I would give her hell about it. I often harangued Neil about his silly politics. He didn't seem to be very good at political argument at all. But he clearly held sway over Pat about hers, and she remained a staunch Republican until Barak Obama's first term in office, and she finally admitted that she liked his positions on health care, the economy, Medicare, and the Middle East.
Neil and Patty divorced when their daughter was still very young. Patty moved Amber into the city, enrolling her in school. At some point, Amber moved to Danbury and lived with her father before she graduated from high school. Pat had a wonderful relationship with her daughter and they were very close. Amber managed her mother's web-design business. After Pat closed her web business, Amber went to work with one of the big insurers, and was the person in charge at the company's World Trade Center branch in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. When Amber announced she and her husband were moving to Vancouver, British Columbia, Pat was devastated, but understanding.
About the time I was leaving New York, Neil started suffering from severe signs of dementia and the beginning of Alzheimer's disease. Unable to take care of himself, Neil was moved into a nursing facility in the Bronx. Patty faithfully took a cabs to the nursing home, took him out for lunch or dinner and a haircut or a manicure, bought him clothes, and took care of his needs. Because of his slipping memory he began to regard her as his jailer, which caused her much pain. Whenever she was in Portland or in Vancouver visiting her daughter, Patty spent most of her time on the phone with family and Neil, always with the thought of making him as comfortable as possible. Several months ago, Neil's memory no longer worked. He couldn't recognize Patty at all. Still she selflessly visited him every weekend, bringing him food, reading to him, and watching TV with him, sometimes, just staying there while he slept. She was determined to preserve whatever shred of dignity he had in the world his mind had escaped into.
When Patty lost her job, I said to her, "Okay, we've talked about this. You said you're want to downsize to nothing. Come out here and share the house with me. She loved the idea and we talked about it in great detail, but in the end, she couldn't abandon Neil, even though he would not be conscious of her being there or leaving. This kind of loyalty was very touching.
A year ago or so ago, I began to make friends with a squirrel in my back yard. He would walk up to me bold as brass, and take peanuts out of my hand. I named him Cooper and began to take photos of him. I saw him just about every day, and I loved that he had made a nest in my cedar tree. Then one day when friends were over in the back yard, one of my guests noticed that Cooper was near the fountain I have over on the fence wall. We noticed he wasn't moving, and I went over to investigate. I saw blood right away and it was evident he had sustained some sort of wound. It looked bad, and indeed, thirty minutes later, Cooper was dead. Patty had been following the course of our friendship, and had met him in my back yard the previous Labor Day holiday. The next time we talked, she was very upset to learn he had died. A week or so later, a package arrived, and upon opening it, I saw it was a plaque with Cooper's name, and the date of his death. I told Patty that I buried in him in the dog run on the side of the house, and she ordered a plaque so I wouldn't forget my departed friend. That was the kind of caring person Patty was.
Amber called me a day after she returned home to say she was taking care of the arrangements to have her mother buried. But she called to let me know that her mother "adored you." I was very touched by that. I bought Patty an amber bracelet with some turquoise stones from a trip to Santa Fe, and sent it to her when I got home. She called me a few days later all emotional about the gift. She insisted it had magical properties and would bring her good luck. For the rest of her life, she would tell me all her good news, always followed by the idea that the bracelet had been responsible. Patty had a strong will which she used for good things, and most of us were powerless against it. She will be missed.