Last night, my kid and I rented The Grey, a film I wasn't sure about showing to him. He's 9-years-old and it's rated R... but he was very enthusiastic about watching guys get eaten by wolves.
Instead, we watched Sleepless in Seattle. At first, he was suspicious about our change of plans. Romance isn't as sweet as wolves eating people. That is, until the 8-year-old boy character Jonah busted his dad on a national radio show and found a way to go to New York City by himself to meet his future new mom on the top of the Empire State building. Things got interesting, and he stayed awake to the end.
Nora Ephron's passing has been written about so eloquently by those who loved her and knew her well. I did not know her, but I know a few things about what made me love her. I've always been embarrassed about my emotional devotion to the romantic comedy formula, but now realize that Ephron trotted it out brilliantly for a new generation. The comfort of her penultimate love stories have served me well in harder times, and have oddly framed themselves as guilty pleasures. Why guilty? There's something very breezy about Rom-Coms. They aren't exactly brain food, just like Cosmopolitan isn't exactly a grad school thesis. But since I've had a stint in a staff position at Cosmopolitan, I realize that finding a perfect formula and making it look easy is difficult. What the trick to her effervescent and addictive writing was, I cannot exactly say. She made it look so easy, and I think it would shift depending on the day. One day it would be humor, the next, her honesty. Her female characters weren't damsels in distress -- they were lonely and real, at least to me. The accidental nature of their meetings have fueled the mythology of scads of love stories, including my own.
What could have just been a happenstance meeting at a party 16 years ago has been mythologized into "I met him at a party that I didn't want to go to." Oh, and it was pouring rain that night. And I was with my gorgeous single friend Vanessa, and he chose me, and we never looked back. What does that have to do with Nora Ephron?
After I met my future husband, Jim, at that party on that rainy night, I had a dream that felt like one of those real visitation-from-beyond-the-grave dreams. It was of Raymond DeVantier, a father figure I'd had growing up in Santa Fe, who died in a car crash when I was 21. He was a perfect stand-in dad for my adolescent self -- he gave me my first Patti Smith and Bob Dylan albums for my 16th birthday and often defended a later curfew. In the dream, he said, "I tried to get you two together seven times." I'd realized that Jim lived in NYC the whole length of my time here, and our apartments had been one block apart, yada yada. Real life Sleepless in Seattle? Give me a break. And whether that was a real dream visit or the Sleepless in Seattle plot line burned into my unconscious, I'll never know.
I've just crossed over the 40 threshold, and remember my sister-in-law telling me I didn't have to do the pencil test yet. What's the pencil test, I asked her? "When your boobs sag and they can hold a pencil underneath them." I lost my sister-in-law to cancer two years ago, after the saggy parts she once joked about had been removed. I'm lucky to be able to stand here on this earth and do a pencil test. I'm lucky if I can watch my neck change into something I'm not that crazy about, as Ephron did. I hope I have the grace to approach the rest of my days with her same gusto and honesty. I hope her family can keep this in their hearts as they move through these very sad days ahead: For so many of us, she gave us happy endings when it didn't seem like there were real ones on the horizon.