My friend Eloise was a woman who knew how to handle hard times. A record-company executive who wrangled rap stars, she was also a single mom. Her home was destroyed in the carnage on 9/11; when she moved to our building in Greenwich Village, all she had left were keepsakes rescued from the wreckage: a toy helicopter that belonged to her son, Will; an afghan crocheted by her mom; books tainted with toxic grime. Though she was still in shock, she reached out. Our chats in the lobby led to sit-downs at Starbucks, then to supper in the neighborhood.
Our lives meshed in the next few years; separated from my child’s father, I found that Eloise (locked in battle with her ex) could share the pain of parenting alone. She also shared my sensibilities. We mocked the models and minor celebrities (Monica Lewinsky!) who could afford our overpriced building. When I went searching for a refuge in Hoboken, New Jersey, I ran into Eloise; she’d just scored a two--bedroom there that she loved.
She moved in and turned it into her salon. Her friend Jayne was a photographer and psychic; her yoga teacher, Laurie, was pure light. Vicki, an ebullient Australian, had survived a kidnapping in Brazil. After raucous potlucks, Eloise spun fantasies about Costa Rica, where we would live when we’d finished with mothering and men.
But growing old with Eloise wasn’t to be. In April 2007, she called to say she’d gone to the doctor about a bizarre swelling in her leg; incredibly, she had lymphoma.
After she began chemo, I gathered her friends for a party. We devoured Vicki’s strawberry cupcakes as Eloise unwrapped the silk scarves and newsboy caps that we’d brought for her beautiful bald head, not as cover-ups but as reminders of our love.
Pulling together, we friends ferried her to the hospital, walked her dog and in January 2008 sat with Eloise as she faded into a coma. The week before she died, I was at the gym when I experienced a crushing sense that she was gone. I called Jayne, who said, “I felt it, too. She’s given up.”
Though a world without Eloise didn’t seem possible, we kept moving. Over time, I began to count on the friends she’d left behind: We communed at lunches in Vicki’s garden and at a bittersweet birthday party for Will. I cleared my head at Laurie’s yoga classes, where she greeted me with joyous hugs. Jayne and I met for dinners, where we talked about book ideas and new beaus.
As our friendships deepened, we saw one another through long-haul moves, job losses and a blindside divorce. I gave a book reading at a Greenwich Village café, and Vicki swished in, looking gorgeous. Laurie fell in love with Mario, a rock musician, and invited us to every gig.
Eloise never met the man I married in 2009, but her friends did. When my daughter and I left Hoboken to join him in upstate New York, Vicki gave a home to my plants and an oddball chair.
Though we’re distant, our bonds are still strong. So is the spirit of the woman who brought us together: Last week Laurie e-mailed a photo of her and Mario with son Kai, born at home hours earlier. Along with a report on the new family, she wrote, “Eloise is smiling.”
Michelle Greenis a journalist and the author of The Dream at the End of the World: Paul Bowles and the Literary Renegades in Tangier.
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