Meet Cindy Nemser - art critic, theatre critic, novelist, humorist, journalist, and ardent feminist.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

10:16 AM Posted by Cindy Nemser No comments
I'd like to tell you a story about how I renewed a friendship that had been on hiatus for thirty years.

Last summer, I finally submitted, after putting it off for 13 years, to enduring a long dreaded paint job of my entire four-storied Limestone townhouse. After it was over, the gods of discarding unused items possessed me, and I went through file cabins, closets, and boxes. Then I went to my Rolodex, prepared to purge it of every telephone number I hadn't called in the last 13 years. But after I had eliminated several numbers, I got stopped in my tracks.
I had turned over the card that bore the name Rose Goldstein, my best friend from the time we were sophomores at Midwood High School in Brooklyn, in 1952, through the years we spent in college, married, and became the mothers of young children.
I met Rose in gym class where we sat next to each other. She was pretty, petite, and had hazel eyes and a mouth always ready to erupt into contagious laughter. And she had the most beautiful long dark-blonde hair that she wore in lustrous pageboy. From the beginning of our whispered conversation, I was drawn to her and wanted her for my best friend. I was an only-child and Rose was the caring, supportive sister I had always longed for.
Though she had three much younger siblings, she felt the same about me. So we jumped at every chance to get together--in classes, in the cafeteria, and in the halls. We walked home side by side, and never stopped talking, confiding to each other all our inner feelings about boys (Rose and I agreed that would never go past necking), other classmates, and feelings of insecurity. We shared a similar sense of humor and laughed frequently about the wry and ridiculous wherever we found them. She was my anchor in our 1000 student graduating class. Our close friendship made us feel about good about ourselves even if wewhenn't part of the inevitable "in-crowd." As soon as we got home, we were on the telephone again for hours. Rose's mother always commented, "You've just seen each other. How can you find so much to talk about?"
If one of us met a boy, we would always ask him to get a date for the other. It was Rose's boyfriend who introduced me to my future husband Chuck. At 17, he was very handsome: tall, broad-shouldered, with cobalt blue eyes, and big hands and feet. Next to him I felt tiny and womanly. I was smitten. But, after a few dates, Chuck stopped calling. I was disappointed and could never get him out of mind. During the rest of my high school days, I never met another boy I liked. But my friendship with Rose more than made up for it. In her company, I was always happy.
When we graduated, in 1954, I went away to Syracuse University, where I knew nobody. I missed Rose so much, that I cried every night for the first two weeks. In my dorm there was no one I could get close to. At Thanksgiving we were reunited, and when Rose came through my front door, she had Chuck right behind her. She had met in him in Brooklyn College night school and brought him along because she knew I was always thinking about him. This time Chuck immediately wanted to go steady and gave me his ID bracelet. I was thrilled, but I was too far away, so I transferred to Brooklyn College in my sophomore year.
Rose and I were as devoted as ever though I couldn't see as much of her as in high school as she had to work during the day. However, we saw each other on the weekends and doubled dated when she met Phil, a likable animated young man, who she decided to marry. She was my maid of honor and I was her matron of honor.
When I started graduate school, I couldn't wait to share how enthused I was about the teachings of Emerson and Thoreau whose avocation of non-conformity helped me change careers. As I tried to explain my take on transcendentalism, I don't know if Rose got as ecstatic as I did, but she listened attentively and made her own observations. We always understood each other. We had a similar value system. We were soul mates. When she and Phil moved to upstate New York, we visited often, and when we each had a daughter, we were delighted that they played together happily.
But when Rose moved to Connecticut and became a real estate agent, and I became an art critic, something went wrong. She no longer wanted to visit us in Park Slope. She told me, "I can't stand being in Brooklyn. "Her invitations were no longer forthcoming. Though I was also engrossed in my fascinating and demanding career, I was deeply hurt that she .was moving away from me and I didn't know why. What had I done to hurt her? I was angry with her, but I never found the courage to ask. Over the years I continued to mourn her absence form my life.
But Rose was my oldest friend, so when I received a notice from Midwood that our class was celebrating its 25th year reunion, I overcame my fear of rejection and called Rose to see if she would attend. When she answered the phone, her voice was strained and her greeting tepid. Discouraged, but not ready to give up, I asked about her daughters Laura and Stacy. Her voice quivered when she said, "Laura's in California and Stacy is a problem child, and right now she's living with another family." I was shocked, as I knew Rose to be such a basically caring, sensitive person. She didn't want to say more, so we said goodbye. Bruised again, I gave up and stopped calling and I never heard from her. When our 50th reunion came around, I decided there was no point in contacting her again.
But now as I looked at her name in my Rolodex, feelings of tenderness and yearning engulfed me. I couldn't bear to throw her card away. She was one of the people in my life I deeply loved so I called once more. I got her answering machine. Haltingly, I left a message. Two days passed and no response. Does she dislike me so much she can't bear to hear my voice again I wondered.?
Then on the third day, the call came.
"Hi Cindy." It was the soft warm peach of a voice I remembered from my high school days.
"I'm sorry I couldn't call sooner, but I was out of town."
"I thought you couldn't bear to speak to me."
"I'd never feel that way about you."
At that moment all my anger, hurt and fear dissolved.
We were on the telephone for two and a half hours reminiscing about high school, laughing about how she had gone out with my terrible cousin Sam who came to her door with a stocking pulled over his head; and her mother had said, "My daughter gets all the bargains." We commiserated about how both of us had endured awful blind dates, and fought off fresh boys who wanted to do that. We giggled about how neither of us could understand intermediate algebra, and when we told our instructor about our mutual problem and said we were trying to help each other, she rolled her eyes and said, "the lame leading the blind."
We tried to catch up with all the things that had happened to us over the years: the maturing of our children, our successes, and our disappointments. She told how she had "adopted" a Tibetan family who lived with her for three years, and I told her how I had left the art scene and a written several novels and a lot of theater criticism. To me our conversation was pure nectar.
We both agreed we wanted more time to be together so I said I would come to her. Chuck and I drove up to Rose and Phil's rural Connecticut home situated in the woods. As parked our car in their driveway, I was scared. She and I were both sixty-eight. What would she look like? How would I look to her?
Then when I rang the bell, the door opened and Rose and I fell into each other's arms, laughing and tearing up at the same time. Later I looked at her intently, taking in the different ways the years had changed her. There were some wrinkles, and now her lovely pageboy was replaced by a thick parfait of natural ringlets that she colored a bright blonde, but she was still slender and diminutive; so tiny that my husband had no trouble lifting her high in the air, as he loved to do when we were all teenagers. I wondered how Chuck and I looked to her and Phil who now sported an impressive beard that hid his previous boyish face. But Ididn'tt ask. The magic was still there. Our bond had never broken. We took up as if we had never parted trying to pack into too few hours the events of our lifetime.
From then on, we have visited each other in both our homes. She, who vowed, in the past that she would never come to Brooklyn, has come and met my daughter, my son-in-law and my adorable little grandson. We have also spent many hours on the telephone never at a loss for conversation.
When Rose and I tried to sort out why we had relinquished our friendship, neither of us could pinpoint the exact reasons.
"You were terrible in the 70's. All you could talk about was being an art critic and doing EST."
"I probably was awful," I said ruefully. "But you said you were too busy on the weekends with showing houses."
You're right."
Immediately, we realized the both of us, at that disjuncture point, had been under terrible pressure battling to stay afloat amid all the demands of our careers and family problems. We saw that our multiple responsibilities had pulled us apart. But now that those harrowing days were behind us, we understood that neither of us was to blame. There had been a 35 years hiatus, but now was the right time for us to resume our friendship.
One of one of the most joyful moments of our delayed reunion came when Rose invited us to a party for her recently married, no longer a "problem child" daughter, who was only a baby when Rose and I had parted. Chuck and I were standing in the anteroom of the lovely Japanese museum they had selected for the celebration when Stacy came in. We joined the welcoming circle that had formed around her and when it was our turn to introduce ourselves, I said "We're Cindy and Chuck."
With no moment of hesitation, she threw her arms around both of us and said,
"I finally get to meet you! I've been hearing about you all my life."


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