April 23, 2009
I hadn't seen her in - what? - fifteen years? Longer?
I left the Philosophy Department and wandered into another life, another world, and the constellations of people changed, and changed again, and again. Different worlds.
Jen was a fascinating person. Struggling through being massively fucked up, she was brilliant enough to shine through the worst of it. It was Jen who introduced me to the dark undercurrents of the world, to a world where people lost even the illusion of control. She introduced me to the work of Nick Cave, to the Cocteau Twins, to the possibility of joy bubbling through the darkness. She was, indirectly, responsible for one of the weirdest relationships I've ever been in. I'm sure I didn't know it at the time, but she stripped from me much of my unconscious naivety. And for this I am forever grateful.
And she's teaching me still. Teaching me that I'm now of an age when the internal bits start to wear down. When the likelihood of our bodies breaking catastrophically increases dramatically.
Jen died Thursday after suffering a massive stroke.
And the planets gravitate around you,
and the stars shall dance about you,
and the angels in heaven adore you,
and the saints all stand and applaud you.
so faraway and yet so close.
Greg Schwartzentruber, from the funeral
It's difficult to do this sort of thing without resorting to clichés about shining stars that burned out too soon and the like... I'm not sure if I can do so either but I'd like to try. There was something so eminently likeable about Jen... she and I clicked immediately. I guess partly because we were both left coasters thrown together in the big east coast mess that is Philadelphia. I think we both felt like we were in over our heads a bit with this Grad school thing. She was adventuresome and intelligent. Had a great sense of humor and a beaming, infectious smile coupled with a benignly mischievous glint in her eye. She was just plain fun to be around...
We ended up sharing the apartment on Spruce St for several years. I got to know her well... I was the slovenly roommate who didn't do his share of the housework while she was meticulous, cosmopolitan and artsy. She exposed me to tales of hanging out with well-known friends in her younger days... movie stars and musicians... it was captivating to me. She introduced me to Pernod when I thought a beer and a shot was adventuresome.
We spent hours just talking about everything and nothing. We both had high hopes and dreams for what we would make of our lives but while my hopes were shrouded in self-doubt, fear and inadequacy, hers oozed confidence. But it wasn't necessarily a quiet confidence. Jen loved to have good time... For a long time we could be counted on to be closing down Dirty Franks at least a couple of nights a week. Then stumbling home with a few friends and continuing the festivities well past the wee hours.
She didn't seem to make a lot of good choices regarding men in those days. There were quite a few of them and always more waiting in the wings. It seemed to be her Achilles heel. I spent a lot of time with her discussing the merits and downfalls of potential mates. I held her more than once as she complained about what pigs certain men are and wondered why she kept attracting them and being attracted to them.
I was glad when I met Mike and saw that he was so very different than the guys she had been seeing. She was finishing up her dissertation and moving on to the next stage in life where things were getting more real and serious and she knew she had to grow up and find someone who would love and support her through anything life might throw her way. The way that you have supported her through all these ordeals Mike lets me know that when it came down to it, she knew goodness and decency when she saw it and knew she had to have it in her life. I can only imagine what you have been through. But I do know that it had to be more than any man can be expected to bear. I am so thankful that she had you beside her through all this.
I realized just Saturday, when I began to think about what I was going to say, exactly what it was about Jen that I loved. I grew up in a family of all boys. Jen was the sister I never had. Mike, you took good care of my sister and I can only say thank you for that. Eli, your mother was a very good woman who loved you with all she had. My life is richer because I found a sister and there is an emptiness that time will fill slowly but will never be completely full because she is no longer here to laugh with me, cry with me, and be my sister. Jen, I'll miss you for the rest of my life.