When you get a message from someone using someone else’s account or phone number, you know. “Hello, this is so and so, can you call me back?” You get that pit in your stomach that something is wrong with whoever owns that account. I’ve been that person in the past, the one charged with updating the social media of a friend who was involved in a serious accident and was undergoing brain surgery.
But yesterday, I was on the receiving end of that message. “Jaq,” the message read. “Call Gail.”
I knew. I didn’t know the details until I called, and the phone was answered by someone else, but this wasn’t going to be good news. I just didn’t know how bad it was going to be.
My friend, my first love, Gail Glass had passed away the night before, April 4th.
Gail was two years younger than me. We met on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in 1984, when she walked into the Waldenbooks where I was working. I suppose she was looking for a book or something, but who knows? All I know is I was 17 and she was gorgeous. Whatever I was doing at the time, I stopped and immediately went to see how I could help her.
By the time she left the store, we had exchanged phone numbers (remember those days?). I know for a fact that I didn’t do the “cool” thing and wait three days to call her because I was getting yelled at for rushing to the phone during Thanksgiving dinner. And then we made plans to meet up very early on the following Saturday morning (a day later) after she had finished delivering newspapers with a friend of hers.
We rendezvoused at the Carl’s Jr. on Charleston and what is now MLK dr. at maybe 5am. We shared our first kiss there and were pretty much inseparable from that point on. As teenage romances go, it was pretty good, if pretty standard.
We were young and in love and did all the stupid things young and in love kids do.
Including breaking up.
Being 18 and 16, respectively, and being each other’s first loves, it was an intense break-up, resulting in lots of tears and yelling and vows of “I’m never going to speak to you again!” And for a couple of years, we held to that. We each went on our own ways and lived our own lives. I moved to Venice Beach.
Then, a few years after, I got a call or a letter, I’m not sure which. Gail was inviting me back into her life. I gladly accepted. One of the things we both realized is that while we did, in fact, love each other very much, we weren’t meant to be a couple. We were much better as friends. And that’s what we became. This is one of those things which I’ve never quite understood. If you like someone enough to want a romantic relationship with them, why wouldn’t you want to be friends if/when the romance ended? Sure, I get that there’s hurt involved, and that may take some time to get over, but after a while, it just makes sense to me to keep these important people in my life in whatever capacity, because they will (and do) enrich it.
Over the course of the next couple of decades, Gail and I would be there for each other, via letters and phone calls (and eventually social media). We attended each other’s first weddings and supported each other through those subsequent divorces.
The last time I saw her was just before I left America. We had lunch together and talked of the future.
That was 11 years ago.
Since then, we’d chatted and shared pictures, commiserated and talked about visiting each other. She implored me not to share my musical tastes with Monki. Now that she was living in Florida near Disney, I knew we always had a standing invitation of a place to stay. I knew that she was having a hard time with certain things, I just never knew how hard.
In the end, it seems it was those inner demons which got her. It wasn’t a conscious decision on her part, I’m sure, but the end of a long process, her body just giving out on her. And now she’s gone, leaving only memories. I keep asking myself if I could have done something? Could I have reached out more, offered more support? And the answer, really, is no. The world, now, will be a less colorful place without her in it, making stained glass art and cheering on the Cubs. Hopefully, though, she is at rest and at peace, those demons silenced. I’m just sad that she’ll never get to read the book I’m writing, with a character named for, and based on, her (which we had talked about a few months ago and for which I have her full permission). She was long a supporter of my writing, I hope I do her proud.
And so it begins. She was the first of my own to go. My generation is starting to succumb to the ravages of time and turmoil, disease and drink. We are no longer invulnerable, with the ability and, more importantly, the belief, to change the world.
Goodbye, Miss Glass. It was a pleasure and an honor.
And so it goes.