For 13 years, I started every day by writing Liz an e-mail. Every evening, e-mailing her was the last thing I did before brushing my teeth and taking my statin. Messages flew back and forth between me in Northampton and Liz in White Plains, New York. I have 21,491 e-mails from Liz saved on my computer, and those are just from the last 10 years. That’s about six a day.
I’ve known her husband, Jim, since seventh grade, and I met Liz on a summer day in the 1980s. She was smart and funny and I liked her, but we both had busy lives. Years later, Jim called about our high school reunion. Neither of us was going, but we decided to stay in touch. He told me that he doesn’t like to e-mail and gave me Liz’s address.
Huh? I thought. Why on earth would I e-mail someone I met once 15 years ago just because she’s married to an old friend?
But I did. And she answered.
We laughed at our differences. Liz had “hair events” and manicures and pedicures. She always looked put together, and she always sparkled — light blond hair, a bit spiky, glittery gold jewelry, white or light-colored sweaters in a chic and muted palette, colors like ecru and fawn. Classic and classy. I wear clunky necklaces I make from polymer clay and get my hair chopped at the $12 walk-in place.
We ranted about the same political out-rages, and although we often argued about tactics — Democrat vs. Green Party — our discussions were thoughtful and amicable. Often I wanted to be more like Liz, one of the least defensive people I’ve ever known, as she took my sometimes-strident assertions in stride.
Most of all, we disagreed about sports. I’m missing the gene. Liz enjoyed watching games and tried to educate me. “I’ll explain football to you,” she wrote. “It’s with a funny shaped ball and a lot of big men dressed up funny and smashing their brains into oblivion.”
In other ways, we were spookily similar. We worried about the same things — both reasonable anxieties and improbable catastrophes. We could brag about our grandchildren without embarrassment. Our marriages, to very different men, had parallels that occasionally stunned us.
Liz was rarely judgmental, which isn’t true of me. That made it easy to share deeply with her, even things that were painful or uncomfortable, because she always got it. She modeled accepting others’ imperfections and foibles.
Friends and family thought the situation was weird — all those messages. But we believed that if we had been born in our grandmothers’ day, we would have had those conversations over the back fence. If we’d been part of our mothers’ generation, it would have been phone calls. If we were our daughters’ age, we’d text each other; if we were contemporaries of our granddaughters, we’d use WhatsApp, Snapchat, or something I haven’t heard of yet. Liz and I kept our friendship alive by e-mail.
Every time I heard someone lament that the Internet results in the loss of community, in isolation, I smiled to myself and e-mailed Liz.
And then she died. Suddenly. Unexpectedly. Impossibly.
Death unmoors us. Blindsides us. The loss of a keyboard best friend is hard to explain. It’s an oddly shaped loss. My inbox is filled with messages, but it feels empty.
I still write e-mails to Liz. Like the morning a few weeks ago when my husband and I left the house early to go to the gym. When we arrived, we realized we had forgotten the bag with our sneakers. We shook our heads, muttered “stupid” to ourselves, and went home. My first thought was, I’ve got to tell Liz. She’ll laugh with us. E-mails to Liz now go into a special folder on my computer. “Drafts to Liz,” I call it.
Knowing Liz, that smart, funny woman, one of these days she just might answer.