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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

"I didn't find his contact information but his obituary instead."

I don't remember most of the dream I had the other night. It was something about me having decided to expand my circle of friends--my high school friends. Maybe I didn't feel an integral part of the group or maybe I just wanted to spice up my life a bit. So I made a conscious effort to spend a little time with the new girl in my French class.

Amid the small talk, I remembered that my boyfriend and I had planned to meet after last period in the school parking lot. Neil (not his real name) was my first true love. We even talked about marriage in a Unitarian church because he was Catholic and I am Jewish. It seemed reasonable to meet in the middle, and we'd heard that Unitarians are open-minded folks who welcome parishioners of all stripes.

I quickly said my goodbyes to the girl in my French class, picked up my copy of The Scarlet Letter, and started walking down the long hallway lined with metal lockers. I couldn't wait to see Neil and hang out. Then I remembered: Neil was dead.

My eyes popped open. My hands started to shake. In the real, waking world, Neill was dead. He'd died of complications from a stroke and a stubborn and ultimately deadly refusal to stop his two-pack-a-day addiction to cigarettes.

I thought about Neill for hours that day. Funny how the mind works: Memories of Neil brought back memories of other men in my life who had come and gone.

Sammy (not his real name, either) had been the instructor of a poetry writing class that I'd taken some two years after my son was born and my marriage was coming unraveled. No need to fill in many blanks here. I fell hard for Sammy. He would be my bridge out of an unhappy marriage. I wouldn't be alone. He, my son, and I would move in together and start a new life as a family. "How many times a week do you think we'll see each other?" he asked. I'd hoped for every night but instead said something like, "As often as we can."

Things didn't work out the way that I'd planned. Sammy fell for a devotee of the Austrian psychologist Bruno Bettelheim whose views on autism and his claimed success in treating emotionally disturbed children made him a celebrity within the mental health community. Sammy was an erstwhile counselor who worked with young boys in juvenile detention. The new girlfriend was everything he wanted to be.

So much for my new family unit. Even Bettelheim couldn't fix it.

Even after we were no longer a "couple," Sammy was the unofficial editor of my book about teen suicide and my second book about the sibling connection. We'd been out of touch for years, but when the second edition of Dead Serious was published, I wanted to let him know.

I couldn't find Sammy's phone number anywhere so I googled his name. Instead of finding his contact information, I found his obituary. He'd been dead for over four years.

Two other men, dear friends, and flirting partners died prematurely--one from a massive heart attack suffered on the dance floor at a cousin's wedding. He had a doctor's appointment the following week.

The other man who more than anybody supported my work and my dreams died after a long battle with cancer. Sadly, we'd not seen each other in way too long and, by the time I found out how ill he was, it was too late. In an email in which I asked if I could stop by if only for a few minutes, he wrote that he was certain that he'd be better in a week or two. He died a few days later; I never got the chance to say goodbye.

Many times over the years I've thought about doing a documentary video in which I would drop in unannounced on many of the men I've loved and see how they were faring-- A sort of Michael Apted's "Up" series in which he follows men and women every seven years from the time they were seven years old until his last visit when they were sixty-three. (Apted died early in 2021.) There will be no more "Up" videos. And my "Up" video will never see the light of day.

All I can do is imagine.


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Oct 30, 2021

Hi Jane, This comment isn't about your dream or the men in your life, however, I did enjoy the read. I wanted to inquire about our time as NOOMers. Are you still in the program? I thought I could do it, but since going out on my own I have gained back 5 pounds....Maybe it's where I'm suppose to be??? Hope you've been more disciplined. Regards, Bonnie


Oct 30, 2021

Hi Jane, I've been having the same sense of urgency about trying to contact old friends to see how things are going. One man in particular, whom I knew at the Art Institute while working in the Oriental Department (That's what they called it then), went on to be a curator at the British Museum. Sadly he left that position a couple of years ago. That is the last place I can find a reference to him. He seems to have no presence on the internet, and friends who have connections to the BM can't find any information about him either. I feel bad that I didn't have that urgency to reach out to him a few years ago…

Jane Leder
Jane Leder
Oct 30, 2021
Replying to

I appreciate your comment! Tough challenges the older we get. Thanks for reading and replying.

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