Laurie Lipton told me this yesterday. I first I saw Laurie at a London dinner party. She was lean, elfin; her narrow blue eyes cased people, sized them up the way my family did.
"You're from New York." I moved in fast. "Fantastic!"
"Yeah, and you're from Yorkshire?" At parties I'd put on my husband's English accent.
"No, I'm from LA."
"No one really lives there." She looked me over. "You're tall for a child."
We sat next to each other. "What do you do?"
"I'm an artist."
"Where are you living?" My husband pulled up a chair, considered her swift lines, her sharp appraisal of the scene around us.
"North London," Laurie shrugged.
"That won't do," Stuart said. "We have a spare flat in our house. Very quiet. Has good light. You'll live there. We'll talk about rent when you're famous."
"Fine." And I knew she would be. Famous. And fine.
We rarely saw Laurie after she moved in; my husband explained her need for deep privacy. She'd come up and eat with us if there weren't too many people.
"I am the artist in residence," she said. Laurie just drew, silently creating her astonishing black and white pencil drawings.
The house, its charm, space and plumbing, was Victorian. One morning I came downstairs to the black and white tiled lobby.
"There's no hot water!" I had never seen Laurie furious. "And a big collector's coming to look at my work."
"At least he's not coming to have a shower."
"Not funny," she snapped.
"I did call British Gas to check the boiler on Wednesday," I reminded Laurie. "They said you wouldn't see them."
"I was working. I'm also not getting any cold water on weekends."
"None of us are," I said. "When can I see the new drawings?"
Laurie's reputation began to grow. There were stunning exhibits. People peered at each drawing. Riveted. Others stood behind them; waiting for the next turn. Rare work it is when such fine details form a giant image with as potent a character as each quarter-inch of precise design.
Rare as well when Laurie was free to play.
On the Fourth of July 2002, I was up early. I put on a navy and white striped sweater, white slacks, red sneakers. The tangle of American emotion was wound tight on the mast of my backbone, flying around me.
"Happy Fourth," I told Stuart. "What's that line in the Star Spangled Banner?" I heard the melody. Just this, "...the bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night, our flag was still there."
In 1944, when we'd sing that line at school, I'd get tears in my eyes.
In 2001, that song, that line, broke my heart, all our hearts, in a new way. Laurie met me in the lobby that morning, "I've just finished a series of drawings for the community hall. We could go for a walk."
"I always go down to the FDR statue on American holidays," I said, "to talk to my father."
"I'll come with you. I'm family." Laurie was a tidy miniature of Aunt Lil, with my father's intense narrow blue eyes, the thick wolf hair. But Laurie was slender, wry as my mother.
We remembered the three-minute silence on September 11, 2001, when people had placed cellophane wrappers of flowers around FDR's statue, scribbling messages into condolence books set up in Grosvenor Square. The American Ambassador and his wife joined hands, with all of us singing, "America the Beautiful." No one remembered all the words, so we segued into, "Oh, say can you see...."
Among the bouquets was a yellow plastic workman's helmet with a note attached. "I'm from St. Louis, Missouri, and I want you to know how I'm grieving, and desperate to get home."
"I remember when people who left during the blacklisting came back to America," I told
Laurie. "They never quite settled in again -- they'd get looked over -- you missed a lot, you
know, and didn't expect to catch up."
"Curious how provincial we get," Laurie said, "when only a couple of generations ago we were all from somewhere else."
We stood before the statue of Roosevelt. I left a note for my father, tucked into the hedge. Then Laurie and I sidled out through the new security network of railings, cement block walls and barbed wire. Laurie linked her arm into mine as we walked home. My husband was looking over a letter.
"The estate has sent us the Schedule of Dilapidations."
"I know we're way ahead of schedule," she laughed. "What happens next?"
"We find money to fix everything or go back to LA."
"You can't take Stuart there." She linked my arm in hers.
She looked me over. "what's really happening?"
"I can't even hold him steady enough so he can get to a lamp post if he starts falling on
the street. I don't know where to begin. I need to get stronger."
"I go to the gym down the street," Laurie tells me. "You always say you miss swimming. They have a pool."
"The pool is indoors. There's no sky, no palm trees."
"You'll come with me later."
"No, later we have the Estate Investigator."
"So tomorrow." She meant it.
"My grandmother used to say, schwim drieber. Swim over it."
"Zai Gesundt," Laurie said.
The phone rang, around a year ago. I was settling into a new life in L.A. trying to accept life might have pleasant surprises even though my husband was gone.
"So hi." It was Laurie.
"Where are you?"
"Yeah," Laurie said. "The light is fabulous. LA is like Paris in the '20s, all the best new writers, the music, the artists, are here!"
Of course. Because Laurie is here now too. We went to Barney's the other day. "You can't," she said, "wear sneakers to my opening at ACE Gallery."
"I'd never dream of it," I said.