Difficult friends can be — difficult.
I just found out that my friend Carolyn Fireside has died. Carolyn was a very talented writer and editor; when I met her (fairly late in her life), she had mostly retired from editing and was making her living as a freelance ghostwriter. When I worked in Manhattan, we’d meet sometimes for lunch and talk about books and writing and the difficulties of New York City living.
She lived in a tiny apartment in a prestigious NYC neighborhood with a spoiled cat and more books than you could count. The few times I visited, she’d select a book out of the bookcase and force it on me, “You must read this!” she’d insist, ignoring my protests about lack of time and the other books I still had to get through.
She lived like an old-fashioned character out of the New Yorker, even — especially — when she no longer should have. She smoked until forced to stop; would go to the same restaurant every day for drinks and dinner even when she could no longer afford it; enjoyed the taste of salt and insisted on having a small dish of it next to her at meals, even though her doctors and friends tried to convince her that she was killing herself with it.
She loved to complain, but refused to fix whatever she was complaining about. She was generous in her praise, and said lovely things about my stories that I will never forget, and never forgive myself for not responding to more often.
In the end, most of her friends were forced to give up on her, because she was too frustrating to deal with. She finally had to sell her little apartment and move to a nursing home up in the Bronx, away from her books and her beloved Manhattan life. Jim visited her there several times, to set her up with the computer that was her only connection to her old life. I came with him once — the place was clean, and the staff seemed caring, and she had her own room, but it was basically only a hospital room with a bed, bathroom, a TV, and her computer. She would have been better off in what is called independent living, but circumstances landed her there instead.
It’s at these times that you try to tell yourself that it wasn’t your fault that you didn’t call more often, didn’t email more often, didn’t try to help more. Life gets in the way: work, other friends, aging parents, other worries — and the knowledge that, even if you did try to help, Carolyn would probably fight you every inch of the way.
So Carolyn, I don’t know that I could have done any differently than I did. And I am sorry. But I will remember you and miss you terribly. I hope that is enough.