We stood side by side, the last two remaining spellers, ready for the final round of the competition to begin, as the Morseland patrons milled about, chatted, laughed, and had their drinks refilled. To the right of the stage was Our Booth: my friend Gina from work, smiling; Erin’s dad, arms stretched out around his whiskey on the table in front of him, head down a bit, still grieving the recent loss of his wife to cancer; other assorted chatty friends and theatre pals; and our dates, Rob and Chris. They’d been dating for a long time by then, but for me and Chris, it was one of our first. As we watched the judges gather at the table down front, flanked by big plastic jars full of paper strips, she gave a sigh that took in the whole crowded room, leaned toward me and whispered, “If they only knew.”
Many years on – so many shows, dozens of barbecues at the Metreyeons, several New Year’s Eves and D&D games, innumerable dog-trade-offs, two weddings, and one cancer diagnosis later, Rob and I were playing a heated round of Magic the Gathering while Erin watched the match and made her observations in anticipation of perhaps one day soon taking on a match herself. I remember appreciating how with Erin there is very rarely any small talk. I don’t care much for small talk with friends anymore because it is a waste of time. We’re all too busy to spend enough time together and I don’t want to waste it on the goddamn weather. Talk to me about what is actually happening in your life and what you’re learning about it, how it’s changing you, what you want, what you dream, what’s bothering you. Let’s fix the world in the one or two evenings a year where all we have to really do is fix the world.
That night, at that moment, we were talking about dieting and food and a bunch of non-cancer stuff that I had been writing about lately, when she suddenly stopped, gave me that trademark coy-smile-with-eye-twinkle of hers and asked, “Do you wanna see my stent?”
My point being, Erin puts a button on a scene like nobody’s business.
She won’t likely get a chance to do that this time.
That Erin and I ever managed to forge a friendship at all has been surprising to some, but we did and without a lot of fanfare. She is impossible not to like. She is driven, kind, intelligent, funny, sensitive, mysterious, and brave. I was going to say fearless but I think that reduces her somehow – I prefer brave because it means you do things despite being afraid. I had the privilege of watching her grow exponentially, as an artist, as a woman, as a human, in the span of years I’ve known her, and I had the privilege of her encouragement of me and my growth as an artists, as a woman, and as a human. She has never missed an opportunity to challenge and inspire me. She whipped the pants off me in that spelling bee, she was my lovely Cilla in Johnny Tremain, she took my breath away in Brewed, she made me look really good in an all too brief audition once (the only time I was ever able to actually act with her), she was with me and Chris and Rob when we finally had to let go of our darling Maddie, and over the last several months she showed me what courage is, blogging her story with forthright humor, allowing us not just to see her vulnerability but her deep well of strength, passion, and determination. How or why we met lost its relevance years and years ago, but suffice to say that I love Erin with the kind of singular, fierce complexity one can only feel for someone who is married to someone you used to be married to, and my respect for her desire to fight, to grow, to achieve, to learn, to embrace, to not be safe is not something I expect to be surpassed in my life time.
Like everyone else I am asking what can I do, what can I do, what can I do. There’s no making sense of the senseless tragedy of a 41-year-old woman dying of cancer and it’s only compounded by the hugeness of her life before this, her immense capacity, and the reach of her inspiration.
So what can we do. We can accept that the time we’ve had is all that we get, accept our powerlessness over people, places, and bullshit diseases like cancer, and ultimately we can empower ourselves to live life anyway, as she did. We can try harder, do more, take better care of ourselves, see more shows, have more long talks over tea and long walks in the rain, take more risks, let go of more of what we think we need, perform despite the pain, swing high in the air and trust that we’ll be caught, make the most of our time, challenge our beliefs about who we are and what we can do every single day; we can write when we are afraid, we can read when we are lonely, we can say the thing we’re thinking instead of keeping it inside, and we can accept ourselves and each other for who we are right now without sacrificing the belief that tomorrow we can all be more. We can remember that we aren’t done growing or learning or teaching or embracing or loving until the fat lady fucking sings.
Or in this case, until the deceptively delicate, deeply passionate, indomitably determined blue-eyed badass lady does.