A number of people have asked to read this, so I figured that I might as well just put it up online. It is a work-in-progress, of course, infinitely in progress.
September 2007. I had just moved to New York from California a couple of weeks prior, living in an NYU dorm just blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge, of which the poet Hart Crane wrote,
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull’s wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty.
A fire alarm went off. My room was on the seventeenth floor. I ran down the stairs. Out of breath, I saw her: dark hair, olive skin, a geometrically perfect Roman nose. Big brown Bambi eyes behind librarian glasses. Appropriate: she worked in a library. Not having previously believed in love at first sight, not fully believing it even then, I experienced it firsthand. There was no need for belief. Much later, before I had told Laura that in this moment—our first moment—I knew that we were meant to be together, she told me that she had felt the same thing.
Of course, we were not actually to “meet” until months later. Sure, we saw each other around frequently, exchanging pleasantries, stealing glances. One day, chatting nervously while checking our mailboxes, I mentioned that I was going to San Diego for spring break. She was staying in New York. She later told me that she missed me that week, kept hoping to see me in the hallway, the elevators, the laundry room. I missed her too. I miss her now.
April 2008. My roommate David—who was to become one of our dearest friends, if he wasn’t already—had decided to throw a party of sorts in our room. We invited a friend, Nandini. Nandini brought a friend of hers along. Her name was Laura. From that time on we were inseparable—almost. One night, I was reading in bed, waiting for Laura to return from her favorite bar, The Four-Faced Liar, where once a week she convened with her favorite drinking buddies, her fellow public historians and archivists. Having always had a propensity for falling asleep while reading in bed before finishing even a handful of pages, I awoke to Laura’s embrace. Apparently, I had left the door to the room unlocked. “I guess you’re…like…my boyfriend now,” she said. “I guess I am,” I said, sleepily and with much understatement. A few weeks later our leases were up, and our mailing addresses parted ways: hers to Chelsea, mine to Williamsburg. But, as my new roommate, Mike Miller—who turned the trio of myself, David, and Laura into a veritable quartet—will attest, that was only a formality. The two of us—if not the four of us—could hardly bear to spend the eight hours of her workday (I, as always, was underemployed) apart.
I’ll let you all in on a little secret. One afternoon, lying beside each other in her apartment, sweltering in the throes of the most New York of summers, Laura asked me, in that form of playfulness which was and will always be uniquely hers: “What if I started calling you ‘Snugglies’?” I scoffed, of course. But it stuck. It became our two-way pet name, a replacement for “honey” or “dear,” terms which caused Laura to roll her eyes whenever I mistakenly chose them as substitutes. Through a morphological shift which remains somewhat mysterious to me today, “Snugglies” became “Snuzzlies”—eventually, it was abbreviated to “Snuzz.” Rarely a sentence exchanged between us was missing this word—a word that we created together, for each other. Anyone who has ever received a misdirected text message from me knows what I’m talking about.
That summer was the best of my life. That was the summer that she met my father, my sister Justine, my mother, who was suffering then from a cancer of her own, whose courage served as an inspiration to Laura in her final days. That was the summer that she met Winston—Winnie, she called him––whose love for and expertise in the culinary arts accelerated a passion which Laura was to pursue for the rest of her life. That summer, in Coney Island—whose gentrifying redevelopment was to be the topic of her Master’s thesis—we rode the Wonder Wheel, and for the first time I came face to face with her most prominent attribute: her strength. I, afraid of heights, could not handle the rocking of the passenger car without a Xanax readily offered by my doting mother, while Laura—enthralled—was having the time of her life. That summer she visited my hometown with me for the first time, meeting more of my siblings (her siblings), my oldest friends, many of whom would soon become her oldest friends––if not in terms of temporality, then in depth of affection. That summer (a prelude to the summers that followed) we had hours and hours of “beach time,” one of her most beloved pastimes—since she was a small child, she told me—on both coasts, she basking in the calming sun, tanning her perpetually bronze skin to an even darker, unimaginably attractive hue. Somehow, it never burned. That fall, strolling down University Place arm in arm, discussing the PhD programs to which I was then submitting applications, I casually mentioned applying to the University of Minnesota, and her eyes lit up. It was not until that winter, when I visited Minnesota for the first time and met her beautiful family—Alan, Linda, Phil, and Dan, who are now my father, my mother, and my brothers—that I truly understood why. The next fall, saying goodbye to Brooklyn and our friends, tears running down our cheeks, we packed up a U-Haul and headed west, beginning the next chapter of our lives together. Unfortunately for us all, the final chapter. For now, anyway.
The last night that she was with us, I had resolved to make Laura feel at home, and I knew that the best way of doing that would be to bring her one of her plants. As many of you know, Laura loved plants—her thumb was the greenest green I ever did see. I still have her plants—they grow into the walls of our apartment, a living, breathing embodiment of her, fed by the sun of our south-facing windows, refracting rainbows on white walls—a sight Laura often awoke delighted to see gratuitously early on Sunday mornings, even after having worked for six days in a row. The two of us often joked that Laura herself was less fauna than flora. I chose one of her favorites and put it in a grocery bag. We didn’t have a car; I walked to the hospital. Upon leaving home, I immediately remembered the time that we had locked ourselves out of our apartment—or, I should say, I locked us out of our apartment. We climbed to the balcony and broke a windowpane. But a plant blocked our entry. It was a cold night of Minnesota winter. We set the plant outside, momentarily, so that Laura—always much slighter than I, especially since it was always my duty, and my duty alone, to consume the numerous and infinitely delicious baked goods that she produced on a regular basis, only to have a small, modest taste for herself (one of many traits she inherited from her mother, I’m sure)—could climb through the window. By the time that we had swept up the broken glass and brought the plant inside—a matter of mere minutes—it had already frozen to death. This night—her last—was another cold night of Minnesota winter—not as cold, but cold nonetheless. I thought—I hoped—that if the plant would be okay, so would she. My pace quickened to a near run. I was listening to my iPod on shuffle, and mere blocks from the hospital, a song came on at random through my headphones—headphones Laura gave to me for my last birthday (all of my prized possessions, trivial as they may seem now, came to me from her): “Do You Realize?” by the Flaming Lips. Perhaps you know it.
Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?
Do you realize we’re floating in space?
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry?
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?
Obviously, at this point, I was crying like a baby as I stumbled down Washington Avenue wearing the fifteen-dollar boots Laura rightfully scolded me for relying upon. But then, the song continued:
And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It’s hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun don’t go down
It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.
And so on. I didn’t realize, at the time. But Laura did. And I do now. That night, Laura was the happiest I’d seen her in days. Without fear. Strong. We watched American Gladiators and laughed. As she drifted off to sleep, she started to mumble nonsense—or so I thought, foolishly. I don’t remember the first few things she said. I wish I did. I repeated what she said to her; she shook it off, citing sleepiness and painkillers. “You should be writing this down,” she joked. But she wasn’t joking—I know that now. The one seeming non sequitur that I remember—because it was at that moment that I realized that she was telling me something, something true, something honest, something untainted by sickness, narcotics, and exhaustion, harkening back to her preteen, pre-iMovie History Day documentaries as well as her more recent PowerPoint presentations to classrooms full of adoring (if only because of her unequaled charisma) teachers and students: “Go to the next slide.” We don’t want to, Laura. None of us want to. Not at all. But we will.
And now, a sort of prayer. Crane ends his poem, “To Brooklyn Bridge,” writing,
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies’ dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
Perhaps I am not the lowliest, but lowly I most certainly am—we all most certainly are. But to Laura, this made no difference: she loved us just the same.
I read this at the memorial service for Laura Zeccardi (January 5, 1985-February 24, 2013) at Chatfield Lutheran Church, Chatfield, MN, March 3, 2013. In the event that reading this inspires you to action of some sort, I’d encourage you to visit http://givemn.razoo.com/story/The-Laura-Zeccardi-Memorial-Endowment-Fund.