I don't usually get too personal here, but I just want to talk a bit about one of my closest friends, Liz, who died yesterday of ovarian cancer. I could tell you hundreds of stories about what a delight she was, but I'll keep it short.
I still remember how we met our first year in law school at Chicago. Torts class was discussing Bolton v. Stone
, an important case (or actually a series of cases
) on negligence. The professor asked a student about a specific thing in it and he had no idea what the prof was referring to. So the professor asked the same thing of Liz. She said sorry, she didn't know. Then he asked me. I said "this isn't your day, is it?"
After class, Liz and I got in the elevator to the library, and she said "thanks for taking the heat off me." We started talking and, before you knew it, became fast friends.
She was easy to be friends with. Very sweet, very open. She was also quite striking. And I don't mean that as a weasel word--she was very tall and beautiful. You noticed her when she walked into a room. I remember thinking it almost wasn't fair she was smart and charming as well. (She used to talk about how as a teenager she felt too tall and skinny and didn't like her stringy hair, but a lot of attractive women talk that way.)
Everywhere she went she made friends. I remember she took a Shakespeare seminar at Chicago with Allan Bloom, and got to know him. Meanwhile, she was working downtown at the Sonnenschein firm, where she got to know attorney Scott Turow. I told her she must be the only person to be friends with the author of the bestselling fiction and non-fiction book at the same time.
After law school, we both lived, for a short period, in Chicago's Near North Side, a few blocks from each other. We studied for the bar in the same class, and took it in the same building. We went out to lunch during the breaks, and promised not to talk about the test in case one of us got something wrong. (We both passed, by the way.)
We saw each other pretty regularly before I left for LA. She then followed the pattern
of other friends and kept moving farther away from downtown, first getting a very nice place in Lincoln Park, and then some years later marrying and having a wonderful home in North Center.
I would come back once or twice a year and the trip wasn't complete until I saw her. (She also visited me in Los Angeles a few times.) When I came by, she would often take me to her latest favorite hangout--bar or restaurant. The people there always greeted her effusively. I asked (as if I didn't know) "why is it everyone is always so happy to see you," and she replied (jokingly, though we both knew it was true) "don't you know?--I'm adorable."
Sometimes we'd sit on her balcony and have long talks. She traveled a lot and would tell me stories about her various adventures. But, she said, for all the things she did, there was nothing she liked better than lying in the sun, reading a book and drinking some wine.
We talked over the phone occasionally. I actually kept a message (it's somewhere, probably in the back of a closet) she left on my machine. She'd moved into her new place in Lincoln Park and had requested I send her a photo. So I sent an old shot of me as a three-year-old in a cowboy suit. She called to say I was very cute, but she'd like something more contemporary.
Once I called her and she was weeping. I asked what's wrong. She said Jimmy Smits died. Jimmy Smits? The actor? Yeah, but not the actor, his character on NYPD Blue
. I laughed and told her to get over it. I think she got mad at me.
She went to work in-house at an alcohol company. I met her in Vegas when she was there on business. She invited me to an exclusive party she was hosting at the Hard Rock. The date was September 10, 2001. I went back to my room but had trouble sleeping. I woke up, turned on the TV and saw the news. I called her and told her I had to drive back immediately to LA (though, thinking back, I'm not sure why I felt that way). She was actually stuck in Vegas after 9/11, since all flights were grounded and the rental cars were quickly gone. I later apologized for leaving her in the lurch.
One of the best things about her--she loved to hear me tell jokes. (She even said it was okay if I'd told them before since she always forgot them.) That may not sound like much, but it is. You hate to impose, so there's nothing like an appreciative audience.
In the last decade, we stayed in touch mostly via computer. She would demand I send her the latest jokes. Luckily, I kept many of her emails. Here's a rare one (from 2000) where she relates a joke:
...if I'm travelling over the weekend, I treat myself to the Sunday New York Times. I always feel guilty about not finishing it when I'm at home. Strange Catholic logic.
Any good political humor out there these days? I was just in Alberta, Canada on business. We own a distillery up there. We stayed to hike around Banff and Lake Louise. It was stunning. But I digress. In Alberta there are huge enclaves of Mormons. I heard my first Mormon joke. "How do you keep a Mormon from drinking at a party? Invite another Mormon." Not very funny but I guess I laughed because I'd never heard a Mormon joke before. Although now I know I can never live in Alberta.
I can just hear her saying this in her rich, melodious voice.
Then there was a period I didn't hear from her much. I visited Chicago and called her up. She was married at this point and her husband explained how she'd been diagnosed, had been getting treatment, and was pretty weak. Must have been six or seven years ago. Ever since then, she'd been fighting. And there were times when she seemed to be doing well, perhaps had even turned the corner.
Though she was often feeling poorly, we'd still work it out so I could drop by, usually for dinner. She never let her illness stop her from living her life. She kept traveling, too.
About a year ago I was in Chicago, and we had a great time. Even if I hadn't seen her for a while, it was as if I'd never left. Then a few months ago I dropped by, and we planned to get together, but she had to cancel. Which brings us up to yesterday.
It's hard to believe I won't see her again, or talk to her, or hear her laugh. I don't think I ever knew anyone who was more alive.