Everything Else


Eve reading at my wedding.

Eve reading at my wedding in 2010.

When I learned that my closest friend for nearly 20 years passed away quietly on a Sunday, I didn’t react the way I thought I would.

I had had time to prepare for the news.  Eve had been fighting cancer fairly successfully since 2013.  She would go into remission only to have a new spot appear somewhere else.   Spiritually and physically, she was holding up like a champ.  But two weeks ago she took a turn for the worse.  “I’m tired,” she told her husband Charley. They decided to discontinue treatment.

I had visited her in the hospital, seen her lying thin and pale under a brown blanket in a room with a window facing a brick wall and a ludicrous sign that read, “Call, Don’t Fall,” featuring a drawing of someone who clearly hadn’t made that choice.  I told her I loved her.  I told her how I wished we were drinking wine just then.  I reminded her of the time that she and I had a fight in the middle of a Pittsburgh street, and of the morning she walked into my dorm room and I thought she was my Singaporean roommate Sylvia.  (I didn’t have my glasses on yet.)  I said everything I could think of to say, and then I told her I’d come back to see her again.

I got sick myself and wasn’t able to go back, and we lost her on Sunday, March 13th.

IMG_0041The first thing that everyone noticed about Eve was her incredible beauty.  Since she’s passed on, four different guys have admitted to having crushes on her freshman year.  I’m sure there were more.  But the next thing you discovered was how friendly and relatable she was.  While she was alive, Andre and I spent a considerable amount of time debating whether or not Eve knew how beautiful she actually was.  I don’t really think she did.  We came to the conclusion that, like most of us, she thought she had Good Days.  She hated her eyebrows.  At times, she expressed a wish for a little more height.  But she had none of the affectations of a person who had been taught that her looks influenced people.  She wasn’t vain.  She dressed for comfort.  She wore her beauty like an expensive handbag that she was perfectly willing to toss in a corner.  She wasn’t precious about it.

Eve was the first person with whom I became close at Carnegie Mellon.  We met during my first week of drama school and bonded instantly– I don’t know over what.  I think we fascinated each other.  She was, quite simply, the coolest person I’d ever met.  She had incredible taste in music, and she listened to it on vinyl.  In 1998.  Meanwhile, I had grown up listening to Broadway cast albums and Peter, Paul and Mary.  She influenced my musical taste for the rest of my life, introducing me to Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, Bonnie Raitt, and so many others.

Her mom, Gilmer, had been part of the original Broadway cast of Godspell, contributing the poem that later became the song By My Side.  The poem had been written by an old boyfriend, Jay Hamburger.  (“Can you believe that?”  Eve would squeal.  “My name could have been Eve HAMBURGER!”)  Eve lived in the guest house behind her parent’s house in California, and she got away with epic adventures.  As a teenager, she got on a plane by herself, went to Burning Man, dropped acid, ended up in the back of an ambulance, and then flew home WITHOUT HER PARENTS EVER FINDING OUT!  (Ostensibly, they know now.)

Meanwhile, I was from a  county in Ohio that elected a beef queen every summer.  I had three sisters and an 18-pound cat named Poufy.  I was a Model UN/theatre dork with a chipped front tooth.  None of the boys had crushes on me.

Eve and I hit it off immediately.

Why is Eve wearing high heels? Why do I have black eye? I have no idea. PS: the time stamp is wrong. It was NOT 1994. Photo Credit: Eric Feldman

One of our acting class scenes at CMU. PS: the time stamp is wrong. It was NOT 1994. Photo Credit: Eric Feldman

We were cast in scenes together in acting class all the time at first.  We did not work well together.  Eve could work a scene to death.  (TO DEATH, I TELL YOU!)  As a musical theatre major, I had a little more on my plate than an acting major:  songs to learn, dance classes filling up precious hours, etc.  Eve was obsessive.  I would get fed up with it, and we would fight.  And then we would work through it and be friends again.  I’d never had a friend like that before.  We forgave each other, accepted each other, laughed about it, and moved on. She taught me how to do that in a friendship.  We became like sisters, like family.

That family remained intact when we moved to New York.  Some close college friends became mere acquaintances.  Not so with Eve and me.   We remained as close as ever.  I literally called her in the middle of the night during one bad breakup, and she jumped in a cab and came over.  After that I moved a few blocks away from her on the Upper East Side.  Her living space was always gorgeous, airy and enviably decorated, even when the apartment itself left much to be desired.  Her UES one-bedroom didn’t technically have a bathroom, just two closets that opened into the kitchen, one of which had been converted into a shower, and the other into a toilet.  Her bedroom fit her bed, and that was all.  And yet when you visited, you wanted to plop in a comfy chair, surrounded by one of her hundreds of throw pillows, and stay forever.  (She had a Thing about throw pillows.)

Eve, Bryan and me in Central Park in the early aughts. Eve has her camera.

Eve, Bryan and me in Central Park in the early aughts. Eve has her camera.

We got together and watched bad movies.   We got together and watched good movies.  We went to Nina’s and Nick’s and the Moonlight Diner.  We drank wine and smoked the occasional clove on her fire escape.  We nursed each other through heartbreak and celebrated each other’s small victories.  We had another fight in the middle of Second Avenue.  We cried.  We made up.

Because when Eve decided she loved someone, she loved them fiercely.  She sunk in, holding you in her grip, and she would not let you go.  She refused to give up on you.  She was stubborn.  She was frustrating.  She was strong-willed.  She was fierce.  She was loyal.

And she was funny!  Eve was a fucking great time.  She would laugh with abandon, throwing her head back and allowing joy to permeate her petite frame.  She had a wonderful sense of the absurd and the mischievous.  Freshman year the two of us were in a rehearsal room talking with Habib Azar, whom we didn’t know very well, and she let out a loud fart in the middle of her own sentence.  She didn’t even pause, she just kept on talking right over it, carrying on with such normalcy that I began to wonder if the fart had happened at all.  As soon as he left, she turned to me and said, “Did you hear that FART?!”  We laughed till we cried.  We still laugh over that.  And about the time she peed in a parking lot outside P.F. Chang’s.  I have so many memories that it’s impossible to pick just one, or even do them justice in this space.

Eve and me, both with short hair in 2014.

Eve and me, both with short hair in 2014.

It also seemed impossible that she would die, but after visiting her in the hospital, I knew it was going to happen.  Still, I had to convince myself that my friend was losing her battle with cancer.  “Eve is dying,” I told myself as I shopped at CVS.  “Eve is dying,” I repeated as I descended the subway stairs.  “Eve is dying,” I thought, as another person– it seemed like me, but it couldn’t possibly have been– taught fitness classes at Physique 57.

Eve was dying.  Eve was dying.

Here’s where I must mention the extraordinary courage of Evelyn Reinhardt.  She faced cancer like a boss. But even before she was diagnosed, Eve was fearless.  After our senior showcase, Buchwald wanted to sign her, but this one agent wanted her to meet the rest of the agency dressed in jeans and a ball cap.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Eve wear a ball cap in her life.  She turned them down.  “That’s not me,” she said.  If you’re not an actor, you may not know how brave that is, but trust me, it’s fucking GANGSTA.  She quickly abandoned acting altogether, turning her energy and intelligence toward fighting injustice.  Her dream was to create an epic theatre piece about the devastating effects of illegal abortions in lesser-developed countries.  She raised money to travel to Africa and Peru, finagling interviews, arranging for a crew and translators.  She came back with incredible stories, including one about when arachnophobic Eve insisted on being carried through her doorway in Peru because a spider the size of her face lingered nearby.

She was an original.

A headshot Eve took. I use this as my "mom" shot.

A headshot Eve took. I use this as my “mom” shot.

While working on her project, she began fostering her talent for photography.  When she got sick, she had been working as a freelance photographer, taking head shots of me and so many others. In fact, I had a hard time finding pictures for this blog because so frequently Eve was on the other side of the camera.

She was a brave and fearless artist who moved effortlessly from one medium to another.  So when I heard that she had taken her last breath, I couldn’t be sad for her.  She had simply moved on to the next artistic and spiritual realm.  I sat on the train, waiting for the tears to come, but instead all of these happy memories came flooding back to me, some of which I’ve mentioned here, but many, many more.   I felt light and buoyant, as if Eve’s puckish spirit were whispering in my ear, “Remember the time when….?  And remember when….?”

Eve and her amazing and gorgeous husband Charley at their rehearsal dinner.

Eve and her amazing and gorgeous husband Charley at their rehearsal dinner.

“I feel like Eve was already connected to the Universe in a way I never really understood,” my friend Zach said in a message later.  “Like she was this weird mix of hippie/Earth Mother bloom and sexy/chic/edgy woman.  I’ll never feel okay about it, but I feel like Eve found some way to make peace with all of this.”

I feel like she’s more than made peace with it.  Some people float into heaven.  I feel like Eve rushed in in the front seat of a roller coaster.  She climbed out of the car, pet my dead cat Poufy, and then Eve, a great believer in reincarnation, exclaimed, “Whew, that was great!  Let’s do it again!”

Either that or there is no such thing as reincarnation, and Eve is up there in heaven, trying to figure out how to get to hell and back without God ever finding out.

Either way, her spirit is not at rest.  It’s turning cartwheels around us, laughing with us and– knowing Eve– at us.  She can finally be everywhere at once.  She is free to love us as fiercely as we deserve to be loved.

Eve and me.

Eve and me.

She was my friend.  I loved her, and she loved me.  In the words of the great Taoist, Winnie the Pooh, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

 

 

Advertisements
Our gorgeous, ruined love seat.

Our gorgeous, ruined love seat.

The CA-NY move marked the first time I hired a professional moving company.  I don’t count Kline Movers, the Chinatown moving company that transported me from the Upper East Side to Harlem, and then from Harlem to Brooklyn, for $400 a pop.  In retrospect, I should have hired them to move us cross country.  They always did an excellent job.

Our move from Fort Greene to Long Beach consisted of ten boxes, which were mailed to my friend in North Hollywood, and a car loaded down so heavily that it never quite recovered from the cross-country trip.  We sold that car to pay for the move back East.  The boxes had tripled, but we only had a bed, a love seat, a coffee table, and a changing table in terms of real furniture.  So we hired CA-NY Express.

The price was right.  The sales person, Eric, was kind enough.  The movers who arrived at my house November 18th were competent.  Our move turned out to cost several hundred dollars more than was originally quoted, of course, because our stuff took up more square footage than they had estimated.  We didn’t find this out until the truck was loaded, naturally.  If only I had made them unpack the truck!  I wish I had done that!  Especially given that they were going to destroy a vintage love seat anyway.   I may as well have saved the money and put it on the curb.  But we wouldn’t know that till later.

“The bed’s different,” my husband told me on the phone from the East Coast.  Our furniture had been delivered, but I was in the Midwest with family.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It just feels different,” he said.  “Not as comfortable.”

“Well, it probably got shaken around in the move,” I suggested.

“But it doesn’t fit the frame,” he said.  “I think it’s a different mattress.”

“I don’t see how it could be a different mattress.”  And I didn’t.  The mattress had been boxed and put on the truck with a bar code that matched our order.  How they could mess this up, I couldn’t begin to fathom.  But when I got home, he was right.  It didn’t feel the same.

“Maybe it’s just the other side of it,” I suggested.  But that didn’t explain the extra three inches at the foot and headboard where it used to be flush.

My mother took one look at it and knew it was off.  “What happened to your bed?” she said as she walked into our Brooklyn bedroom.

Unfortunately, we had been given this mattress by a friend.  We have no receipt stating what type of mattress it is, and we can’t even be sure of the brand.  Our friend wasn’t much help.  “It’s from Ikea?” she guessed when we asked her.

“They’ve given us a Sealy!”

“Um… it could have been a Sealy.”

All we know is it’s not right.  But lacking conclusive proof, there’s not much we can do.  CA-NY Express insists they delivered the right mattress.

The love seat, however, is a different story.  After filling out a claim form requiring photographic proof that our love seat was broken, we received a paltry insurance settlement of $168.  We had only purchased basic coverage, so that was the extent of our entitlement.  However, the frame is not merely chipped, as the pictures suggest.  The entire thing has been compromised.  The CA-NY Express movers packed it very well, so I don’t think it got bumped around.  The damage is too severe. My husband and I believe that they dropped it when they were transferring our furniture to a different truck, which is also where they switched our mattress with someone else’s.  So we’re stuck.

I would like an additional $200 to pay for the love seat’s repair.  I would like a king-sized Ikea mattress restored to me– either a new one or our original.  Someone, somewhere, is complaining that their mattress is over-sized and doesn’t seem to lay properly.  They’re probably just as confused as I am, and their complaints have probably been met with the same attitude: that the movers couldn’t possibly have gotten it wrong!

In the meantime, I would heartily recommend CA-NY Express if you like your stuff arriving in broken pieces.  If you’d like your mattress replaced with a strangers, go ahead and use them.  And if you don’t particularly care for your complaints being heard by management, CA-NY Express is your company.

But whatever you do, spring for extra insurance.

 

 

September 11th was a big day in the Garner household.  My sister Katie delivered her firstborn, Patrick Anthony Yuen, two weeks before her due date.  I got an offer from Musical Theatre West to play the Witch in Big Fish.  And Andre was offered a job back in New York.

He deliberated for a bit.  He had teaching responsibilities at Cal State Long Beach,  I had just started teaching private voice lessons and adult ballet.  “I think you should take it,” I said.  “In fact, I’ll be mad at you if you don’t take it.”

We had both been praying for a sign to tell us what our next steps should be.  Sometimes I think that there is some sort of delay in our prayers reaching the heavens.  We had been treading water out here rather desperately for the last two months.  And then when God finally hears your prayers– like, the messenger angels pull it together or something– he whacks you over the head with His answers.  At least that’s what happened to us.

Andre got the offer to do How the Grinch Stole Christmas, a mini-tour that plays Chicago and New York.  I could do Big Fish and join Andre back East in time for Thanksgiving.  Then September 18th we went to New York for a weekend to visit baby Patrick and go to a wedding.  While there, a situation arose that mandated that we return to our New York apartment.  I can’t go into too much detail here, but let’s just say we’re in big trouble with our co-op board and looking at a hefty fine, if not worse.  We returned to the West Coast with plans to move back East, and we’d been back about a week when our car got stolen.  Suddenly, we felt flush with heavenly signals.  “All right, we’re going!”  Andre and I would shout into thin air.  California no longer seemed welcoming, and it seemed imperative that we get back to NY as quickly as possible.  And to top it all off, the Brooklyn apartment received a letter from both the IRS and the Canadian Revenue Service.  Yes, September was one hell of a month, a month of highs and lows.

The car was recovered in perfect condition.  (High.)  We did however have to pay $200 to get it out of the police tow lot.  (Low.)  Andre and I are thrilled to have acting work.  (High.)  But it requires us to separate for three weeks at the end of October while he starts rehearsals in NYC, and I am left here with Delilah to pack up the apartment and finish my show.  (Low.)  We get to move back to the apartment we bought in the City that we love.  (High.)  Come January, we really can’t afford to live there, and September’s debacle has left us with such bitterness that we want to sell as soon as possible.  (Low.  Anyone looking for a one bedroom in Fort Greene?)

But regardless it’s going to be an adventurous, if not stressful, couple of months.  We constantly remind each other of how fortunate we’ve been.  The car came back untouched, and we can sell it to pay for the reasonably-priced moving company we dug up.  We have a beautiful daughter and a home to return to in NY.  We have well-paying acting jobs for the moment, and the support of friends and family.  Shout out to my cousin Jenny, who called to offer Delta miles to help with holiday travel, and to my friend Steph, who offered her home/baby gear during our stay in Chicago.

We truly are lucky.  And we’re coming home!

Elizabeth teaching at BAE.  Photo credit:  Rosalie O'Connor

Elizabeth teaching at BAE. Photo credit: Rosalie O’Connor

I got a message from Elizabeth’s dad correcting some of the mistakes I had made in my earlier post about the death of Elizabeth Maria Walsh.  Just to set the record straight…

1.  Elizabeth was given six months to live, not two.  I got the wrong information from a mutual friend.  Regardless, she proved the doctors wrong.  She went on to live over two years because, as her father said in his eulogy, “she kicked cancer’s ass.”  I’ve pasted said eulogy at the end of this blog.  (Reading it, you’ll see where where Elizabeth got her spunk!)

Mr. Walsh shared with me that Elizabeth didn’t tell her family she’d been given this prognosis until six months later, when she was very much alive and spending the day with them at Disneyland.

2.  Her doctor wanted her to get surgery, not chemo, instead of doing In the Heights.  I mixed this up because at first when her cancer came back she told me it was inoperable.  However, her family sought a second opinion from a Dr. Fojo at the National Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C.  He is the one who urged surgery right away.  However, he warned her that the surgery may not be successful, and that even if it were, the cancer could still return.  So Elizabeth faced a huge decision.  She chose to do the show.  This reminds me of another one of Elizabeth’s favorite quotes:  “I don’t want people who want to dance.  I want people who have to dance.” — Balanchine.

To be truly alive, Elizabeth had to be dancing.

3.  Elizabeth didn’t have cancer in her eye.  But she did get a really terrible stye in her eye as a side effect.  As if things weren’t bad enough.

I was very upset to find out that I got any of this wrong, and I apologize to everybody.   All I can say in my defense is that when your friend is giving you really, really, really bad news, you can get overwhelmed.

But I was so happy to get a few more Elizabeth stories from the very kind and gracious Steven Walsh, Elizabeth’s Papi.  He shared his eulogy with me and gave me his permission to share it.  I couldn’t make the memorial service in Miami, so I was really grateful to get to read it.  Cancer wasn’t Elizabeth’s first struggle.  She was a fighter her whole life.

 

Steven Walsh’s Eulogy

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

This is one of Elizabeth Maria’s favorite quotations and a very powerful one. Many people post philosophical quotes on social media or talk about them, but few people actually live their lives accordingly. Elizabeth Maria is not one of them. Elizabeth started living her dreams even before she knew who Eleanor Roosevelt was.

Fatima and I knew that Elizabeth, from an early age, wanted to be a performer. Elizabeth used to watch VCRs of her older sister Kathy’s performances at “The Dance Center.” She would be acting out the parts in front of the television. At a very young age we enrolled her at the studio, where she fell in love with Broadway Musicals. On stage her smile never left her face. Nothing could stop her, not even her little brother Steven making faces at her from the first row hoping she would mess up her lines!

After a few years at The Dance Center, Elizabeth wanted to increase her ballet skills as she knew dance was the way for her to achieve her dreams. Elizabeth took classes at several studios before she settled on Mencia Pikeras. Since she started a little late in classical ballet, she was often overlooked. Even though all of her dance friends always told her that she had the best feet they have ever seen!

She was accepted in Southwood Middle School Arts Magnet Program, but in theatre and not dance. Elizabeth kept dancing at Mencia Pikeras trying to catch up on her dancing skills. Finally in the 7th grade she was able to transfer from theatre to dance.

Next came New World School of the Arts. Elizabeth auditioned for the dance program, but wasn’t accepted. Most students would have accepted their fate and moved on with high school life. Not Elizabeth! Elizabeth knew what she had to do. She had a plan, she always had a plan. Elizabeth began to research summer dance programs that could prepare her for NWSA. Elizabeth found a program she wanted to attend sponsored by the Boston Ballet and she applied. Then she handed me the bill! I tried to speak to her, but when I started to tell her that we might not be able to afford it she burst into tears, genuine tears of sorrow. Her dreams were officially destroyed, her life was ruined. I had ruined her life! Needless to say we found a way for her to attend! She flew to Boston by herself, attended the program and came back a much stronger dancer.

After the summer was over, she attended Killian High School and continued to dance at Mencia Pikeras. She never took her eye off her target: NWSA. Auditions came around again and this was her last chance. Do or die. If you didn’t make it in by your sophomore year, your window of opportunity was closed. Very, very few students were accepted as incoming sophomores. Elizabeth as always was one of the very few.

But coming into NWSA as a sophomore, had its stigmas. You weren’t good enough to make it in as a freshman. You weren’t a natural. Her teachers already had their favorites and she felt like she was somewhat of an outsider. Did this deter Elizabeth? Not a chance. She continued to dance and progress. By her senior year she was a much stronger dancer – with great feet! Along came time to audition for scholarships! Few of her teachers felt she was strong enough of a dancer to receive any scholarship. Wrong again, Elizabeth received 3 scholarship offers! One at a Los Angeles based dance school; one at SMU in Dallas, Texas and one at Marymount College in New York City. Elizabeth knew that the center of the dance world was in New York City – the Big Apple – and chose to attend Marymount College. At age 18 she moved by herself to NYC. Pastor Leo prayed and tried to convince her to stay in Miami, but Elizabeth had nothing to do with it. This was her opportunity. She was laser focused. Elizabeth knew what she wanted. Little did I know that Elizabeth and Kelly were conspiring since middle school to conquer the dance world and move to NYC.

NWSA is an extremely advanced Arts school and when she got to Marymount, Elizabeth was disappointed at the school, her fellow students and the quality of dance. She was so far advanced dancewise, class bored her. And for the first time, she felt the cruelty of prejudice from her roommates. She would call me crying saying that her roommates would tease her and call her the little Mexican girl. Elizabeth was hurting inside and left Marymount, but did this set back stop her? No. Elizabeth then began taking classes at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. She was offered a scholarship, but before she could begin dancing at Ailey she fractured her foot on the dance floor.

At this point Elizabeth lost some but not all of her passion for dance. She wanted an education! Her other passion was English Literature. She enrolled at Hunter College. The little “Mexican” girl would graduate with honors with a degree in English Literature. As she was going to school, she never fully giving up dance. She became a ballet teacher for little children at the prestigious Ballet Academy East. Elizabeth excelled as a ballet teacher as she did at everything in life. She had an immense impact on many of these children’s lives, many of whom still know her and are mourning her loss today.

As Elizabeth was about to graduate, she got the itch to dance again. She never was cut out for a 9 to 5 job! I was in NYC at the time and we had a nice long conversation about this. I knew she had her mind made up. She just wanted my approval. Being her biggest fan I told her it was now or never. She was far behind her peers, but having rested for 3 years she was ready to go. As usual, she was all in, but the road was not smooth. She auditioned, auditioned and auditioned. She always made the first few cuts, but never got the call back. Never to give up she continued to train.

Then Revolucion Latina, a dance company dedicated to helping Latin youths in NYC, was conducting auditions for a performance in conjunction with a visiting dance company D1 from Lima, Peru. Elizabeth finally got her big break. Being the magnetic personality she is; Elizabeth made many friends at the rehearsals including the director and dancers from D1. D1 offered her the opportunity to dance with the company for 6 months in Lima, Peru. Being the adventurer she is, off she went to dance in Peru. Salsa, tango, flamenco and modern dance with a Latin flair.

She soon found out not all that glitters is gold. Elizabeth got to learn Latin inspired dance, improve her Spanish and delved into a new culture, but she was an outsider to her artistic directors. Elizabeth was an American in Peru. Elizabeth never received the work visa she was promised and as a result, she couldn’t perform professionally as much as she wanted. Elizabeth was an illegal American in Peru. To support her, I flew down to Peru and saw her perform for the first time since high school. What a joy to see Elizabeth on stage again!

Elizabeth finished her six-months in Peru and flew back to Miami for the holidays. This was just a temporary lay over as she had her sights set on Los Angeles. Off she flew to Los Angeles to live with her sister Kathy and pursue her dream of performing on a Broadway stage. Los Angeles was stepping stone on her way back to NYC. Elizabeth finally stated to make head way in the pursuit of her dreams. Elizabeth immediately started making friends in the dance and musical theatre world. What a surprise! Dance teachers started taking interest in her. She performed in a local production of Bye Bye Birdie and was about to perform in Hairspray. She was on her way!

Then came that fateful day; Memorial Day Weekend 2012. Elizabeth called us saying her legs were swollen. Not just swollen, but something is very wrong swollen. Off she went to the Urgent Care Facility to see a doctor. The doctor noticed her potassium levels were low, gave her an injection to reduce the swelling. Elizabeth went home feeling better and went to work the next day. Mid morning her legs swelled up again and she could hardly walk. Again off to the Urgent Care Center where her and her doctor agreed that she was not going home until they found out what was wrong with her. Blood clots negative, x-rays negative, infection negative. Perplexed, the doctor ordered a CAT scan. After the doctor saw the scans, he went to see Elizabeth with a different look on his face. The doctor had discovered a mass in her abdomen. Elizabeth called me and said “Papi, this just got serious.”

Fatima, Steven Jr and I all immediately flew out to Los Angeles to be with her. Elizabeth had no idea Steven Jr was coming as we were unsure we could buy a ticket for him. The joy in Elizabeth face when she saw her brother was priceless.

The doctors and surgeons quickly diagnosed her condition “Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma” a very rare, but aggressive cancer. Only 200 to 300 people a year are diagnosed in the United States every year. Elizabeth was one in a million. Surgery was quickly arranged. She wasn’t able to perform in the musical Hairspray.

On the day of the surgery, Fatima, Kathy, Steven Jr and I all went to the hospital early in the morning. Elizabeth was brought in to be prepped for surgery. We were then let in to see Elizabeth. Expecting to see her scared and fearful, we found her smiling ear to ear. Always the optimist, she knew that after the surgery the tumor would be removed and she would begin to recover and be herself again. Her courage was unbelievable.

Dr Philip Haigh a very straight forward and skilled surgeon was to perform the operation. Elizabeth in her usual way broke him down and she was soon to become his favorite patient. Unfortunately, during the surgery a nodule in her lung was removed and biopsied. The nodule tested positive for ACC. Elizabeth had stage IV cancer. Elizabeth’s reaction: A stage is a place to dance on, not a form of cancer!

After she recovered from the surgery, Elizabeth immediately underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy from hell. Her body was destroyed. She then took a few months off to recover and underwent a second surgery to remove the rest of the nodules from her lungs. Subsequent scans revealed no new growths. She was now in remission! Celebration! It was time to start training again. She hired a personal trainer and began the long and tedious process of rebuilding the strength in her body. Hour by hour, day by day, week by week, she labored.

In June, Elizabeth decided to take a break and visit us in Miami. During her visit, she complained of back pains. We thought it might be kidney stones or some other ailment. It was too soon after she was declared in remission. I flew back to Los Angeles with Elizabeth. After we arrived the pain got worse. We went to the emergency room. A scan reveled the cancer had returned.

Elizabeth was admitted to the hospital that night. The next morning I went down to the cafeteria to get coffee. Who did I meet in the cafeteria; Dr Haigh. He was in the cafeteria that morning as his surgery was cancelled. I told him Elizabeth was back in the hospital. He said he would look at her chart and come see us right away. The stars had aligned I thought. As promised Dr Haigh reviewed the chart and came to visit Elizabeth. Expecting Dr Haigh to say we can schedule surgery for next week, he told us that the tumor was inoperable. I was devastated. Dr Haigh left and started crying in Elizabeth’s arms. A few minutes later Elizabeth said “Papi stop crying. I’m still here.” I was more scared than she was.

Radiation was given to slow the growth of the tumor. Soon after her radiation treatment was over, Elizabeth was back in the gym and dance studio pursuing her dreams. A minor setback. Fatima and I flew back to Miami, while Elizabeth stayed in Los Angeles and continued to work like she never had before. She was in the best shape of her life. By the way, Elizabeth also enrolled in grad school at USC and set up her charity Dancers with Cancer, to help patients heal through the pursuit of dance. As we found out, dealing with cancer is as much mental and it is physical.

Then came the auditions for “In the Heights”, Elizabeth’s absolute favorite musical. After losing all of her hair from chemotherapy in 2012, she purposely kept it short so she could stand out at auditions. She turned a negative into a positive. At the audition, she made it to the final round. The casting director brought Elizabeth and another dancer to the stage also with short hair. She said I can’t keep both of you. The music started. Guess who won?

As Elizabeth was rehearsing for the show, she had another CAT scan done. The tumor had grown and a new one had appeared. Her oncologist said there was nothing else she could do for her. We immediately reached out to several cancer centers, which led us to Dr Tito Fojo at the National Cancer Institute. We travelled to Washington DC to see Dr Fojo. After 5 minutes with Elizabeth, Dr Fojo fell in love with her. He knew immediately Elizabeth was one of a kind. We talked about many things at the appointment, including Quality of Life. Elizabeth understood this concept, but I did not until that day. I thank Dr Fojo immensely for this.

Dr Fojo said that surgery was still a possibility, but it had to be done immediately. There were no guarantees if the surgery was successful, the cancer wouldn’t return. One thing was certain; surgery would interfere with Elizabeth’s dream musical which was about a month away. Elizabeth faced the biggest decision of her life. She choose her dreams. Quality over quantity. The show must go on.

We all flew out to Los Angeles to see Elizabeth perform as a featured dancer in “In the Heights” Fatima and I stayed in Los Angeles for the entire 2 weeks the show ran and went to almost every show. No me digas. Needless to say we were extremely proud to see our daughter, sister and dear friend on stage, not just because of her talent, but also because we knew how hard she worked and the obstacles she faced. Elizabeth never let her cast members know she had cancer until they got to know her first. She wanted to get them to know Elizabeth, not the girl with cancer.

After the show, Elizabeth’s health began to slowly decline, but she continued to train. Elizabeth auditioned and was accepted into Dana Foglia Dance Mentorship Program in Los Angeles. Dana Foglia Dance Mentorship Program is an elite training program for dancers. Only 12 people are selected for this program out of thousands of applicants. Elizabeth made it to the top.

Elizabeth returned home to Miami for the summer to receive treatment in hopes of returning to Los Angeles in the fall. The mentorship program begins next week. Once she arrived in Miami, Elizabeth’s health continued to decline. Additional scans were taken. We sent the scans to Dr Fojo for him to look at. Dr Fojo confirmed that Elizabeth had taken the right decision in not having surgery. Are we surprised?

Elizabeth lost her life, but she did not lose her battle to cancer. She kicked cancer’s ass. Cancer never told her what to do. Elizabeth Maria never stopped living her dreams.

 

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams- The world belongs to you!

I love you Elizabeth Maria Walsh.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Maria WalshI was halfway through lunch at a restaurant by myself when I learned that my friend Elizabeth Walsh had died.

Facebook is a terrible way to get bad news.

I sat there, stunned, trying to keep it together.   I knew she wouldn’t want me to honor her memory by turning into a hot mess in the middle of The Cheesecake Factory.  I picked at my all-vegetable salad and tried to finish my drink.   Then I sat in my car and cried.

Back in 2012 my friend had been diagnosed with Stage 4 adrenal cortical cancer and been given two months to live.  She had been fighting like hell ever since.  In June she had left Los Angeles for Miami to be with family, but she assured me that she was coming back.

Adrenocortical carcinoma is so rare and so specific that I don’t even know what it is, exactly.  (A Google search will not help you much.)  All I know is that when she was initially diagnosed, she had cancer EVERYWHERE. And yet when we had lunch in the summer of 2013, when we had both relocated to the West Coast, when I was doing Billy Elliot in Costa Mesa and she had come to see the show, when we sat outside in the sunshine, she declared that she was completely cancer-free.

Puddin' and her "Tia" EWal

Puddin’ and her “Tia” EWal

And somehow, cancer had made her even more beautiful.  Her skin glowed.  She was thinner than I’d ever seen her, yet her arms and legs retained their ballet-dancer grace.  Her limbs were toned and supple, and every movement was graceful.   The hair she had lost to chemo had grown back into an enviable pixie, and her short hair combined with her thin face magnified her already-enormous smile.  She laughed loudly, and often.

I am absolutely bereft.

The www.dictionary.com definition of “bereft,” or rather, “bereave,” is “to deprive and make desolate, usually by death.”

Yep, that about sums it up.

Let me tell you some facts about Elizabeth Maria Walsh.

1.  She listened to Broadway musicals while undergoing radiationElizabeth Maria Walsh, and was frequently told, “Miss Walsh, we need you to lie still.”

2.  A few weeks ago, while going through chemo in Miami, she sent me a series of text messages.  They told the story of our friendship, using funny GIFs and photos pulled from Facebook.  It was all about me, her, our friendship, and my baby Delilah.  Not a word about chemo, which she once described as “the worst pains anyone could ever experience.”  Unfortunately, I was at a wedding at the time, we had been specifically asked to put our phones away, and I got her messages late.  I texted her back quickly, explaining the circumstances and telling her how much I loved her.  I realize now that she was saying goodbye.

3.  She was in multiple callbacks for the Broadway company of In the Heights, and she hadn’t booked it.  When she was cast in the show at Cabrillo Musical Theatre in Sherman Oaks, it was literally a dream come true for her.  However, at the same time she learned that her cancer had come back, that it was spreading and inoperable.  The doctors urged her to skip the show and start chemo right away.   She refused.  She wanted to live her life and perform in her dream show, not spend her last few months wracked with pain.  She wanted to be sore from dancing, not chemo.

4.  I once told a director at a callback that I could die happy if I could play Sally Bowles.  What a dumb-shit thing to say.  I mean, can anyone die happy?  But after doing that production of In the Heights, Elizabeth died having fulfilled a dream.  I’m not sure if the people at Cabrillo realize what a gift they’d given her by simply casting her in that show.  Her other dream was to see her charity, Dancers With Cancer, come to life.  She’d founded this non-profit organization after her first bout with cancer.  She believed dance to be therapeutic, and Dancers With Cancer offers dance classes for children with life-threatening illnesses.  (Family is asking for donations in lieu of flowers.)

5.  She posted this last fall:

“In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking a lot about these past years… I’ve been told things like “You’re such an inspiration.” “I admire you,” or “You’re such a strong person.” And while I am so grateful that these types of comments have been made to me, I can’t help but think, “I’m just a normal girl.” And yes I’ve faced a battle or two at an age where it’s not expected, but I would not be where I am today without the love and support from first and foremost my family, my friends, and everyone else who has joined my incredible support team. For that I am forever grateful and thankful. All of you in your own way have encouraged me to dream big, and in turn I can only hope that every single one of you fight the battles you are given and reach for your dreams as well, whatever they may be. To never lose hope, to always live in love, and to always be thankful even when times are rough.”

6.  She was one of the kindest people I have ever met.

I missed seeing her in In the Heights at Cabrillo.  I wake up at night and lie awake, regretting it.  The show dates conflicted with Puddin’s due date, the theatre was 90 minutes away, and I was scared that I would end up giving birth on the 405.  Elizabeth understood, but I wish I could have seen her shine.

Of course, Elizabeth didn’t need a stage to shine.  Her enormous smile, her laughter, and her presence lit up every room she walked into.  She was a dreamer, but she was a determined and disciplined one– the best kind.  She pursued her dreams, and didn’t let anything stop her, not even cancer.  Because of her I feel compelled to pursue my dreams a little bit harder, to reach a little bit further, to love those around me better, and to never, ever give up.

I love you, “Tia” Elizabeth.  I’ll never forget you.

 

 

 

I checked my wallet for a Metrocard left over from my last trip to New York.  I wasn’t sure if I had one, and not having one would mean I had literally lost my status as a card-carrying New Yorker.  It would signify a change in my city girl status from ‘displaced’ to ‘former.’

Last Thursday I was back in the City for little more than 24 hours, landing at JFK at 11:PM Tuesday and departing at 6:AM Saturday.  I was auditioning for a new Flaherty/Ahrens musical going up at the Kennedy Center, a well-paying gig directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman.  It was a good reason to return, almost justifying the expense of the last-minute plane ticket.  But in my eagerness I’d forgotten that “emergency” trips to New York were almost never a good idea.  Without time to prepare, without enough sleep, and with so many hours in transit, on audition day, my usually-reliable voice cracked on the third note.  I started over, but I’d already blown the audition.  In this industry, you have to be 100% all the time in order to be competitive.

But  remarkably I left my crap audition feeling better than I would have in years past.  After all, I had done my best, given the circumstances.  And I have other things in my life right now, like, I don’t know, a baby, and I couldn’t work myself into a state of despair and self-loathing the way I used to.  I just shrugged it off.  I should have remembered that when it comes to auditions, there really aren’t any emergencies.  There will always be another opportunity.

What there isn’t is another New York.  When I returned last summer I found the place stultifying and overwhelming.  This time I found it familiar and friendly, inasmuch as New York is ever friendly.  After a year or so in the urban jungle of LA– if one considers a patchwork of highways and beachfront “urban”– I found the closeness of the City comforting.  I know how to get around in NewYork, and I don’t just mean the subways.  I know how to get home from JFK in 30 minutes flat for less than $20.  I know just where to get coffee in the morning in just about any neighborhood.  It killed me not to have the time or the calorie allowance for a greasy bacon, egg and cheese sandwich from the street vendors when I got off the train at 57th.  I walked into my audition knowing two people in the room and at least one person outside it.  Even when I blew my audition, I was aware that I was blowing it.  In LA everyone’s so fakey that it’s hard to read the room.  I’ve been assured that I would be called back “like, Thursday” only to have Friday come and go without my phone ringing.  (This is unnecessary, LA.  Just thank me for coming or say, like Susan Stroman said to me, “That was a great audition,” the subtext of which is “but we aren’t going to hire you.”  I’m a big girl, LA.  I can take it.)

Andre and I don’t know where we’re going to end up come the fall.  We could move back, and I could do the type of work I want to do in New York, but life up until this point has seemed easier in LA.  There’s the weather, for one, and you can’t beat warming up in your car.  And as my friend Stephanie says, “It’s easy to live anywhere after New York.”

Or is it?  Despite my long flight, despite my terrible audition, despite the humidity and the crowds and the expense, this time around I felt like I belonged in Manhattan.  In fact, for the first time in my long, destructive, frequently soul-crushing relationship with New York, I felt like New York wanted me back.

My senior year in high school I worked at Expressly Portraits in the Ashtabula Mall.  I didn’t work there for very long; in fact, I frequently forget that I worked there at all.  But I was reminded last Friday when we drove Puddin’ to the Lakewood Mall to have her picture taken at JC Penney.

In this digital age, mall and department store photo studios find themselves seriously endangered.  With easy-to-use, high quality photo technology available, why pay a whopping $9 per person to have a “professional”– a high school senior, in my case– take photos of the family?  But Andre and I come from the South and the Midwest, respectively, which means we were raised with more appointments at Olan Mills than at the dentist.  Photos of our child selves line the walls of both our mothers’ houses, with subjects posed precariously over draped stools and boxes against a faux-nature or generic gray backdrop.  The expressions on our faces range from beaming to puzzled to enraged and upset.  Professional mall-quality photographs are a family tradition we intend to uphold.

I know now that my parents went through hell to get this picture.

I know now that my parents went through hell to get this picture.

Plus, we wanted good lighting.  We wanted coordinated outfits.  We wanted wallet-sized photos we could send to relatives without smartphones.  And more than anything, we wanted a picture of our new family.  Thus far, one person had invariably held the camera to capture the other two.

But why we thought Puddin’ would be down for this at four weeks old, I’ll never know.

“Good luck with that,” my mother said, chuckling, when I told her our plans.  For those who don’t have children, let me explain four weeks old.  The first two to three weeks, the baby sleeps a lot.  If she isn’t sleeping, she’s easily lulled to sleep by the stroller, the car, or the rocking chair.  At six weeks, apparently babies fall into a little schedule, with (slightly) more predictable nap, feeding and wake times.  (Or so I’m told.)

But four to six weeks is hell.  “You’re IN IT,” my friend Stephanie, mother of two, explained over the phone.  “But it gets better, I promise.”

By noon Andre and I were ready for a drink.  All three of us were washed, fed and ironed.  We packed Puddin’ into her car seat, where she screamed for ten (avenue) blocks.  We were hitting too many red lights for her to fall asleep, plus she felt like being difficult.  In the diaper bag we had fruit and protein bars, her elephant pacifier, burp cloths, a change of clothes (for me), water, and of course, several diapers.

We arrived on time for our 1:00 appointment to be told we had one more family ahead of us.  Puddin’ was in a good mood by then, cooing in her stroller like an angel, despite the fact that she’d only had a ten minute nap on the way over.  She would be hungry soon, so I took advantage of the lull to feed her.

Mistake!  She resented her lunch-time getting cut short once the photographer announced that it was our turn, and she resented being posed tummy-down on the (adorable) baby-sized wagon we brought along that had been a gift from our friends in Australia.  Within minutes she was screaming.  The overworked, exhausted photo professional, who had the advantage of being over 18, suggested we take a break while she took in the next appointment, a two-year-old named Madison who was also running behind.

Puddin’ continued to scream until she fell asleep on Daddy’s chest, then she went in her diaper, woke up, and screamed some more.  I took her to the women’s room to change her, then returned.  Meanwhile, the two appointments ahead of us were reviewing their digital photos, with the sole employee/photographer attending. A line of people picking up photos was forming.  After about 30 minutes, Puddin’ got fed up and started crying again, so Daddy walked her some more.  Thirty minutes later with Puddin’ still screaming, I opted to feed her.  Three minutes after Puddin’ really got going, it was our turn in the studio.

Once again Puddin’ was furious to have her meal cut short, so after trying to take one or two shots, I asked if we had time for me to finish nursing.  That took about 15 more minutes.  But even after eating, Puddin’ was not happy to be there.  “Maybe she had a problem with JC Penney,” my friend Annie suggested when I relayed the story.  Puddin’ whimpered through every shot, and though she was not crying outright, she was giving stank face. Puddin' giving stank face. Andre pulled the plug at 2:30.  “We’re done,” he announced.  The photographer looked relieved.

Puddin’ did her Baby Jesus routine the entire ride home.  Perfect behavior.  (Still no nap.)

Once home I collapsed on the bed, exhausted.  Not Puddin.  She could eventually be cajoled into sleeping on Daddy’s chest for about 20 minutes.  Then she was up, crying.  I fed her, not because it was her time to eat, but because I needed to get it out of the way so that I could have a drink.

We still haven’t gotten a good picture of the three of us.  Maybe sometime soon we’ll take one of our visitors to the beach with our digital camera in coordinating outfits on a not-too-sunny day.  But for now, I need to wrap up this blog.  Puddin’ is starting to cry.

Next Page »