years ago when I was a young assistant editor at a New
York publishing house, a stroke of fortune led me into
an editorial relationship that was to last a long time,
until after the writer's death. Our entanglement, like
many between writers and editors, was muddied by friendship
on the one hand and by the desire to publish on the other.
The relationship began when the editor-in-chief, Tom Wallace,
who was leaving the house for another, handed me the file
of an author named Edward P. Whittemore.
He was called Ted.
He had gone to school with Tom in the 1950s, they were
old buddies from Yale, and there the resemblance ended.
Tom was a classic Yale type--sentimental yet incapable
of expressing emotion, good-hearted and highly principled,
and completely stuck in his ways. Ted, by contrast,
was completely out of the loop. He defied the loop.
Ted had lived all around the world, been in the CIA
(in fact, nobody knew for sure if he was really out
of the CIA), he had written several crazy novels that
were sort of about espionage and sort of about the mammoth
course of history, its large brutish atrocities and
the small moments of goodness, books that were compared
to Fuentes and Pynchon and Nabokov.
Tom described the
books by saying they were really all about poker.
Ted was famous
to about six thousand people who thought he was a genius;
nobody else had ever heard of him at all. He had two
marriages that hadn't worked out, and a girlfriend he
was breaking up with, and a strong Maine accent. He
was a recovering alcoholic, who once had been the kind
of drinker who wanted to crawl inside the fifth to lick
it completely clean, a chain-smoker, and he lived on
the East side of town.
As it turned out,
of all the places he could have lived in the city of
New York, he lived on Third Avenue and 24th Street,
while I lived on 24th Street and Sixth Avenue. This
is the kind of magical coincidence that populates the
novels of Edward Whittemore and it seemed strangely
appropriate that our domestic routines were performed
in locations that were exactly parallel, yet existed
a precise and unbreachable distance apart, as though
we were two matching magnets with the contrary ends
facing one another.
In 1981, I was
handed the manuscript of Nile Shadows, which
was third in a projected quartet of Jerusalem novels.
This quartet of novels followed his first and splashiest
novel, Quin's Shanghai Circus, which we had published
seven years earlier.
Ted had also written
several that we did not publish. I was told both that
Ted was a genius and that it was possible that the manuscript
was not publishable or needed a great deal of cutting.
I knew almost nothing about editing fiction; I had never
worked on anything remotely this serious, which meant
that I was going to have to concentrate very hard. Once
I opened it and began there was no question but that
this was what they call the real thing. For me, how
terrifying and how thrilling.
The first time
I read it slowly, almost without thinking, submitting
to it, letting it sink in. The book was both domestic
and fantastic, its settings shabby and arcane, and doom
was everywhere. Ted understood the big and how it depended
on the little. Centuries of conspiracy pivoted on a
chance encounter. Friendship was everything, and utterly
ephemeral. A shaft of light illuminated horror, then
a sweet timeless calm, then slapstick. Words kept it
going, words and talk and more talk: chatter, letters
writ in stone, a scream in an emergency, a late afternoon's
long slow story, a coded telegram.
The editor's job
was to be inside it and yet float above it, to see where
it wasn't true to its own internal logic, to love the
characters and expect them to be themselves, to applaud
every song--but to mark the slightly flat note--to be
sure the plot had all its small signals straight. The
second time I read it I tried to remember every word,
every gesture, every motion.
My editorial letter
advised--but most of all it paid attention. It is not
so much the comments made by a careful editor that help
a writer revise, I think, but the simpler fact that
these comments show the writer that he is being watched.
He is being watched intently by someone who tells him,
in as many ways as possible, that this matters. And
so he thinks harder, he reaches in all directions, plot,
character, gesture, sequence, tone, echo, and, so doing,
activates the deeper and shadowed part of the brain
where music and feeling are stashed. The place where
Ted lived in a
tiny apartment very high up above Third Avenue. He had
a big window and a dark-floored single room, a small
kitchen--the refrigerator contained only a pint container
of milk and a plastic tub of tofu--and a bathroom with
a towel. In his room were a double bed, a desk, a writing
chair, a second chair, a television, and an ashtray.
Just the setting for a former spy.
I went over there
on my way home from the office several times, to drop
off the edited manuscript, to look at his changes, to
explain the copy-editing. I gave Ted more personal attention
because the novel demanded it, and also, although without
saying a word, somehow Ted expected it. The desk was
occupied by his typewriter and a few completely neat
stacks of typing paper and previous drafts, so instead
of interrupting his work space, I laid the box of manuscript
on the bed, cracking it open and leafing through the
pages, tracing the progress of one detail or another,
the intricate traces of his threads. We bent over the
The revisions took place in the winter, so when I stopped
by it was always dark out. I was working long hours,
partly to get over a disappointment with a man that
had happened at the time; work was a secure place for
me in the middle of this unhappiness. One night it snowed
and we went to the window to marvel. The snow flew in
specks outside the window, tiny furry points of light
in the darkness, cold dusty sisters to the lights flickering
on Third Avenue below and the many apartments winking
on the other side of the canyon. We stood next to the
glass and watched the snow swirl, high in the heavens
of New York, so far away, it seemed, from the rest of
As we stood there
looking at the snow in that night sky, that winter night
in New York, Ted Whittemore, quite unexpectedly, ran
his hand lightly down my back. Tentatively. I did not
move and he did not touch me a second time.
We went back to
being an editor and a writer.
Ted left the country
after the manuscript went through copy-editing, but
before we published the book. He took a freighter to
Jerusalem. Ted said that it was a bad idea to fly to
the Middle East, because you were traveling through
so much time that it should take a long time to make
the journey. Also a freighter was cheaper than flying,
and Ted never had any money.
He read his galleys
in Jerusalem, where he lived in an apartment in the
courtyard of the Ethiopian Church. In the early mornings,
on one side of the courtyard wall, a flock of French
Nuns sang their devotions. All day, around the circular
Ethiopian Church, a school of monks walked and murmured
their prayers. And Ted read his galleys in July and
we published in the Fall.
When I pitched
the book at sales conference, I got applause, which
usually doesn't happen at a sales conference, certainly
not for a novel that will advance fewer than seven thousand
copies. But the sales reps, those cynical hard eggs,
put their hands together, not so much for my performance
as for what Ted meant to the house as a whole. His books
were the books we published that proved to us that publishing
could be about good writing and fearless imagination
Before he moved
from New York, Ted sent me a note. "I'm glad you're
part of the Quartet," he wrote. And so I became
connected to Ted Whittemore, connected forever.
The book, as it
turned out, did not sell well. It had some good reviews,
but the machine of publishing did not kick in for Whittemore.
The reps applauded at sales conference, but the machine
did not kick in.
Great fiction is
hard to sell. What happens to a person who reads a book--if
it's any good---is a profoundly private and irrational
process, and the more distinctive the novel, the more
private and irrational the process. That's where the
trouble with publishing begins.
Two and a half years later, I left the industry. I was
frustrated by the limitations of the business end and
I had fallen in love, this time, I thought, for keeps,
to a man who lived in Western Massachusetts who had
three kids and joint custody and who was very persuasive.
Love to me was more important than work, so I moved
to Massachusetts and married. But I discovered that
I was not as nice, not as accommodating, as I had thought
I was. Even though I had always believed that I was
able to make anything succeed if I just worked hard
enough at it, I was not able to respond to my husband's
demands, and he was very far from being able to help
me mend my unhappiness. We were soon miserable.
After two years
we divorced. Although the marriage had been horrible,
still divorce was like suddenly falling into nothing.
The summer after
my divorce, I got a call from Ted. I had heard from
him from time to time. He had heard about the progress
of my romance and my departure from New York, and now
he'd heard about my divorce.
At my end, over
the years, I'd also had reports of Ted back from Tom,
who visited Ted in Jerusalem. Ted was with a wonderful
woman, a painter named Helen, Tom reported. A year or
two after that news, Tom told me that Ted had broken
up with Helen, abruptly. Without so much as a day's
notice, said Tom, Ted had packed up and left Helen and
left Jerusalem. Tom said Helen was heart-broken. Tom
disapproved and so did I.
Although I disapproved
I was still glad to hear Ted's voice. He was back in
the country and writing, up at the family home in Dorset,
Vermont for the season. Would I come up to see him?
I did, twice. Dorset
is beautiful in the summer, green and leafy and a good
ten degrees cooler than Western Massachusetts. Ted showed
me everything and how much he loved it and how much
he wanted me to love it, too. We talked a little about
the book he was working on, but mostly we didn't.
The Whittemore family home was big and rambling; in
the late afternoon we sat on white Adirondack chairs
on the great lawn, sloping into a meadow, and watched
the young girls from the dancing school down the road
mince like birds into the middle of town, to buy their
sweets. Beyond, the mountains misted with blue and flowers
of all shapes and colors and sizes waved in the breeze.
We swam in the
Dorset Quarry. The Dorset Quarry is a writer's dream,
because when you swim in the Dorset Quarry you are swimming
in the space left by the stone that now is the New York
Public Library, the great lion library at 42nd Street.
The quarry's stone walls rise high and flat, gray streaked
with white. Boys in baggy bathing suits jump off the
high walls screaming. Women paddle quietly. Children
sit on low ledges and dip in their feet. At the far
end is an island of stone; birch trees rise skinny and
white from its nooks.
After we had spent
some time in the water, Ted got out, but I stayed in.
He threw me my swimming goggles and I went exploring
around the shallower end of the quarry. Looking for
what kind of gunk grew down there, where the New York
Public Library used to be.
I saw something
green. I went to the surface, got a big gasp of air,
dove down and swam, down and down and down. I reached
for the green and headed back up.
It was a twenty-dollar
bill. I swam over to Ted and gave it to him. We were
both amazed. "Are you coming out?" he asked.
"In a little," I replied. I went back to see what else was down there.
Again, I took a big gasp of air, dove down and swam,
down and down and down. Something green. I grabbed it
and headed back up.
"Ted," I said. I waved the bill. Ten dollars.
The next time down,
I found a five. And that was it. I looked, but nothing
else was down there. I shook the water out of my hair
and we spent the money on dinner.
It was not surprising
to me that magic like this would happen around Ted.
It seemed almost predictable. Ted Whittemore was a magician,
not only of words, but of moments. He marveled, and
any sensation, of light or sound or character or scent,
was ratcheted up another notch. We walked past swaying
meadows and through the graveyard where all the Whittemores
are buried. We drove down roads, looked at the cows,
stopped the car near a stream and took off our shoes
and hopped from rock to rock and stood in the running
water, listening to the leaves rustle and the water
bubble, smelling the good air.
Ted put his arms
around me and kissed me. I kissed him back, but then
I said no.
He could not imagine
why I would not grasp this good thing. He could see
it so clearly, something between the two of us, he could
see it and he wanted it. The world is full of possibilities,
he said. I could see it, too, when he talked about it,
because Ted always made me see whatever he saw, but
I still said no.
I came back, however, the next weekend, and I told him
I would sleep with him, but only one time, and then
it would be over and he had to understand that this
was the only way it would happen. I told myself this
was because I was a woman who recently had been hurt,
and that Ted was, after all, the man who had left Helen,
but my true motives weren't so attractive. Ted's proposal
appealed to me a lot--I had a particular weakness for
writers (the man who had broken my heart that long-ago
winter and the ex-husband were both writers) -- but
I had no intention of getting tangled up with Whittemore.
Like a spoiled child, I wanted to play out this flattering
scenario but without accepting responsibility for what
would follow. Crazily enough, Ted agreed to my counter-proposition,
and so, only once it was.
in Massachusetts, I spoke to Ted occasionally, but finally,
I stopped returning his calls, his persistent, baffled,
loving, persuasive, tempting calls.
That was 1988.
In February of 1994, I was planning on visiting friends
in New York (from Washington, DC, where I had moved
four years earlier), and so I called Tom Wallace to
see if he wanted to have lunch. Tom had become a literary
agent, but he was the same Tom, solid as a rock. He
gave you a sense that the important things still mattered
and that history counted for something. It was a good
thing I had called.
"By the way,"
he said, "I meant to phone you and ask -- have
you talked to Ted Whittemore lately? You might want
to give him a ring. He's back in New York. Ted's had
some tough times, I'm afraid, and now there's bad news.
He's very sick."
Ted had been diagnosed
with a very lethal, inoperable prostate cancer. He was
working on a new book and living with a woman named
Ann, who had a brownstone on the upper West side, right
off the park in the 90's.
completely happy to hear my voice. Yes, he was well;
how was I doing? We arranged to meet at Tom's office
at 2:30 on Friday, if I could manage to get Tom back
by then. We agreed that Tom could talk a person's ear
off and lunch was bound to be long.
I hadn't seen Ted
for so long. Tom's receptionist buzzed him in and he
walked into the reception area and took off his knit
cap, holding it in both hands, twisting it slightly.
His face was puffier than before, but his smile was
the same. He turned his head slightly to the side and
the edges of his thin, wide mouth turned up in delighted
mystification and complete charm.
He put out his
arms; I fell into them. We hugged, hard.
It was snowy and
cold. Ted and I walked through Central Park, ice crunching
beneath our feet, the same way we had walked down the
dusty roads of Vermont, talking, talking, talking. We
stopped at a food stand for tea and sat on a patio,
in a corner protected from the wind, looking out across
an oval frozen pond. Although his attention seemed to
be entirely on the beauty of the day, the moment, and
the happiness of being together again, Ted still managed
to read the notes and overhear the conversation of the
man sitting next to him. Once a spook, always a spook.
As we headed up the hill away from the tea shop, he
told me the man had been writing poetry. Bad poetry,
he said, but not as bad as it might be.
That first long
walk, he never mentioned his illness. I saw him again
the next afternoon and we walked in the blistering cold
wind over by the Hudson. He still didn't talk about
it. We just walked, often with our arms around one another,
to be close and to keep from slipping on the ice, trooping
down the streets that became Ted's because of what he
saw. "See that fellow at the corner, in front of
the shop?" he'd say, giving a friendly salute to
a rangy, beaten-up, leather-faced man. "Been here
for years. Turkish, you know." And then he'd explain
how the junk in the guy's store told you everything
you needed to understand about some invasion in the
seventeenth century and it would all make perfect sense.
He didn't talk
about his illness, but we did agree that I would read
his novel when it was done. He was very pleased. And
so we fell back into the role of editor and writer,
but of course we were something else, too, after all
of this time. Time makes friendship in a way that no
single action possibly can. That, after all, is what
Ted's novels are about--time, friendship, and history,
the real history
At one point, but only once, Ted asked me about the
events in Dorset, and afterwards, and how I had stopped
being in touch. I didn't have much to say about it.
"Bad timing," I said. He nodded.
That summer Ted
and Annie went to Italy, and I saw Ted again in the
Fall. I had dinner with him and Annie, but before, we
took a walk. That's when he told me.
He sat me down
on a park bench, over by the wading pool where children
sail their boats. It was November and getting cold.
We were warm enough, though, in hats and scarves and
gloves. He had something to tell me, and spoke very
clearly and simply and straight. He had cancer and it
could not be cured or permanently halted. He was in
remission thanks to heavy doses of hormones; they had
left him impotent, but that was better than being dead.
is, that I can go out of remission at any time,"
Ted told me. "And the docs say that if that happens,
I can go in as fast as three weeks." He paused.
"It changes how you view things. Some things, like
politics and what's in the newspaper, become utterly
unimportant. And things like friends, family, especially
friends, become the most important things in the world."
Ted looked at me.
He reached for my hand, and held it fast. "So you
see, having you come back into my life, now, all of
a sudden, well it couldn't make me happier."
I wrapped myself
around him, my arms and also one leg hooked over his
lap, actually we probably looked fairly ludicrous there
on the bench, but it was a moment where it didn't matter
how we looked or what we were doing with our bodies.
Ted held on tight. Nothing could change what was, the
bad or the good. I said I loved him and then we said
no more, just held on.
As we walked back
to the house, and Annie, and dinner, we talked. He wanted
very much to finish the draft of the novel, the last
book he would ever write. I wanted very much to read
When Ted was still
in remission, it seemed to me that some things were
going on that were suspicious. Ted had always had a
bad back, but it had gotten worse, why he wasn't sure.
My assumption was that this was the cancer, he just
didn't want to dignify it with the name. That would
be giving it too much ground.
I called him one
Sunday, from my apartment in Washington. Annie said
he was out and she didn't know why he hadn't returned.
Several hours later, Ted called and told me the story.
amazing thing happened," he said.
He had gone to
a hotel to meet a man who was going to do his taxes;
the place was way over west on 58th Street, practically
in the river. He walked down the hall to meet the man
and heard some music coming out from behind a door;
the hotel rented larger halls as well as rooms for people
who had business to transact. After getting the tax
stuff taken care of; he passed by the door again.
This time it was
open. And he could hear the music more clearly. It was
gospel. There was plenty of gospel, Ted had explained
to me, in the book he was working on, but he had never
actually been to a live service. A woman standing by
the door saw his interest, and pulled him in. He sat
in the rear.
was wonderful," he said, "just what I'd imagined.
So full of feeling and passion and emotion and all the
good things of being human. The sound just rolled over
me. Everyone was singing and the sound was immense." It went on for a long time, and then there was quiet.
A small woman came to the front of the room Several
people stood up, in no apparent pattern.
Ted's back was
hurting him, so he stood up, too.
He hadn't understood.
All of the people who had stood up were brought to the
front of the room.
The woman prayed
over them. She prayed for strength and health. Calls
of reassurance and encouragement came from all corners
of the room. She prayed in front of Ted. And then she
knocked him down.
"I could see
what was going to happen, because it happened with the
other people," Ted told me. "She stood in
front of you, and behind you stood this immense black
guy, and she knocked you down, and you had to fall right
back. Where the man would catch you. You had to trust
her, you see. You had to let yourself go, just completely."
"And did you?" I asked.
said Ted. "I can't tell you how marvelous I feel."
Ted finished the novel in March 1995. I was working
for the federal government at the time. It arrived in
my office on Monday and I took the day off on Thursday
and edited it and had it back to him on Saturday. "Don't
rush," he had said, wanting not to inconvenience
me. "Take your time."
But I knew we had
no time. I read it once, all the way through. I could
see the shape. The first time through, I began to understand
who the people were. I read it again, slowly, and edited
it, page by page, I listened to its sounds, word by
I was not young,
not then. I was no longer a confused and anxious assistant
editor at a New York publishing house. I was no longer
a damaged woman who did not know her own heart. I had
no questions about who Ted Whittemore was to me; I understood
in many ways what was important about his work. I concentrated.
This book was not
about espionage. It was about a healer. Ted began the
book three months before he got his diagnosis, but still
the book was about a healer. And, also, for the first
time, Whittemore's main character was female. Her name
was Sister Sally and she was unlike any of his other
characters; the man with whom she has a brief love affair,
Billy the Kid, however, resembled characters in the
earlier books and also resembled Ted.
I wrote that I
was going to push him very hard. "I think you have
a bit further to travel with Sally and Billy. So let's
go. " I started by telling him that I didn't think
the verb in his first sentence was in the right tense.
This was a brutal and ridiculous way to start an editorial
letter, but I had no choice. I had to be thorough. I
told my dear friend what my thoughts were as I read.
I tried to remember where everything was and to see
when things worked together and when they did not. I
commented, I queried words, I flirted with him, I reminded
him of old successes and other moments we'd both loved
in other Whittemore books, I cheered, I wondered out
loud about the characters so he would see how they appeared
to someone else, I suggested, I doubted, I applauded,
I reflected, I pushed and pushed and pushed.
Ted told me the
letter was helpful. Very helpful. He was excited about
getting back to work. I sent a copy of the editorial
letter to Tom, who had become Ted's agent. Tom called
me up. He thought my comments were good.
And, in his old-fashioned
manner, Tom said, "You know, the letter you wrote
-- it's a love letter, in a way."
A real writer puts
his heart and soul and all his intelligence on the page.
Any book can be the last one. Every one of the writer's
words, every small motive, counts. The editor must attend
as though nothing else matters.
Ted went out of
remission a few weeks after he completed the draft.
Although his levels of pain increased and increased
in the weeks and months that followed, he was able to
do some revisions.
I told him that
his revisions were more than I could have hoped for.
I came to New York from Washington several times, working
on the pages and leaving notes with him, telling him
every doubt, but most of all I told him how wonderful
the book was, and how each revision made me more convinced
that the book was complete and perfect inside of him
and our only task was to ask the right questions and
bring it all to light.
I called Ted every
other day, sometimes every day, until that became too
difficult. He told me things about himself, so that
in those last months I was allowed to understand more
about him and how he'd lived his life.
Combined with my
love for Ted was a certain brutality which I tried to
keep in check. I tried not to push him too hard. I tried
not to let my disappointment show on the phone when
he said he was just too tired from the pain, too sick
from the drugs, to be able to write.
There was one section in the book that I really wanted
him to revise. It was the scene where Sally and Billy
fall in love. The woman in this novel was nothing like
the women he'd written about before, who quite frankly
had always struck me as a little pale. Sally was a real
powerhouse, a force, a tragic mess. One day he called
me at the office and told me he'd spent three hours
writing the day before, and he felt like hell but he'd
revised that scene, which was central to the love story,
the scene I was sure he had inside him. He told me --
but I did not see the pages. I did not see the fix.
Of course it is dangerous when an editor has a favorite
fix. It's not your book.
Because there was
so little time, however, I let myself want it. In part,
I just wanted what I wanted, and used the drama of death
to cover up my presumptuousness and greed -- but in
part, I felt unconsciously that my desire for the fix
would encourage Ted to fight harder, to slow down the
illness for the sake of the writing.
I must have believed that writing was more important
to Ted than everything else, that he had no more powerful
motive for staying alive. Was I crazy?
Meanwhile he was
in and out of the hospital. In June Annie left to go
to Italy, alone, to get some time away from cancer,
on a holiday Ted told her she needed to take. Carol
came to take care of Ted.
Years back, Carol
had been with Ted, longer than anyone else. She had
ridden motorcycles all around Crete with Ted. She had
been with him the day when, discouraged about ever writing
anything worthwhile, he spotted a scarab in a dusty
British glass case in the British Museum and the whole
idea of the Quartet was born. Carol showed up when things
took a turn for the worse. From early until late, she
moved hospital beds and nurses in and out of Annie's
house, not sleeping much if at all.
One night in early
July, when I hadn't been able to talk to Ted for ten
days - -I had been out of the country -- I called him
from my younger brother's house, where I was visiting.
Ted told me that
he felt, suddenly, he had enough energy to really finish
the book. Carol would read it, too, and Ted would mark
places to cut, which I would then execute, leaving him
the time to write the revisions he wanted to do.
My brother came
into his bedroom where I was using the phone. So did
my sister-in-law, so I moved out to the unfinished porch
out their bedroom, carrying the portable phone, which
was taped together with gaffer's tape from the results
of abuse by children. As my brother and his wife lay
together, sleeping, preparing for another day of work
and family, I stood on the deck in the black night and
schemed with Ted.
I said. "Yes you can do it. Yes," I said.
"We've had some great breaks already. You finished
the draft before you went out of remission. Remember?
Now we have another big break."
The night was wide. "This is what you can fix," I said. "With
the time left. I'll come to New York. We'll talk about
marvelous," said Ted to Carol, "that just
when we need her, just like magic, Miss Judy appears.
I hadn't heard from her. Wondered where she was. And
here she appears. Stage Left. Enter Miss Judy."
agreed Carol, wanly. "It's a good sign." I
could hear the humoring in her tone, although I did
not know, I could not see what she could see.
Instead, I egged
him on. One more piece of luck, I said. One more good
break. When so much has gone badly, one more piece of
good luck. It's a wonder I didn't ask him to sit down
at the desk then and there and write me a scene.
I never knew whether
I was important to him for anything but the books. And
I never knew if he would have been important to me if
it weren't for the books. That was where we connected.
Ted had his own
brutality. He had his ambition, which resulted in modest
living and ruthlessness. He told me once that women
were simply more generous than men, that they were better
people, and although I never doubted that Ted had deeply
loved the women in his life, and made them feel deeply
loved, I wondered if that was an excuse for his bad
behavior. He had two daughters, who didn't speak to
him for years, although they visited him during his
final illness. He said he had been a very bad husband,
and a very selfish man. He knew what he was and he knew
that as a result of how he had behaved, he had lost
his daughters. But he had written his books. Ted had
two granddaughters; one is named after his sister, as
though his family got his children, but he didn't.
Six days after I returned from my brother's house, on
a Sunday morning, I was at home in Washington. My phone
rang at six twenty in the morning.
Ted. Listen," he said, speaking urgently, "I'm
in terrible trouble and you have to help me."
I said. "Tell me what's wrong."
"I don't know
where I am. And you have to come and find me."
"Of course," I replied. I paused. Ted didn't know where he was, but
I knew. He was lying in a hospital bed in his bedroom.
He was too sick to be anywhere else. He was there, he
just didn't know he was there. So I had to get him to
bring himself back.
Suddenly my bedroom
seemed very big and empty and the telephone cord a slender
tie to the voice at the other end.
"Can you tell
me where you might be, Ted?" I asked. "Can
you tell me where you think you are?"
said Ted, practical, sure of himself. "I seem to
be somewhere near Annie's. So you can start looking
We talked for a
while, and got into a conversation about other things
that were going on where he was. Some things confused
him, like the workmen who were lifting big sections
of pipe onto the roof of a nearby building (they might
have been there or might not have been there). When
we talked about it, he thought of some reasons why they
were there and seemed to grow easier in his mind. And
so we said goodbye.
One or two minutes
later, the phone rang again.
Ted." He seemed in a hurry. Or anxious. It was
hard to tell.
"I just looked
at the clock. It's six thirty in the morning. You must
think I'm crazy." He sounded a little frightened.
I answered honestly. "I don't think you're crazy.
I just think you're on a lot of drugs, Ted. You're probably
on a lot of morphine. That can mess you up. Besides,"
I added, looking out at the pale summer morning sky,
"it's already light here. You probably looked out
the window and saw how light it was and figured it was
okay to call. Is it light where you are?"
Ted was reassured,
and again we talked for a few minutes before he became
tired and distracted. I couldn't go back to sleep after
we hung up the phone, so I made some coffee and tried
to read the Sunday papers. But he was much on my mind.
That evening, I
came home around nine thirty or ten from a family picnic
at the house of one of my older brothers, in Baltimore.
I was afraid for the blinking light on my answering
machine. My machine tells callers to wait for the famous
beep. Ted had waited and left this message. I listened.
Ted." He spoke very fast, slurring one or two words.
"Calling on your famous number that you can't make
a call since you're waiting for my beep.
got some great news from you today. For you today. With
you today. And the news is: is that I'm no longer mad!
And don't you think that it would be nice to know that
Ted Whittemore is no longer mad? Wouldn't that be fun!
I hope it would be! Nice for a change anyway.
is still the change. Change. Still hasn't changed. My
number hasn't either. What changed is that I'm no longer
If you could call me sometime. At that number you know
all about. And we could talk on that number.
a lot of things... that are going to become clear--which
At this moment,
Ted's voice, rising in excitement and joy, is abruptly
cut off. As though he simply went spinning off the face
of the world. I think I knew then that I would never
talk to him again, never hear his voice again.
Of course he did
not go, spinning. It was not that simple, that easy,
or that much fun. He continued for almost another month,
increasingly disoriented, consumed by pain, pumped with
drugs. He soon had nurses around the clock at home,
he went in and out of the hospital, and finally went
into a hospice. Several years earlier, I had helped
to care for someone through the end of a terminal illness,
so when my phone calls to New York were not returned
by family and by the two women who, at different times,
had shared his life and now had the honor and burden
of seeing him through his final passage, I knew what
this meant. They had too much on their hands to bother
calling back concerned but peripheral friends. They
were doing the hard work, and the least I could do was
stay out of the way.
When it was all
over, I knew, I would be handed the manuscript, for
Tom was one of the literary executors and he would vouch
for me. I would see if Ted had revised that love scene.
I would make sure that all the changes in his hand were
faithfully entered. I would see if any of the cuts we'd
discussed were possible, but be cautious in my acts,
just cleaning things up.
Then I would pass
the pages to Tom and he would try to sell the story.
Tom, however, never was able to make that sale. The
novel felt unfinished.
The family held
a memorial service in Dorset on August 12th. I flew
to Hartford, rented a car, and drove north.
The day alternated
between brilliant sun and showers. Dorset, in rain or
shine, was as beautiful as ever. Tom spoke at the service.
He said that Ted had compartmentalized his life, that
different parts of Ted's life didn't touch. The parts
that were represented in Dorset--his family, his true
and good friends from Yale, who had supported him during
his illness, who spoke of the powerful love they had
felt from Ted during that time--were strangers to me.
After the service
we were all invited back to the house. It had been renovated,
but some parts of it were as I remembered. It was strange
to stand there and see those same rooms. Time passed
and the house emptied of visitors. Even the family disappeared,
for a family meeting that may or may not have had to
do with Ted; maybe they were burying him in the old
graveyard. The house was empty, except for a woman who
went from room to room, clearing away food and drink.
I sat in a rocker
on the back veranda and had a glass of wine. The rain
came and went, yet again, spattering the tall meadow
grasses behind the house. And then the sun shone bright.
I took my empty glass to the kitchen and then I went
to an upstairs bathroom, put on my bathing suit, and
headed to the Dorset Quarry.
It was as ever.
Young men went screaming over the high cliffs, cannonballing
into the water. Two women paddled at the shallower end,
near where I had found all the money. Children dabbled
their feet, sitting on the ledge.
The water was cool.
The birches tossed their leafy arms in the sky. Life
contains these perfect afternoons. I swam from one end
of the quarry to the other. And then I put on my goggles
and dove down, deep.
The rain had left
the depths murky, however, so there was nothing I could
28 January 2002