The Last Time I Saw Jerry Garcia
She called on Mother’s Day. A special day on everyone’s calendar to mark what I’m not. As a co-worker says about anything I lament, “It’s always about you, isn’t it?” Anyway, Deborah was coming to Seattle to do research for a story about a shock jock for a national women’s magazine and wanted to see me.
I first met her for brunch one Friday at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai, UAE. In Muslim countries the work week is usually six days a week, Saturday through Thursday, with Friday off as the day to spend at the mosque, or in our case, at a buffet.
Our husbands worked in the oil and gas industry and became friends. The guys had set up the date, which was pretty unusual. Normally, when social events were involved, other than going to the local pub, they were generally organized by the wives. “Must be something special,” I thought, and it was. I liked them right away.
First of all Deborah was smart. Scary smart. And she had a great sense of humor. I knew that because she laughed at my jokes. And her husband was also bright and generous. He had just bought her an elegant 18K gold necklace. He’d be a good influence on my husband I thought, who only bought me things he wanted. One birthday he bought me hockey tickets; another year it was an anti-gravity pen that worked in outer space. Did he have plans for me I wasn’t aware of? Finally, he bought me something he didn’t want, but that was a three-hole punch.
It was Deborah who first encouraged me to join her in a newly established writing group. I had never written anything “just for fun,” which of course, it isn’t. It’s painfully excruciating and revealing. One wise person wrote, “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”* That just about sums it up.
The last time I saw her in Dubai was at our writing group meeting. We were both in my kitchen when, in hushed tones, she told me she thought she was pregnant and that, no, she did not want to be. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it served its purpose anyway. Her close call galvanized her and she and her husband divorced when she left him to return to graduate school in the States. As nice as her husband was, each of them were on opposite ends of the goal continuum. “Plus,” she told me, “I can’t imagine a life sharing the same relatives.”
That was 10 years ago, but within moments on the telephone, we bridged the gap with a burst of chatter and a plan to get together. I couldn’t wait to see her. I wanted to hear about her remarriage, her two children, her new home, her life. We lived coasts apart and unfortunately our personal distance had also grown exponentially throughout the years. She excitedly told me she’d be in Seattle over Memorial Day and asked if I could I meet her at her hotel. I definitely wanted to see her, except…I was scared. She worked for a well-known national magazine and I had a ho-hum job where the glamor quotient was pretty low on the Wow scale. I was starting to feel demoralized.
I dressed in my best outfit and drove to the Four Seasons Hotel where the magazine had put her up. Running down the hall to meet her, we hugged and awkwardly sized each other up. She was, as always, beautiful. She still had thick, dark hair, blood-red nails, bright eyes and an intelligent smile. We definitely had not been on the same evolutionary path.
We left for dinner and somber conversation when Deborah’s tone shifted to her personal life. She seemed to yearn for something more. She never told me what she needed, or if she did, I missed it, too enthralled by her light to actually notice what she didn’t directly say.
As we left the dining room, our eyes glazed over from conversation and too much food, we surveyed the huge lobby. People were milling around the storefront windows.
“There’s Jerry Garcia,” Deborah whispered.
“The guy who organized the farm workers in California?” I asked.
“No, Garcia is the guy in the band, The Grateful Dead.”
He wrapped up his window shopping at a jewelry store and proceeded to a van positioned outside the hotel lobby side door. Deborah and I moved to the area of the waiting van and watched him climb aboard. Once situated in the van, a hotel employee handed him a guitar. As Garcia grabbed it, he glanced our way with a smile. We stood there reverently and returned his smile. The van door slid shut, and he was driven away. That was the first and last time I saw Jerry Garcia. Two months later, in 1995, he was dead of a drug overdose.
More importantly, it was the last time I saw Deborah.
*Attributed to Gene Fowler, American Journalist