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2004-11-22

Gioacchino Antonio Rossini
B. 2.29.1792 Pesaro, Italy / D. 11.13.1868 Paris
Natural

Upon receiving the news of his sister Fanny’s death, the 38-year old Felix Mendelssohn gave a loud cry and fell down insensible, never to rise in possession of his health again. For some reason, this is how a large part of me felt in July, when my beautiful cat Felix Mendelssohn Mackie died at the age of not even two. I withdrew from other interests into grief and the renewal of a smoker’s lifestyle fueled by grief.

Among the interests I neglected was my correspondence with a woman whom I’d met just once, in March. We happened to have adjoining seats at a performance of L’Italiana in Algeri at the Metropolitan Opera one night when we’d both come alone. Her name was Beth Lochtefeld, and being neighborly, she struck up a conversation with me immediately upon sitting down. It didn’t take me long to form the opinion that she must be one of the finest, most delightful human beings alive on the planet at that hour. Becoming her subsequent opera friend and correspondent brought me happiness, optimism, pride, all sail-filling emotions. Yet when Felix died, I owed her an e-mail from Memorial Day, when she’d sounded extremely happy and busy. I'd excused my rude tardiness in reply by telling myself I wouldn’t be missed, even though I knew I probably would be, which would make me something worse. After too long replying, I’d become a shadow that might pass across her sunny thoughts, a chilling little cloud to cast a glum-making moment: something she’d liked had broken.

By late October, I’d seen two productions at City Opera and I was telling myself I would definitely write to Beth after my first of the Met season, in early November. On October 31, I was horrified to hear her name read aloud in church during the prayers for people who had died that week. Without praying explicitly that it was some other woman with the same name, I prayed for time to send that e-mail. I dawdled home, it was a gorgeous day, only to find on the front page of Nantucket’s on-line news that the Beth Lochtefeld I knew had been murdered at her home there on October 25, Georges Bizet’s birthday, by a man she was trying to break up with.

I walked up to the Coney Island pier and watched the sunset. Then I bought a pack of cigarettes for the first time in a month and retired to my apartment for a longish spell. During the following week I voted, and I listened to many hours of Court TV (I don’t get the picture, just the sound), where Nancy Grace was covering jury deliberations in the Scott Peterson double murder trial. For hours at a time, often sitting at the kitchen window where I smoked, I also thought about Beth and my meeting with her. Eventually, the three events—Beth’s murder, the trial, the botched election—orbited their way into alignment, until from the center of my futon where I sat making a collage, I could peer down through a telescoping mirrored vista which had the future of the planet at its distant gray-blue end.

The view was grim. A president who celebrates a victory by making the alleyways and courtyards of Fallujah run with Muslim blood. Another conscienceless man who won’t admit he made a mistake, who won’t tell the truth, a worthless slaughterer of hope and beauty, who sits there demanding trust. And yet another weak pampered man, ripping a life out of mine, out of my still fingers. That Friday on the B train which I was taking to Beth’s memorial service, I wrote an entry in my notebook about “horrible men,” but I hesitated to post it because I feared it left room for an interpretation that I blamed the victims, especially Laci Petersen and other voting-age women, for harm that had been done them by others.

I decided I needed to come up with some way to “frame” the entry, so I kept working in my notebook. I wrote about how it didn’t occur to me for the longest stretches of time to go back and re-read my e-mails from Beth. For one entire week the idea never crossed my mind except once, when I was going through the subway turnstile at Rockefeller Center on the way to her memorial service at St. Bartholomew’s on Park. Then I had an image of her words, they way they fill a screen so generously; and I shoved through it, past it. Over two weeks later, still not following the national news, I've finally opened them again. It’s as if I had a home movie of the World Trade Center towers that someone made for me one glorious sun-splashed day back in the nineties.

This next year I’m making all about other people.

Consolation Site: Prime

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