I first met Mary in Nursery School.
We were outside, standing at wooden easels that were taller than we were.
“Your tree is really good,” I said, pointing at her paper. She’d managed to draw a maple with yellow leaves that actually looked like leaves. There was even a squirrel inside a knotty bough.
Mary came over to consider my canvas. “Your tree doesn’t look real,” she said, “but I like it anyway.”
A lifelong friendship was forged.
Over the years, we performed in school plays together, stayed after school for roller-skating parties, attended carnivals and festivals and fairs. We loved singing in music class with Mr. Metz, and we were in the same reading group all the way through fifth grade. In middle school, we served numerous detentions together and rode the same late bus home; and while our closest friendship circles did not always overlap, we always remained devoted to each other.
Fun fact: Mary was my first kiss.
(And no it wasn’t like that.)
We were practicing for a boy we liked, so we helped each other ‘prepare,’ each of us offering extensive feedback on the other person’s technique.
We trusted each other and were honest with each other about everything.
Mary and I remained in touch long after we graduated from high school. We celebrated the births of each of our children, and when Facebook came around, she and I were among the first to sign on. We loved sharing stories and, later, photographs.
We went through difficult times together. Her divorce. Then mine. Loss. Injuries. Illnesses. We loved each other through it all and remained loyal to each other.
When Mary told me she was moving to North Carolina, I was devastated. Knowing she was just seventy miles down the Thruway was of of great comfort to me and, during her last few years in Syracuse, whenever I was visiting for an extended period of time, we would meet up, even briefly, for coffee and connection.
We would reminisce about the ’70s and ’80s, about how, whenever I stayed overnight at her house, we stayed up late, pressing our noses against the glass of her bedroom window, which overlooked the giant screen at the DeWitt Drive-In.
We had no business watching those movies, but we did. And we made up entire conversations about what we imagined the characters were saying.
To this day, I can’t watch Jaws without hearing Mary’s take on the voice of the shark.
“I’m biting off your leg!” she’d announce. “Chomp chomp chomp!”
Then we’d scream and remind each other that the severed limb drifting to the bottom of the ocean was just a special effect.
“It isn’t real,” she’d say. “It’s not real.”
Today, though, the scary thing is real.
And I hate it.
I don’t have any wise words.
I could rant about how COVID-19 isn’t a hoax.
That it took my friend, the sweetest, most loving and good person I have ever known.
In each of her roles — as wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, grandma — Mary was extraordinary. She was straight and she was gay and then she was straight again. She was an artist and a teacher and a friend and a Christian. She was the most inclusive, least judgmental person I have ever known.
Her love was big, and it knew no sexes or shades. She wasn’t about this side or that side.
Mary lived passionately and with great integrity every single day — which isn’t easy in a world where people judge you for being even the tiniest bit weird.
When she and Jerry were cleaning out their house before their move to North Carolina, Mary came to see me at my parents’ house. We laughed about how we used to dress up in matching white nightgowns and sing into our hairbrushes.
“I’m giving you all this crap,” she said, depositing four enormous bags of supplies into the trunk of my car.
“What am I supposed to do with all of this?” I asked her as I sifted through bags of ribbons and buttons and tissue paper.
“I don’t know,” she laughed. “But I know you’ll make something beautiful out of it.”
I’ll try, Mare. I’ll try.
But, honestly, I feel like someone just told me they have discontinued phthalo blue — and you know a painting isn’t worth a damn thing without a little phthalo in it.
PS: The sky is purple and orange for you tonight.