The last time I saw Ellen was two months ago in New York, where she lives; we were having dinner on the Upper West Side, along with her husband and mine. We stayed a long time, lingering over wine and talking about the sorts of things you do with longtime friends.
One subject on the table was an upcoming significant birthday.
It was supposed to come with bells and whistles, but now, it’s turned into … well, you know … a Zoom event.
Her specific age doesn’t matter because to me, she’s ageless. We met in the fall of 1994 when I was hired as her assistant at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, publicizing corporate retention deals in both press releases and speeches given at City Hall. The person who delivered the words we wrote was the mayor at the time, Rudy Giuliani.
She was the sole communications writer at a busy time in the city’s history. I was there to help. To make a long story short, we hit it off right away.
My first day on the job, she asked me to write a speech. Just like that.
Needless to say, there was a learning curve. But after a month or two, it began to feel right, with the sentences starting to make sense and even flow easily. Granted, I was not then and am not now a numbers person, so there was some getting used to that (actually, there was an entire department that crunched those numbers; you just had to go to a different floor to get them).
It was stressful, but interesting; a little frantic, but manageable. And it came with a perk: After 7 p.m., you could get a ride back home, courtesy of the company. That was a luxury not afforded to me since. (As a journalist, you’re more likely to be chasing cars than riding in one.)
Less than six months later, my new boss was pregnant and leaving, and I followed suit, going to a newspaper chain that printed five different editions a week, covering a different section of the city each day.
Ellen had one daughter and then another; in fact, her youngest is the same age as my oldest.
Through the years, we have shared frustration and joy, motherhood worries and employment woes—all those issues women need from a friend, a non-relative you choose to spend time with because they are not invested in your blood line or your cousin’s inedible holiday cooking.
As this pandemic creeps its way week by week into our sensibilities, there is no better time to relish friends.
They are your collective memory. They are your shoulder to cry on and your personal cheerleader. They get it, and they get you. Unlike family, friends are linked only by the decision to spend time with them, to invest in them, to give to and take from them.
Too many people have lost friends since corona came knocking. It’s awful. I know because I’ve lost two friends life can never replace. That has made the ones I do have even more important—central, in fact, to my existence on this planet.
If you feel the same way, then pick up the phone and call a pal. Poke into the past and hang on to the present. And be in their future.
As for me, I’ve got to hurry and get online. I have a birthday party to attend.
Carin M. Smilk is the managing editor of JNS.
This Reporter’s Notebook will appear starting on March 16 until the end of the month (or when schools reopen).