This week, it's Mary, my dear and truly wondrous friend, Mary. It's hard not to mention that she had her 80th birthday a couple of years ago. That's NOT what makes her wondrous. But maybe you can't escape that insignificant fact, in light of the fact that every week Mary takes herself off to the Bryant Park Grill -- after reading great literature into a tape recorder for the blind, -- for a splendiferous lunch. Following which she takes a whirl on the the old restored Bryant Park Carousel. Every week! Mary has made numerous little "performance" videos -- one about her experimentation with hats (she wore a coquettish black hat with a veil to her gynecologist some years back just to see what he would say. As you'd expect, he didn't say a thing.) And does millions of tap dancing performances which she posts on Youtube (type in Mary McHugh). Mary has great legs. Mary is also a writer, and whenever we get together she's effusing about her latest idea or telling me about the upcoming publication of one of her books of Mary (hilarious) advice. They're small books that could literally fit in your pocket with titles like Eat This! 365 Reasons to Stop Dieting or, my favorite, How Not to be a Little Old Lady.
I joined Mary for lunch last week (she had come from reading Camus -- in French -- into the tape recorder) and after the usual light chatting that you do when you meet up with a friend you haven't seen in many months, we got down to a hard kernel of common personal truth, that at the moment took my breath away.
Mary and I (and millions of others) share being "Special Siblings," which is also the title of one of Mary's books. Special siblings refers to having a sibling with an 'intellectual disability,' what used to be called a developmental disability, and before that, terms which are no longer considered politically correct. (no comment) Mary's light blue eyes fixed on me and she said, in a voice that is so light, almost frothy -- 'the really bad thing was that we had to be good. I was so good!' 'Yes!' I said, meaning it from the bottom of my heart. Amazingly, that was the worst part of it all. It's still a problem, of course. Mary and I also shared the common fate of having had our siblings institutionalized. Perhaps that's why being "good" in ways that are so hard to describe and name, even to ourselves, may have stood out for us as the central problem, while kids today who have "special sibs" deal with much more concrete difficulties, or, anyway, different problems.
(If my parents could read this, they'd laugh hysterically. I think they thought I was plenty bad. And I probably was) But Mary and I knew what we meant. It was a moment of perfect understanding about a core part of ourselves. I didn't hear a thing other than Mary, or see anything other than her face. It was that kind of moment. So time stood still for a split second and then we went on with lunch. Mary chatted with all the servers, and everyone else who worked at the restaurant. She knew them all by name, and knew what book, or album, or trip they were working on. And then we shared a dessert and polished it all off with a ride on the carousel.
until next time,
Without Apology, a film I made about my brother