I got a phone call today that I have been dreading. I knew this day would come eventually, but when it did, I was still unprepared.
My dear friend, Dorothy, a woman I’ve known for 30 years, has died. She had a zest for life that, to this day, is unmatched by anyone else I’ve ever met. Until recently, I had no idea how old she actually was–she was always so vibrant and strong and a force to be reckoned with. When the friend who is handling her affairs called and told me she had passed away earlier this month, I was shocked, despite the fact that I knew she was 97 years old.
I worked for Dorothy in the law library at Fordham Law School, when I was an undergraduate student, as part of the work-study program. She was the Acquisitions Librarian, and the best boss I ever had. She was SO intelligent, with a razor-sharp wit and wicked sense of humor. She was strong and independent and didn’t take crap from anyone. She loved to laugh, and cherished her friends. She was a woman without guile, without pretense: you always knew where you stood with her, good or bad.
She used to bring in a bottle of wine on Fridays in the summer time, and after we cashed our weekly paychecks at the bank, we’d share a liquid lunch and head home early to start the weekend.
When she went on vacation, I stayed at her beautiful NYC apartment in Greenwich Village to babysit her cat. I was only 19 years old, still living with my parents and commuting to school every day, and those precious days gave me a glimpse of what her life was like: unmarried, untethered, able to come and go as she pleased, living in the best city in the world.
The thing I remember most about Dorothy was her laugh–it was a loud, cackling sound that reverberated through the office, making it impossible not to join in. She loved calling her friends at work and telling the receptionist in a low, almost growling tone, “Yes, I’d like to speak to Mitzi please. It’s Faye Dunaway calling.” She also did a fine Elizabeth Taylor.
Dorothy’s gift was being able to listen to a problem or issue that I was having, immediately assess the big picture, and zero in on the best course of action. She minded her own business, but she knew how to choose her moments, and when she did offer advice, I always listened. And she was always right.
We kept in touch over the years, through my graduation, on through my various full-time jobs in my chosen career. We met up for lunch now and again, catching up right where we’d left off, polishing off a bottle of wine and laughing the entire time.
Eventually, I got married, moved to the suburbs, had children, but still, my relationship with Dorothy endured. We saw each other less and less as the years went on, but always called each other for birthdays and holidays. Sometimes, a thought of her would pop into my head, completely unbidden, and sure enough, within a day or two, she would call. We had some sort of telepathic connection that cannot be explained.
The last couple of times I spoke with her–for her birthday, and then again on my own birthday–she sounded tired. I knew I needed to go and see her again, and very soon. We had plans to get together in September, when the weather was a bit cooler and she might be able to go outside for a few hours (the humid dog days of a NYC summer were a little much for her these days). Instead, I’ll be attending her memorial service next month.
I’m so sad that she’s gone, but I’m even happier that I had the gift of knowing her, and the privilege of calling her my friend. I miss her so much already, and it pains me deeply to think that I will never hear her voice–or her laugh–again.
Rest in peace, dear Dorothy. You lived a long and full life, and this world was a better place for having you in it.