I liked Sandy from the moment I met her. Everyone did. Her bright blue eyes were happy and warm and crinkled around the outside edges when she smiled, which she often did. I remember thinking that I hoped my eyes would crinkle like Sandy’s when I was her age. When I did get to be thirty, I still hoped my eyes would crinkle in the same way—but not as much.
I learned of her death from a phone call. When the office receptionist announced the call from Sandy’s “significant other,” I knew it was either very good news or very bad.
“Honey, something awful has happened.”
“What is it?”
“Sandy died this morning. She had a massive heart attack.”
“Oh, god, no.”
I’d just talked to her by phone on Memorial Day. I’d written a story about how we met and was going to offer it to some women’s magazines. I thought Sandy would get a kick out of it.
As Sandy and I talked, I envisioned those sparkling blue eyes crinkling. “No one has ever written a story about me before,” she said.
“Of course they have, stoopid,” I said. “That’s how we met.”
“Besides you, Honey.”
“Sandy didn’t want to go on,” Marion told me. “Sixty percent of her heart tissue was damaged, and they couldn’t disconnect the machine.”
I thought about Sandy tooling around Fort Devens in the Volkswagen we called the Blue Bunny. When the top was down, you could hear her coming — she sang her way from meeting to meeting. Before the army, she had toured with Up With People.
“She always made me promise she could go first,” her partner said. “I just didn’t think it would be so soon.”
Through tears, I asked, “Are you okay?”
“As well as can be expected. There’s just this big, empty hole.”
“Sandy was one of those up-in-your-face kinds of people,” I said. “She was hard to ignore.”
“Tell me about it.”
“It seems like I’ve loved Sandy my whole life,” I said. “I loved her from the moment we met—even before you loved her. Of course, you loved her in a way I never could.”
Sandy was the first person I’d ever met who was openly gay. Lesbians in the army talked about it even less than they do today. Her partner, Marion, was a Red Cross lady; they met at work. Their relationship seemed no more than a little odd to me, and, after all, by the time Marion met her, 13 years ago, Sandy had been my treasured friend for two years. I am not with the person I was with then, but they stayed together until Sandy’s death.
The story I wrote about Sandy, and had described to her, concluded with a description of the life she fantasized having: it included a lovely home, teaching at the higher-education level, going to excellent concerts, and good conversation. And she’d fantasized having a person with whom she could share that wonderful life before she ever met Marion. Their life together was very close to Sandy’s dream.
I have been happy for Sandy for 13 years. I am sorry and sad to have to say goodbye too soon—though in so many ways, she’s not really gone. The things she taught me and the ways she helped me grow will always be with me. The quiet dignity with which she conducted herself in the military and the exemplary fashion with which she performed her duties will always inspire me. I will miss her, but I will always remember the many lives she touched and changed, mine included.
“Marion, if you need anything, anything at all, you call me, okay?”
“You must be strong. Sandy would not have tolerated anything less.”
“I will call you in a few days. I love you.”
We hung up. I walked to the beach behind my office and cried. Then I went back to work. Sandy would have expected nothing less.
Author's CommentI wrote this story in 1990, when my friend Sandy died. I have since lost touch with what we then called her girlfriend; today she would be wife. Periodically I search for her online, but she could well be gone as they were much older than I. Still, reading this today, I feel exactly as I did that day I got the call.