Something About Mary
I am SO not supposed to be doing this. Mary was the one who had promised to do it for me...yet here we are.
And, because she loved words so, here are some she loved. I didn’t write these first ones. But they are mine nonetheless. And hers also.
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
I met Mary Herczog (that's her, with her dogs Hayley and Bix) in 1992. We had met over the phone in May, when I was in L.A. on my book tour for my memoir Strange Days and she phone-interviewed me for Venice magazine. We hit it off immediately: that separated at birth, Anne of Green Gables race-that-knows-Joseph kind of immediate connection. Bestest friends forever, which is how everyone who ever knew her felt about her, and all of us were correct to feel so. But we didn’t meet in person until she was in NYC that Thanksgiving.
We were booked to have dinner at the Telephone, a wonderful British pub a block away from my apartment. I walked in, and there she was, sitting on the banquette, looking just as she should! And the rest, as they say, was history, oh yes indeed.
Over the 18 years of our friendship (the exact number of our age difference, ooooh cosmic!), we talked and visited and emailed endlessly. We talked about love, and hate, and jewelry, and chocolate, and books we'd read and books we'd written, and the British royal family, and food, and dogs, and travel, and chocolate, and figure skating, and rock&roll, and chocolate, did I mention chocolate?, and just about everything that two smart and wicked friends talk about.
I went out to L.A. every other year or so to stay with her for the fabulous Oscar parties she and her rock critic husband, Steve Hochman, would host: guests had to bring food that had some relevance to a nominated movie...as you may imagine, the menus were spectacularly idiosyncratic.
She consoled me when I was going through hideously painful stuff about Jim that vile people were throwing at me, and counseled me through any amount of other difficulties, and I like to think I did the same for her.
I got to help her a bit with her wonderful book Figures of Echo (which was made into a Lifetime movie called "Custody", not much like the book but go rent it), and to put her as a character (Mariota) into my own book Blackmantle, and to halfway base another character (Prax) in my rock&roll mystery books on her, and to dedicate the first of them, Ungrateful Dead, to her, because she'd pushed and nagged and bribed and threatened and cajoled and encouraged me until I finished it: “For Mary Susan Herczog, who bossed me around.”
And she bossed me around FOREVER. She got me to do things that no one else in this world or any other could have gotten me to do. And she stopped me from doing things that I soooo wanted to do, bad things, when she was the only one who could have...she’d just lie down on the tracks in front of the locomotive until I promised not to.
And either way, she was always, always right.
In 1997, when the cancer had just been diagnosed but not revealed yet to her friends and family, I had a terrifying prescient dream, which I recounted to her, reluctantly, and which of course she instantly wrote about in one of her L.A. Times articles about the cancer experience, because she knew a good story when she heard one: I was alone in a dark scary house, with knives in my hands, screaming for her and Steve, trying to protect her against some terrible, malevolent thing that was moving around outside and wanted to get in. They weren't home, and so I set my back against the door, and I resolved not to let it in, and I woke up hysterical and shaking from head to foot.
I was staying at my friend Phyllis Curott's house when this dream came to me, and I told her about it, and all day long I had this horrible sense of wrongness, that something was terribly amiss with someone I loved. So I cut the visit short and went home and steeled myself to phone Mary and tell her, and when I did, she was silent for a moment, and then said, "Did I mention I have breast cancer?" And we both freaked a little. Well, a lot.
And so the dark malevolent thing got in no matter what any of us could do.
But once it did, she was the most amazing warrior in the world as she dealt with it. She battled it with courage, and with wit, and with all the strength she had (which was a LOT), for twelve years. During which her style was not cramped in the slightest: global travel, food porn, a house in New Orleans...she did it all.
In early January, before she publicly announced the rapidly deteriorating situation, we had a long talk, when the decision was made to not pursue more punishing chemo that wouldn’t help anyway, and I think I got to tell her all of how I felt. Which of course she already knew. And whatever I didn’t say, she knew anyway. Because, as we all know, she always did.
Strangely, then, I did not sense her actual going, and usually I’m deeply attuned to that kind of thing. But for weeks before that, I did sense her moving away from us, like the moon, like the outbound tide. I saw pictures of her taken a couple of days before she died, the day she received her master’s degree (straight A's, unprecedented in the school's history, not even an A-minus among them) in theology from Claremont, "God school" as she called it, how terrifically wonderful an achievement was that, and I could see immediately that she had her skates on, that she was ready to roll.
She died on Mardi Gras morning: how perfect for someone who so loved New Orleans and all its traditions, and how perfectly Mary.
Yet, for all her spirituality and theological learning and leanings, she was unconvinced about the afterlife, or said she was.
But I’m not, and I can SO see her riding joyously into Aslan’s country atop a giant flower-bespangled parade float, in a gorgeous gown and of course a lovely diamond tiara, with adoring and cheering multitudes hailing her as their Queen. Or being met by Dumbledore in the spiritual King’s Cross station, and boarding a train that will take her On. Or dancing in the ruins tonight, and every night. And that’s what I think, no matter what.
She lived in her extraordinary lifetime about eighty-seven normal people's lives, all of them crammed with incident. She was more vividly alive than anyone I’ve ever known, and funnier and braver than anyone I ever met. I was prouder to win one praiseful word from her than a spate of them from strangers, and I loved her very, very much.
So, a few words more that we both treasured…
What though that radiance which was once so bright
Be now forever taken from our sight
Though nothing can bring back the hour
of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower
We will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind
In the primal sympathy,
which, having been, must ever be.
‘Bye, my darlingest Mary! When you meet up with Jim, well, you know what to do...