Enter Stage Left

A cross continental connection

My ex-husband and I have known each other since 1972, and even if he and I were not neighbors in this San Francisco house we share with our husbands, he’d still be one of my closest longtime friends. Our deep and abiding relationship defined our New York days, and is now shaping our San Francisco days as well.

But a wonderful thing happened recently.

Something I didn’t even know I’d miss if it never happened, but now that it has, I am grateful: A person I’ve known even longer than my first husband arrived from the East Coast to direct a show at ACT, and after years of not seeing each other, we had dinner. And not just any dinner — I invited him to celebrate my birthday, and M.L. had time in his busy schedule to join us.

It was the perfect gift.

Though we’ve known each other over 46 years, I’d not seen M.L. in a long time. Over martinis, we finally had to admit it might have been two decades since last we shared time together.

En route to the birthday restaurant, we almost passed each other on the steps of Ghirardelli Square. It was like a slow-motion scene in a movie: the gradual dawning on our faces that the person coming toward us was someone we vaguely remembered, then the clearing of the clouds as we saw in each other a valued and long-missed friend. We were drifting through fog, then seeing a familiar shoreline.

It was gorgeous — and unexpectedly satisfying, because the meeting had within it the strains of memories and shared experiences long past. As we hugged each other joyously, it felt like coming home.

Nothing romantic. Though in close friendships, there are elements of true romance of a special kind. Nothing sexual; just the attraction that brought two people together as friends in the first place. Some would call it karma.

In any event, with one long hug images came flooding forward. Of our younger selves, sharing summers of stock together at the picturesque Wagon Wheel Playhouse in Warsaw, Ind., just down the road from the Billy Sunday Tabernacle In Winona Lake. All those roles we played opposite each other — his Flo Ziegfeld to my Fanny Brice in Funny Girl; his Will Parker to my Aunt Eller in Oklahoma; his King Arthur to my Morgan Le Fey in Camelot. We did all the old classics at Wagon Wheel. My memory is hazy, but I think M.L. even played Herbie to my Madame Rose in Gypsy! If he didn’t, he should have. That’s how much we were a team back then. And when he wasn’t on stage, he was underneath it in the orchestra, playing violin. My multitalented friend.

Sure, I entertained some romantic fantasies about him — I think everyone in our crowd did — but the main thing was the work we shared, and the deep love we both had for the theatre. He married the most sought-after girl, a beautiful, sexy blond dancer from our Wagon Wheel days, while I pursued an aloof trumpet player. When I married my first husband, M.L. and his gorgeous wife sent us a red electric wok. Our careers moved along on separate but neighborly tracks as we “made it” in New York City.

It was our time, and we lived it. Mostly apart, but every so often, we’d share a box of fresh donuts walking up Broadway, or a bottle of Scotch when we had problems to solve. In those days, there were many problems a close friendship could help solve.

He got divorced and started directing around the country. Then, one day, while doing errands on the Upper Westside, I opened an eight-page letter from Arizona, in which M.L. told me he’d found the perfect romance of his life — his first real, true love: with J.J., an actor in his company. At first, I cried, it being the first of such revelations that would enter my young life, but then I was happy for him, because all I truly wanted for my dear friend was his happiness.

He and J.J. have been together over 35 years now.

And as we all gathered for my birthday, at the wonderful McCormick and Kuleto’s in Ghirardelli Square, it became clear that in one way or another, we have all been together through these years, no matter what city, or what coast separated us.

Time and love are mysterious things, but some things — like deep friendship — don’t need to be understood to be more real than anything else we think we know.

Send to a Friend Print