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I Remember Nora

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"Well, I think you know this: That very few people end up knowing who you are. I don't mean me. I just mean that most people are misunderstood in some way. I don't mean in a bad way. I just mean that they're not comprehended. But I don't really think about it a whole lot. And if I do think about it, I think I must do something to make them misunderstand me. But, what's for dinner?" -- Nora Ephron, 2010

Everyone's dying but not Nora. Nora was supposed to be here forever. Who else is going to tell us that egg white omelettes are bullshit? I seriously started eating whole eggs again because she said to.

As much as I trusted her, my mother's constant companion from my earliest years through my young teens, Nora seemed always, inexplicably, to trust me too. She trusted me to helm the stroller (which would look like the equivalent of a phonograph next to an iPod in the world of aerodynamic instantly collapsible contraptions mothers currently pilot their kids in) her sons Jacob and Max rode as we traversed the late 70s version of the Upper West Side. Jacob could say "Amsterdam" when he was one. Nora took me away for the weekend with her then boyfriend, a a man who, because we lived in a City at once teeming and tiny, had been my mother's boyfriend at some point too. His name was Joe Fox (fans of You've Got Mail, take note) and he was a giant slouch of a brilliant editor and a wonderful guy. Nora and Joe took me with them to their house in Sagaponack for the weekend and left me alone one night, while they went out to dinner, to babysit Jacob. She told me where to find the Oreo ice cream from Candy Kitchen and when he woke up scared and crying I gave him some and we talked about dinosaurs until he fell back to sleep. I was nine years old then.

This was not the other house nearby which was aptly named "Trees" where my Mom used to take me a few years before, to swim in Nora's big blue pool and lie in the hammock which left its white ropey lines tattooed to my sun-baked skin. Lots of famous people were around then, or maybe they were pre-famous like Nora who was writing Silkwood at the time, but I had no clue either way... they were just the grown-ups and I loved them because they were smart and funny and always talked to me like I was smart and funny too. I secretly hoped we would get to stay for whatever meal was afoot -- because Nora cooked the most amazing food. Her food was a lot like her movies; big-hearted and lovingly made with little patience for preciousness, ceremony or attitude. I remember a massive hunk of white frosted yellow cake she casually presented me with following some extraordinary luncheon feast as one of the most sublime dessert experiences of my entire life. As a gift for my mom, Nora compiled all her favorite recipes, handwritten into a black binder that still presides over the other fancily published tomes in our kitchen. I once took one of the recipes out to try to cook for a boy and lost it -- no one has ever forgiven me.

I went to Manhattan at the end of May and stayed overnight for the first time since my father died a year and a half ago. It took me that long to feel like I might be able to tolerate being back in the city I once loved with every cell of my self, a place so defined by certain people like my Dad whom I adored, I was sure I could only feel haunted and lost there without him. I stayed at my best friend from high school's apartment alone and shaking from Scrabble DTs, unable to get my computer online decided I'd try something old-fashioned like reading a book. Nora's last, I Remember Nothing was sitting right there, on the glass table in front of me, dedicated to my friend's extraordinary mother, Mona, and her boyfriend Richard Cohen who was one of the smart funny grown-ups at the Trees house way back then and who remained one of Nora's best friends. I read it quickly all at once and it left me weepy and changed. The book is about about nostalgia and death, about what we forget and what we remember. It's about how we create certain myths to sustain us around the people we set out determined to love and what happens when those myths come loose, frayed and eventually undone. It's hilariously funny of course and about plenty of the irksome daily minutiae that defined her style, but it's also wise, wistful, delicate and arrestingly true.

Nora's movie Michael about an angel in the unlikely body of John Travolta came out when I was in my early twenties. My dad took me to see a screening of it. I remember that afterwards there was a cocktail party and Nora, ever slender and stylishly attired, hugged me tight while a photographer took a picture of the three of us. She asked me what I was doing as it had been a few years since I'd seen her. I told her I was trying to be a writer, that I'd applied to graduate school but who knew. She looked me square in the eyes and said: "Amanda, you should go write for a newspaper, like the New York Post. Do that for a while and then you'll be ready. You'll meet smart funny people and you'll get your muscles in shape." She said it better though, like Nora would, with something pointed and wry to balance the instruction. People are always talking about what advice they would give their 14 year old selves. 14-year-olds don't have time for advice, they want their parents to shut up, their bodies to stop acting completely insane, their braces off, considerably less homework and that Boy or that Girl to notice them. It's twenty-somethings who need to hear from us, all grown up now, to tell them that it's not always going to be so painful, baffling, empty and hard, that you can find and make peace with yourself once you stop being so afraid and so busy trying to make everyone else like you.

I didn't think about it at the time nor was I smart enough to listen to her then, but when I read I Remember Nothing I realized Nora was giving me the very advice she'd taken as a young writer herself. She was telling me to do what she did, which seems like an enormous compliment now. That she trusted me enough, for whatever reasons, to tell me I could follow the path she once blazed through the grey streets of her beloved Manhattan and eventually, somehow, do it too. I remember many other things I want to tell you, but it's getting dark here now in salty-aired, tree-filled East Hampton, time for dinner, and I know exactly what Nora would say that I should do.