Most likely to...

Recently I heard about the son of someone I deeply admired being arrested for heroin possession. It's been in the press so revealing him to be one of the sons of Barbara Sigmund, an amazing woman who was the Mayor of Princeton and died much too soon at 51 does not seem wrong. Barbara was a stunning blond who presided at my first marriage as a favor to my parents whom she adored. And they adored her. Everybody did. She was funny, brilliant and incredibly courageous handling a diagnosis of cancer with humor which resulted in the loss of her eye. She was also political royalty, the daughter of Hale and Lindy Boggs, sister to Cokie Roberts and a force of nature herself.

I was thinking about her son and remembering a long-ago party in their beautiful Princeton house, her sons very polite, handsome and seemingly happy. In the years that followed I often glimpsed that house on my way home and thought about those little boys who had lost their mother much too soon and hoped they would be okay. I knew they had attended impressive colleges and surely they would find life easier after such a cruel setback. Apparently not.

My best friend who I met in 7th grade and loved instantly was killed in a car crash at twenty. Years ago she came to stay with me in Truro, on Cape Cod and my parents left us alone in the cottage for a few days while they got my older sister ready for college. We were older, almost 16 and the neighbor was asked to keep an eye on us. The day after my sister left, two of her male friends from school showed up. They were older then us and very cute and we were thrilled. We hunted eels and played poker and drank wine and generally felt ourselves to be having  wonderful time. One of those boys was a hugely talented artist who would drink himself to death before he made it to thirty. I recall us all sitting on the banks of the Pamet, laughing, flirting, happy, young and alive. Now only two of us remain to hold that moment in our memories. Back then I thought we would live forever.

When Keifer Sutherland was arrested on drug charges I remembered making a movie in Ireland with his father and how Keifer had hung around the set and we had passed some of the boring waits by throwing a ball around. He was a sweet little boy, close to his father, happy and surprisingly normal considering how huge a star his father was at the time. When I heard he was struggling with drugs and alcohol I saw that little boy again and felt sad.

Recently I had the chance to see an old friend from Ireland. We had gone to Trinity College together the year I spent in Dublin and we had stayed in touch until we both got busy. I had a suite in a very posh hotel in Charing Cross and she came to visit. We went through our mutual friends until I mentioned Miriam and she said: "She's dead."

Miriam had been an exquisite British girl who played the child Sylvia Plath while I was the adolescent and my Irish friend portrayed the adult who killed herself in a play written about the poet. The director had an embarrassing crush on me but when I refused to respond the three of us made friends and stayed friends despite our differences, going out after rehearsal for drinks at the pub, covering for one another when someone forgot their lines. Miriam was spoiled, so pretty, boys always had crushes on her and sometimes a bit mercenary. But she was also funny, sweet, smart and trying hard to shake off her less attractive traits. I'd heard she'd moved to Bermuda in the subsequent years and then a struggle with alcohol. But that was all. For some reason I assumed she was safe and possibly had found sobriety. But, it turned out, she was dead and buried in Virginia, the obituary offering almost no information except there had been a car accident.

I have reconnected with many old friends through the Web and class reunions. Many of the people I've known for a long time are healthy and happy, successful, even famous.  Sometimes I'd prefer not to know what happened to the people I only knew as children and young adults who did not find their way as life unscrolled. Without information, I can imagine them as still alive, productive and safe. I can project joy and peace on them and avoid the understanding that suffering seems inevitable.


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