Tag Archives: Intuition

SECRETS & TIES

New Jane & Me

Marion Deyo didn’t start out as my friend, or exactly finish up that way. And yet, twenty years after our final exchange, the ending to our story still astounds me.

It will you, too.

We met in 1966, when I was a student at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, desperately searching for a different dream. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy acting. I did. In fact, my audition instructor, the late great Jessica Tandy, said I had the natural talent to guarantee a bright future in the theater.

But I knew I didn’t have the personality for it — especially the New York City six-floor walkup, noisy neighbors, nasty bugs part. And, the menial labor between parts part. Or, the suck up and shut up part. The waiting for hours to audition with those who actually wanted to wait for hours to audition part. The desire for fame and fortune part. The tediousness of twiddling thumbs while slow learners remembered their lines part. The talk among actors about nothing but acting part. The throw momma under the bus to get the part part.

It’s why I applaud, but never become a fan of celebrities. I know how hard they worked to get to where they got. I know the bad choices they made. I know of their struggle to get by in the public eye. I know how self-destructive they become when disdaining fellow actors.

But I digress.

One Stouffer’s morning with hot buttered pecan roll and golden coffee in hand, an advertisment in The New York Times classifieds for a media clerk at a Fifth Avenue agency caught my eye. I didn’t know what the job entailed, but figured clerks keep records. Enough said.

Upon entering the office of the department head assigned to interview me, I zeroed in on her desktop nameplate: Marion Deyo.

The older woman (by 21 years) didn’t look up. She didn’t ask me to be seated. She didn’t make any attempt to put me at ease. She even forced me to introduce myself to the top of her bent down head, busily engaged in reading my job application.

“I’ve never heard of anyone with your last name,” she muttered.

“Oh yeah?” I snapped back. “Well I’ve never heard of anyone with your last name, either!” It was a pompous, knee-jerk reaction that I don’t know why I had since — then as now — I’ve yet to encounter a single person outside my immediate family who has my last name.

Suffice to say, the interview ended abruptly and I went on my Mary-quite-contrary way until a week later when I got an early bird phone call saying I was hired.

“How?” I asked. “And, why?”

“No one else applied for job,” replied the person who’d spend five minutes training me later that day.

Technically, Marion was my boss, but she never spoke to me, and made a point of ignoring me whenever we were in the same room, or passed each other in the hall.

Cue Ruth Ruffino (a fictitious name in this, otherwise, true story).

Ruth was a four-foot-eight gentile yenta with coal black hair to match her widow’s wear daily outfits. She had half-dollar size eyes, skin the color of Pattypan squash, and a passive-aggressive control freak personality that she conveyed through a chronically clogged nose. Ruth was just so transparent, so disingenuous, so cloying, so suffocating, so much the type of women I truly didn’t like a lot.

Nevertheless, Ruth was a popular little Miss nicey-nicey, chirpy-chirpy, brown-nosey to everyone, earning her favor by supplying our communal office of eight women with free donuts most mornings and coffee every afternoon.

The thing with women working shoulder-to-shoulder in one room is that their eyes are always peeled and ears cocked, providing the perfect stage and an instant audience for anyone enjoying fanfare, which Ruth invariably made whenever leaving me a box of candy, or personal note, or annoying tchotchke — then yelling from her desk, “Did you get the gift I left?”

Oh-h, I got it all right.

I just didn’t give it. I didn’t eat the donuts, or drink the coffee, or accept the gifts, or read the notes, or engage in conversation — even when she was hovering over me, talking at the top of her elastic sacs.

One day upon returning home from work I found flowers had been delivered, not by a florist, but by Ruth, personally, giving the bouquet and card to my landlord with her delivery instructions.

The next day, she crowed, “I was late to work yesterday morning because I rode all the way up town in order to deliver you flowers. Did you get them?”

“Yes,” I cawed back, “and assured the landlord the flowers were for him and I gave him your telephone number as you requested.”

Soon after, Marion summoned me into her office to tell me she was letting me go for causing too much trouble in her department.

To my chagrin and our surprise, I burst into tears, blubbering my side of the story from the minute Ruth laid eyes on me until my moment of breakdown before her.

Marion listened, stone-faced until I finished. Then she offered me a tissue and said she’d handle it — which she did. But she never said how, we never spoke of it again, and I wasn’t fired.

Hours later Ruth announced her engagement to a dweeby, much taller, older account executive who wore his suspendered pants up around his atrophied pecs; a bloke who’d been transferred to our Chicago office that very same day, taking Ruth to the windy city with him. The other communal room women shunned me afterwards.

Over the next six weeks I was assigned to a task no other employee (past or present) had been able to complete. I tackled it by initiating an unorthodox protocol, earning me a promotion and my own office.

Upon becoming Marion’s executive colleague, the walls came down. We sat together at department head meetings and lunched together regularly. She learned I was single and living in Manhattan. I learned she was single and living with her cousin on Long Island. The weekend she invited me out for a visit began a quintessential friendship lasting for years — right up until the day I discovered the two women weren’t cousins, but a couple.

I had an inkling, but I never completely understood why everything suddenly changed after that. Our daily routine ended abruptly. I ceased being invited to their home. Marion took another job at a different agency. Eventually, so would I.

Over time we continued to touch base, but seldom, until not at all.

I fell in love and my life took many dramatic turns. We ended up living in the same Long Island town as Marion and her partner. The company we launched and grew was in stark contrast to the enterprise they undertook. For fifteen years we rarely crossed paths. In 1990, we semiretired to Florida. They remained on Long Island.

Then in October of 1994 I had a premonition. It prompted me to write Marion a long letter saying how much I loved the two of them and always would. Essentially, I thanked Marion for being my friend and confidante during a still-single period of my life when I needed guidance and protection the most.

I mailed the letter. I don’t know for certain if she ever received it.

But a week or so afterwards, I began getting phone calls at odd hours of the day, at least once a week, from someone who just listened to my voice and stayed on the line for as long as a minute before hanging up.

I sensed it was Marion. It might have been her partner, but it felt like Marion.

Nearly five months later, in late February of 1995, the weekly phone calls mysteriously ceased. It wasn’t until May that her partner called to say Marion had passed away on February 28th.

I immediately got online and searched for her obituary. There wasn’t one — so I dug deeper.

This is all I ever found:

During the late 1600s, the first woman fleeing France to America with Marion’s last name married the first man fleeing France to America with my last name.

We shared their DNA.

Marion Deyo was my cousin.

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Marguerite Quantaine Copyright © 2014

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I welcome your feedback, so go ahead and let me have it by commenting here, or Liking and Sharing this on Facebook.

My heartfelt thanks to you and yours, now and always.

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IN DREAMS I WALK WITH YOU

Grandma Sutherland (1889-1961) I adored her.

Grandma Sutherland (1889-1961) I adored her.

Sometimes life is a sleepwalk in which we see everything clearly and deny it.

My walk began when I was 14, five weeks before the Fourth of July in 1961.

I had a recurring dream. It was dark and raining. I saw myself asleep on my grandma’s couch. Something stirred me. I got up and walked to the kitchen. There, lying curled up on the floor, was my grandma – my mom’s mom. I knelt down and reached for her hand. Only then would I realize my eyes were open and staring at the ceiling.

Every night, for five weeks, the same dream.

The morning after the first time, I told my sister, Sue. She said I was being dramatic. The second time I told my brother, Kit, who told my mother I was being weird. After that I went on dreaming — but never spoke of it again.

The weather forecasters warned of rain for the extended holiday weekend, but promised clear skies for fireworks.

I had a job selling 45s at the only record store in town. By closing time Saturday, I knew they’d been right about the rain. My brother forgot to pick me up, forcing me to walk the half-mile home in a dismal drizzle. I remember hoping my mom was working the vigil shift at a hospice home by then, unaware of my whereabouts. All I wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep through the holiday.

And I might have. But Mom and Kit were in the living room arguing over my grandmother when I sneaked in.

“I wouldn’t ask. But I must work,” she was saying. Frantic and sorrow straining her voice. “Go? Just for tonight?”

“Nothing doing,” said Kit. “I’ve got plans for early morning. Besides, David’s living with her. He’s the one who should be there, not me.”

“Your brother  won’t be there tonight and she’s not well,” Mom pleaded. “She needs you.” He ignored her. “Please?”

“I’ll go,” I said, disarming them. Without time for questions or concern, Mom gazed her gratitude and Kit drove me to where I’d never go again.

It wasn’t magnanimous of me. I idolized my grandma. Had circumstances demanded I live with her for good, I’d have gone as willingly. It’s not that I didn’t adore my mom. I did. But Mom loved six of us, equally. Grams loved me, especially.

My grandma was the scent of boiled coffee, fried doughnuts, and brown soap wrapped in the warmth of a summer day. A stern, determined woman who lived alone on an empty road, in a plain house, without television or telephone. Though her isolation required Mom’s visiting every day, she clung to her privacy and possessions as if they were gold. They weren’t – not even gold-tone.

By 11 the rain turned fierce, with roaring thunder swallowing the sky. I had to pound hard on her raised-paneled door before Grandma would let me in. She immediately demanded to know the whereabouts of my brothers.

“They couldn’t come,” I lied. “I came instead.”

“I don’t want you,” she said. “I want Kit. Where’s David? I want David.”

She sounded slurred, as if the storm had scrambled her senses.

“Well you got me, Grams,” I said. “So let’s get you to bed. I’ll sleep in the parlor on the couch.”

It took some fussing before she shuffled back to the bedroom. I sat with her in the dark a while, making certain she was settled before gently kissing her good night. Then I returned to the parlor and lay down damp, intent on sleeping fast.

When a silent streak of lightning crept by the window, I realized my eyes were open. There was no thunder. No rain. No noise. Only that bright white transient light marking the moment and where I was.

I rose as if by habit. I headed toward the kitchen, coming to an abrupt halt at the sight of a radium dial clock on the counter top. The hands read 10 past 3.

Looking down, I saw the outline of my grandma curled and lying on the floor. I knelt. I reached. I took her hand. Remaining there. Motionless. Frozen to the touch.

Slowly I stood, backing my way to the couch. I lay down and feigned sleep. I opened my eyes, focusing on the ceiling. Then I got up and retraced my steps. Approach, kneel, touch, return, sleep, refocus.

I did this over, and over, and over, and over, until the clock’s face was fixed at 6. The sun was filtering through the window, bathing her by then. I knelt one final time before walking to the bedroom to check her bed. Finding it empty, I searched for life of her in dresser drawers.

Eventually I returned to the kitchen carrying a pillow to comfort her head, and a sheet to warm her. Three separate shades of white.

And there I sat until I heard the doorknob rattle and the zest of my mother’s voice calling “Momma! Momma!”

Death wakes us up in ways that never let us sleep so soundly again.

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This freshly edited, updated essay was first published in 2003 in the St. Petersburg Times. Copyright by Marguerite Quantaine © 2003 & 2013.

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I’m all eyes and heart.

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