When we met, in the fall of 1983, he had already lived a long full life of creative and vital work as an actor, a runner, a twice husbanded man of the world. I, a 23-year-old, had the newly minted perspective of a Princeton graduate returning from a year abroad, ready to fling myself into a professional life in the theatre. I was fortunate to have a job as a dresser on a Hal Prince show at the McCarter Theatre, courtesy of my friend, Susan. I didn’t know it then, but the man who would be come my life partner was accomplished, having blazed a trail through New York theatre beginning with his first Broadway show in 1951, a production of Romeo and Juliet, starring Olivia deHavilland. We met on the pre-Broadway trial of a new Joanna Glass play, Play Memory. I was a member of the wardrobe crew, he, a humble, friendly actor from Lawrence, Massachusetts with a german shepherd named Jasper, who lay at his feet in his dressing room while Jimmie worked quickly through the New York Times crossword puzzle. That was October, and by Christmas, we were exchanging gifts and planning to move in together. And so began his fourth life, my second. All I knew was that I had met someone kind and funny with the same values, politics, passions, and who regaled me with stories populated by theatrical luminaries whom I had only read about. And listened when I talked about what I was thinking and my life’s goals.
So much time has passed since October 1983.
Today is the fourth anniversary of Jimmie’s death. I find myself not in the full ardor of grief as I have been the previous three anniversaries, but instead walking solidly on the path of what I’ll call my fourth life. Jimmie and I had three rich decades of a loving life together, raising a beautiful son, and a bouquet of happy animals, long after Jasper left us.
We really had no business being together, he a man in his late fifties when we met, and I a recent college graduate. But as they say, love is blind; we just knew we were meant to be together. And so we were. Inseparable even. I adopted his baseball team, his love of collecting stray pets, his family of bright, curious, funny New Englanders. He muscled into my family, ignoring the initial resistance to our age difference and burrowing into their affections as he proved over and over how much he was committed to me and to our life together. He supported me as I climbed the ladder as a stage manager, sharing in the parenting of our son, as he continued to work as an actor in television and film. We moved from New York to Los Angeles, and then from the Magic Castle Hotel where we started, to three houses scattered across the San Fernando Valley, finally landing in our last home together, in downtown Los Angeles, where I think he finally felt the most comfortable. He was ultimately a city boy.
What I have realized this week, is that loss is only a part of a long rich continuum of life. As I work with students who are a little short of the age I was in the first picture below, I realize how while they know so much, we never know fully where life will take us, or how we will take our life path or who we will take it with. Life is unexpected, exciting, and if we meet each day, each person, each experience with an open heart, we can be as lucky as Jimmie and I were and as I anticipate begin in the next phase of my life. Raising a glass to Jimmie today.