I lose people I’ve met during my life, almost on a daily basis. That never gets easier. But knowing that a close friend, someone I regard as family, is in transition comes as a body blow. When I was young, I was struck in the solar plexus during a fight. All my will and power vanished. My helplessness was humbling. That is the effect upon me the news of my dear friend Susan’s passing has created. I will surely miss her; our conversations, her warmth and humor, her common sense and generosity.
We met in late 1989 on my visit from NYC to LA, preparing to soon move here. I’d finally accepted the therapy my PTSD demanded, the guilt for having survived Vietnam that needed reconciliation…or I would soon check out. One of the tasks that my shrink Vic demanded of me; that I write down as much as I could remember about my time in Vietnam. When I moved to LA in ’91, I would visit Les Sisters, the restaurant at which Susan then worked and eventually became an owner. Over the years, I brought my father, my mother, my brothers, my nieces, nephews and SO many friends to dine there! I knew they would enjoy the food (my family comes from Louisiana) and that they would be graciously received. Susan met so many of my family…
I sat vigil beside my mother for three nights in hospice, not wanting her to be alone at any moment during her passing. Susan is now in hospice. And I won’t visit. She knows my high regard for her and for our interaction. I no longer have the willingness to allow visual memories of those dear to me to be altered.
It was Susan who encouraged me to submit my therapy essays for publication. I’d visit Les Sisters for nurturing food and fellowship…and over time, I shared some of the essays with her I’d created about my past. She read them and told me that I should allow them to be read by a wider audience; that I should submit them. So I did submit one. It was accepted for publication. That was a mixed blessing. The editor of Vietnam Magazine (now deceased) rewrote passages of my prose. I was enraged. His changes were arbitrary and clumsy. When I wrote to the magazine to protest, I was essentially told, “Fuck you. We bought it; we’ll do whatever we choose.”
I then vowed to never again allow ANYONE to affect my voice, to change my prose without my expressed permission. I’ve kept that promise. But RETURN TO EDEN, the book I self-published, exists essentially because of Susan. Several years ago, after Susan had undergone chemo, I invited her to join me to watch a meteor swarm. I wanted her to exhaust her supply of wishes on shooting stars. My friends Diana and Doug graciously allowed us access to their home in Simi Valley to view the event. That night Susan told me that her recent tests revealed her to be free of cancer. That was a good nite.
But tomorrow is another day. I have countless memories of our interactions over the years. All good. Those I will cherish.
Happy Trails, dear Susan.