“Ann Brodie died.”
She told me matter-of-factly. Just like that. The party swirled around us, but at that moment - one of the lights in my world went out. Years ago, I almost drowned. Crawling out of Lake Tahoe and back onto the sandy shoreline of a family reunion, I looked at all the smiling laughing people, and thought, I would have suddenly been gone. Just like that. But I wasn’t. And she was. Ann was really gone. The world has never looked the same since I crawled out of that lake.
And it won’t ever look the same after last night.
I last saw Ann at a dance company reunion years ago. Tiny, perfect figure and hair, she floated gracefully across the lobby, arms extended, awaiting an embrace. We shared laughter and hugs, and she remembered a night several years earlier when we shared a glass of red wine in darker days.
Snatching me out of musical theatre, Ann was my ballet teacher, my mentor, my other mother, and one of my first crushes. Always elegant, always a dry smile, musing eyes, Ann knew I had crush on her, and we both knew that would pass.
But we also knew how much we meant to each other.
I was a young, rebellious dancer, and usually resorted to hitch-hiking. Ann would fret and give me rides home after classes or rehearsals. When I got out, I would give her a hug, and knock on the trunk of her tan Buick Skylark to let her know I was in the clear. And to say goodnight.
Ann gave me support, courage and quiet lessons in life, graciousness, and trust. She never asked a thing of me.
Standing shy and coltish in front of Violette Verdy, Prima Ballerina with the New York City Ballet, who was offering me a post-audition scholarship to the School of American Ballet, I was stricken, groping for words. Ann smiled quietly and said, “Scott, just say, “Thank you.”” Profound words.
When her true-love of many years left her for a younger woman, Ann - in mortal agony over the separation - invited the young woman for lunch to put her at ease (it was a small town, and their paths would have to cross). The girl accidentally spilled coffee onto Ann’s Persian rug. Seeing the young lady’s distress, Ann poured her own coffee on the carpet as well, telling her not to worry about it. That was who Ann was.
Hospitalized for depression later that year, I spent weeks at her bedside, desperate for her to be well, reading poetry and sneaking food (and a bottle of Chianti) into her room. It hurt to see her in such emotional pain, unable to help her. Because of the thousand things she had shared with me. Because she had been so much to so many people in life. And because I loved her.
When I was moving away, Ann dropped me off at home after my last class. We said a quick goodnight, and I scooted behind her car, tapping the trunk on the way by. I had raced up the brick steps in our front yard before I realized her car had not moved. I wasn’t going to be able to run away from this. I walked slowly back to the car and stood at her window while she sat crying. “You won’t ever knock on my trunk again.”
Then we cried together, and hugged for a long time. And said goodbye.
Someone far wiser than I told me years ago that I would never regret the “things” in life that seemed to mean so much now, nor cherish the accomplishments I strove so hard for - but that rather, I would regret the time I didn’t spend with family and loved ones, the moments I passed up instead of showing them how much I cared about them and loved them.
The woman I met at that at that party on Labor Day in September 1999, who told me about Ann’s death… Kristy Leigh Dawson.
On August 25, 2001, we were married.
~ Scott Nilsson / 2nilssons.com
Atlanta, Georgia - USA
Copyright © 1999 by Scott Barricks Nilsson - All Rights Reserved
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