A few days ago, my friend and college chum, Christie Hargrove, died unexpectedly on Thanksgiving eve in Nevada, Missouri, a small town in the southern part of the state. Evidently there was a fire in her small apartment and she died of smoke inhalation. Her beloved dog died, too.
Christie was a little younger than I am so we didn't really mingle in the same circles in college. But I often saw her in 'the green room' in the theater building and on opening night parties of various plays I was doing. She was always in poor health, later in life wheelchair-bound. We always exchanged pleasantries and she always seemed delighted to tell me what she thought of whatever play I happened to be doing. She had a discerning eye when it came to the stage. She never once talked about her condition or showed any sign of self-pity. I remember her laughing a great deal.
We reconnected on 'Facebook' many years later (last year, in fact). Facebook is good for that.
Her last post on Facebook, a few hours before she died, was this, "I want to be kissed. Not a peck on the cheek, but a full-fledged kiss."
She has been sending me private messages on Facebook for quite awhile now, commenting on whatever project I happened to be involved in at the time. She wrote to me a few months ago, "Of all the people I knew back then when we were in college, I always thought you'd be the one that was going to become a star. You were the guy everyone always talked about. People spent hours discussing your work on stage and how different and better it was than anyone else. I always couldn't wait to see what you would do next."
I messaged her back the following day. "Thank you, Christy (sic). I had my own demons to battle first, as it turns out, but things look good now. As they do for you, it seems."
She messaged back, "I saw you once on TV and a friend of mine saw you in a play in New York. She said you were really good."
I messaged back, "Thanks. I was probably too drunk at the time to remember."
A little while later, she posted that she'd be directing a comedy for her local community theater group in Nevada, Missouri. She wrote that she was off to auditions one night and then later posted that no men had shown up for the audition and she didn't know what she was going to do about that. I told Angie that night I wish I was in a position to drop everything here in Los Angeles and fly to Missouri and just do that role for her myself. She had come so far and was so excited about directing this little community theatre gig. But apparently, a few days later, she found an actor and they rehearsed the play and it was a big success, lots of laughs. She was beside herself with pride and joy. And then, a little later, she posted she would directing the wonderful play, 'Harvey,' next year at the same theater.
And to make it all even sweeter, she was scheduled to have a new surgery which would eventually allow her to have more mobility and get out of her apartment more. By now, her health had all but made her a shut-in. She posted on Facebook all the time, telling the world about her new laptop, the movies she was watching, the food she was making, the hi-jinx of her dog, the hope she had for the future, her frustrations with the doctors she was seeing. I read them all. And now and then I would even hit the 'like' button next to her posts.
Angie came into the bedroom the day after Thanksgiving. I was laying in bed reading. She was crying and told me that Christie had died in the night. I put my book aside and lay there for a long time, staring at the ceiling, thinking about Christie Hargrove.
I'm not going to even begin to write about injustices and irony and cosmic, black humor. Suffice to say I, like everyone else, don't understand why good people are taken and bad people left behind. An hour or so later I saw on the news that a man had kidnapped a little girl, raped her repeatedly, and kept her prisoner for weeks. He was caught, subsequently, and now apparently is in jail awaiting a trial. I thought, "Why not him, Big Guy? If You needed one more, why not him? Why Christie, a woman who never said a bad thing in her life about someone else, a woman who played the hand you gave her with grace and dignity? If You just had to have another soul, why her?"
Now, I'm fully aware of how sophomoric my line of thought here is, theologically speaking. Fine. I don't give a fuck. I'll ask again today. Why her?
Death and loss has been an unwelcome recurring theme in my life. My mother in 1987, dozens of friends in New York throughout the 80s to the great plague, AIDS, even more, including one of my closest friends, Robert Fiedler, to alcohol abuse and drug addiction over the years. At the risk of cliche', I am certainly no stranger to death.
And while I'm on the subject, why not me? God knows I spent decades putting myself repeatedly in harm's way. For a long time, I wanted to die. I prayed for release. I just didn't have the cojones to do it. So I took the coward's long, slow method and drank enough over the years to kill a score of men. And yet, nothing happened. Just more misery. More life.
I think it goes without saying that that part of my life is long over. And yet...and yet. Every time I try to make sense of this great poker game we're in, I just get angry. I'm angry right now. I'm incensed over this apparently random and senseless loss.
I've decided to dedicate my performance in this new play, The Adding Machine, to Christie in my bio in the program. I suspect she would have loved it. The play, that is. 'Tis a small thing, to be sure. But it will make me feel better.
Angie knew Christie better than I did. She is devastated by this. She is, if possible, even angrier than I am about it.
This morning I scrolled down and looked at Christie's last post again. "I want to be kissed." I wish I could kiss her right now. Not a peck on the cheek, but a full-fledged kiss. I wish I could do that right now.
See you tomorrow.