Ode To Paula
On November 11, 2016, one of my closest friends, Paula, died in a fire. Paula was a generational friend — my aunt’s best friend since kindergarten who became a very dear friend to me and to our whole family. I have known Paula since I know life. She was always there zipping in and out of our lives, as me and my two brothers grew from the innocent days of childhood into the more complicated wiles of adulthood. One of Paula’s most brilliant qualities was her ability to laugh and find humor in even the darkest moments of life. So when this unimaginable horror struck, I could not talk to Paula about what happened to her. I was left with — and will always be left with — the stark emptiness that follows a life extinguished by the abrupt and cruel hand of random tragedy. I want to hold onto her so desperately, but Time continues to move forward in its unknowing ruthlessness, slowly erasing the detailed exactness of memories. The only way to keep her alive, to remember her, is to put her on paper; her being, her life, will forever dance between the sentences and words of this essay.
What was so powerful, unique and distinct about Paula was her laughter. That laugh, that laugh, so loud, so thunderous, so utterly contagious, will always remain a melody that beats in my heart. My aunt, my mom, myself, and Paula spent almost every Thursday together. She would come to my home with my aunt to visit my baby daughter. Our weekly Thursdays were filled with nostalgic reminisces of the past, combined with the present moment, the celebration of new life and flowing champagne. Paula was becoming my daughter’s friend. Our laughter being so strong, would turn into tears. I literally cried from laughing so hard. Was that an omen…a predictor of the overwhelming tears that would follow? Those tears could have certainly put out the fire that took her life. A neighbor in the building saw Paula open the door to let her dog out of their apartment as smoke filled the hallways. She went back in to save her father. He made it out. She did not.
“Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy.” F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best. And our dear Paula was a hero that day who met a tragedy. Anyone who has lost a loved one with the unexpected, senseless immediacy of sudden death, unfortunately knows the cocoon of devastation that enraptures the ones left behind. I want to break free, reach out to the open sky and find our Paula. I want to look into her beautiful brown eyes, brimming with wild intelligence, humor, ensuing laughter and oh so much tenderness. I want to see her dance to one of her favorite songs , “We Are Family,” her head rhythmically moving side to side, her idiosyncratic body movements that only she could rock. I want to hear that laugher, an uproarious rowdy song that played loud and unabashedly to all who had the great pleasure of knowing her. I want to listen to that Romana Italian slang that she spoke with such boisterous humor and poetic fluency. I want, but I can’t. So here I am, left with finding her in all of the things that are beautiful to me. I can see her in the brilliant sun. I can hear her in a perfect song. I can toast her with a bubbly glass of champagne, and I can let my heart swell with all of the love I have for her whenever she makes an appearance in my mind.
My Mother, my aunt and I have continued our weekly Thursday visits. On the one or two Thursdays that we did not talk about Paula, the powerful absence of her presence was so loud that we could hear her spirit moving through the moments between us. Paula and I talked books a lot. The last book I recommended to her was “Everything Beautiful Comes After” by Simon Van Booy. My Sweet, Sweet, Beautiful, Brilliant, Kind, Witty, Funny, Funny, Loving Friend, I pray this is true for You, for All of Us.
So what does this story have to do with the East End? Everything and nothing, life and death, beginnings and End –ings I love you Paula.
Southampton, NY 11968