From the beginning, there was something intangible and even spooky between us that could make strangers mistake us for sisters or lovers, and that sometimes had friends refer to us by each other's name: A year after Caroline's death, a mutual friend called out to me at Fresh Pond, the reservoir where we had walked, "Caroline!," then burst into tears at her mistake. The friendship must have announced its depth by its obvious affection, but also by our similarities. That our life stories had wound their way toward each other on corresponding paths was part of the early connection. The summer before we became friends, I had read Caroline's memoir about her struggle with alcoholism, Drinking: A Love Story, in a rain-soaked cabin on Cape Cod. I knew the book was wrenching; because I'd poured my last quart of Jack Daniel's down the sink 12 years earlier, I also knew it was true. Apart, we had each been frightened drunks and single women and dog lovers; together, we became a small corporation. Finding Caroline was like placing a personal ad for an imaginary friend, then having her show up at your door funnier and better than you could have conceived.
We had a lot of dreams, some of them silly, all part of the private code shared by people who plan to be around for the luxuries of time. One was the tatting center we thought we'd open in Western Massachusetts, a notion that came about during one of our endless conversations about whether we were living our lives correctly—an ongoing dialogue on topics that ranged from the serious (writing, solitude, loneliness) to the mundane (wasted time, the idiocies of urban life, trash TV). "Oh, don't worry," I'd said to Caroline one day when she asked if I thought she spent too much time with Law & Order reruns. "Just think—if we were living 200 years ago, we'd be playing whist, or tatting, instead of watching television, and we'd be worrying about that." There was a long pause. "What is tatting?" she had asked hesitantly, as though the old lace-making craft were something of great importance, and so that too became part of the private lexicon—"tatting" was the code word for the time wasters we, and probably everyone else, engaged in. These were the sort of rag-and-bone markers that came flying back to me, in a high wind of anguish, when she was dying: I remember trying to explain the tatting center to someone who knew us, then realizing how absurd it sounded, and breaking down. Of course no one would understand the tatting center; like most codes of intimacy, it resisted translation. Part of what made it funny was that it was ours alone.
One of the things we loved about rowing was its near mystical beauty—the strokes cresting across the water, the shimmering quiet of the row itself. Days after her death, I dreamed that the two of us were standing together in a dark boathouse, its only light source a line of incandescent blue sculls that hung above us like a wash of constellations. In the dream I knew she was dead, and I reached out for her and said, "You're coming back, right?"
Her face was a well of sadness.
She smiled, but shook her head.
We Hear You!