Although we had known of each other in the way that anyone who pays attention to mastheads or bylines feels a kinship to a name on a line, we officially met on a bitter winter night in 1991, at a party in a SoHo loft. He was rumpled and charmingly tongue-tied but managed to squeak out an invitation for me to visit him in Chicago, where he had recently moved. On a whim, out of a feeling of listlessness or destiny or both, I flew there and visited him. I visited him again. Then again.
On one visit, in the bargello of demicoastal flights that would embody our courtship, we were draped on a battered brown sofa when I noticed the time on a digital clock: 11:11. "Quick, make a wish," I prompted.
At 11:12, I asked him, "What did you wish?"
"That I could fly," he said, shrugging when a sudden laugh pricked the corners of my mouth. "It's the wish I always used to make when I was a kid. In a pinch, the words popped into my head: I wish I could fly."
This struck me as so pure and so good, I married him.
You showed me that it was all right to be happy.
I married him, not for his looks or his money although he had a tolerable supply of both. Nor did I marry him for his devotion or tenderness since I was neither tender nor devoted and was unable to accept what I couldn't give back. I married him for his brains. Not for his brain, which was an altogether too complicated and tortuous arrangement of rooms with bad lighting. No, for his brains—his braininess, his kinetic body of knowledge, his vigorous intellect, his undisputable dominion over facts and theories and givens.
"Ask Will," my girlfriends would say when, in a conversation, we reached a place of puzzlement. "He knows everything."
If we were not soul mates, we were kindred spirits. We shared the religion of language, a belief in words and the strength of their composition. He was an editor and I was a writer and we became each other's eyes. He read every piece I wrote. His were the eyes I turned to first; his were the brains I relied upon.
You made me whole.
More than that, he had a greater faith in me than anyone had ever mustered—greater even than my parents, deeper even than my son. He maintained an unflagging confidence in my abilities, real or imagined: Whenever a discussion arose that involved any type of high-functioning career, he invariably gestured toward me and enthused.
"You would make the greatest Supreme Court judge."
"You would be the best medical examiner ever."
"They should hire you to run The New Yorker."
Once, after he had declared that I would make an exemplary prime minister, I pointed out that he always said that I would be the best such and such and, frankly, it seemed a bit indiscriminate. "Untrue," he protested. "I've never said you would make the best underwater tunnel digger."
That's where he was mistaken. Before we met, I was one of the greatest sandhogs of our time.
But if the Man Who Knew Everything believed that I could do anything, then maybe I would have to believe it, too.
You made me see that I could.
We bought an apartment on 22nd Street.
We adopted a dog who looked like a fox.
We had a son.
We used to joke that the arc of our life would move from "Did the dog poop?" to "Did the baby poop?" to "Did you poop?" and then—finished. Done. A complete life together, charted in three easy-to-answer questions.
Except that somewhere between the baby pooping and me pooping—June 17, 2002, to be precise—I got cancer.