Around this time every year I’m reminded of the suicidal kid in “Ordinary People” who sing-songily implores of her friend, “Conrad, let’s make this the best Christmas ever.”
The girl ends up killing herself, and her friend, Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton), is devastated; they’d been in the psych ward together and he can’t get his head around the fact that his partner-in-pain could give into everything he thought they’d figured out together, and now he’s bound to rage against the dying light on his own.
It’s a morbid context, maybe, and definitely a parable about the fragility of the holiday blues, but that’s not why it resonates with me. I love the way the kid leans across the restaurant booth and makes an emotional plan and pact for the coming weeks, as if such a map can be made just by saying so. They never talk about what their definition of “best” is, and I don’t know if I could describe my own, but I got a little closer to it over the weekend.
Saturday morning I went to Nick and Eddie’s for the memorial service for my friend Laura Kennedy, who I met a few years ago at the Lake of the Isles dog park. It was in that little fenced-in oasis of sanity and tranquility where we shared our love of dogs, books and music. Only later did she tell me she was the bass player for the Bush Tetras, the pioneering all-female punk quartet from New York City. Laura was in her mid-50s when she died Nov. 14 after a long battle with Hepatitis C.
At the service, friends shared memories of Laura’s days working at the Uptown Cheapo’s, talked about how ferociously she loved her daughter Zoe and her dog Dusty, and her sister thanked her Minneapolis family for loving and holding her. One speaker, Laura’s friend Jean Chapdelaine, said that a few days before she died, Laura and she pored over Laura’s Facebook page together.
“We talked about how bad-ass the Laura Levine photo of her is, and laughed about pictures of a goat who got frisky with her at the State Fair. She showed me a photo of her and Patti LaBelle, who she met backstage at a show,” said Chapdelaine. “And she did something so cool — she went through her Facebook friends and said who everyone was, how they met and she just got so excited. So even though it’s sad, you all were there, too.”
The next night I traveled to the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul for the 50th birthday party of my old friend, the great Minneapolis writer Brad Zellar. On the way to the bar I listened to the new Ray Bonneville CD, specifically “Good Times,” a Waylon-does-NRBQ gem that asks the listener to, very simply, “Please think about the good times, not the bad.” Yes, please.
It was right there, driving east on I-94, with Angel Ray on one shoulder and Angel Laura on the other and a pub full of friends ahead, that I decided, over the next few weeks and beyond, to love the ones I’m with with a heightened awareness of life’s fleeting rich pageant, to savor as much as I can, lick it all up, slowly, like the icing on Brad’s birthday cake, which held his words until we devoured them early Monday morning:
“Every dreamer in the Garden of Sweet Dreamers has a name. Their names are not their history, but they are proof that they have been addressed, they have been called, they have been known, and they have been Loved.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.