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The most talented writer I've ever known
Around 1980, when I was a young man living in New York, I belonged to a writer’s group. It was a lovely group. We would meet every week or every two weeks on a rotating basis, going from apartment to apartment. At the start, I think there were six of us. We grew to eight or nine fairly soon.
The writing was all very different in subject and style. We all shared a burning desire to write, though, and were loyal to that. The group became essential to my well-being. I was among like-minded souls. I was insecure and doubtful about my work, and the group encouraged, bolstered. We believed in one another.
Then one day she arrived. She was Sandra, tall, slender, feral-looking with lynx eyes and a heart of steel. I just realized this sounds like I’m describing a moll out of a noir novel. But there was something of that in her. She was a modern-day Veronica Lake, with the same eye-obscuring wing of hair and cold mystique. Someone brought her, and we said, sure, join us. I should’ve said no. Because I fell for her. I shudder to remember how I behaved just to get a moment of her company. She couldn’t have cared less.
But that’s not the point. The point is that everyone thought she was a monster writer, filled to the brim, and over, with talent. She wrote like no one else, in a sort of dream language, Joycean and with a ruthless honesty. She was absolutely confident in herself and her abilities. She existed in a plane above us all, and if she didn’t think what we wrote was good, she said so, from on high, bluntly, even cruelly.
She was going to be a writer, and that was that. She had a twelve year-old daughter from a young marriage, long over. “My one and only,” she told me, meaning both marriage and children. She lived in borrowed lofts and apartments and made some money I don’t remember how. Some of the lofts I visited her in—when she allowed me to visit—were stone cold. Yet there she was, in her robe and parka with Fagin-like tip-less gloves and resolution. “No one,” she once said, pointedly staring at me, “will ever stop me from writing.” When I went home to my cozy apartment with functioning heat, I felt like a wimp.
She hardly ever smiled. I never heard her laugh once in all the time I knew her. I just thought that, like heat, she didn’t require laughter.
We all expected her to be the next...well, pick a writer you admire. We did everything but leave sacrifices before her altar. Did some of us lower our eyes when she walked into the room?
Eventually, she moved on. She left our group. She had outgrown us. She and I still spoke on the phone from time to time. She let it drop that she had begun dating a publisher. I met him once at a party. He was tall, handsome and aloof, with no sense of humor, like her. Apparently, he didn’t need laughter either.
Then she disappeared.
But I knew—we all knew—that one day we would open The New York Times and there her book would be, the critic lavishing praise on her as if it were New Year’s Eve champagne, bubbling over with superlatives and pushing writers aside in the pantheon to make a place for her. Or we would happen upon a short story of hers in The New Yorker.
Then, one day, someone told me she’d married the publisher. He was well enough known to have the marriage reported in the papers. A few years later, someone—who was this someone?—told me she’d given birth to a daughter. And then, a few years later, to another.
She lives, that same anonymous someone told me, in a quaint town about two hours north of New York with her husband and children. In a house, I presume, with heat. I have nothing against her. I hope she’s happy.
It’s forty years on. And, as far as I know, after she departed our company, she never wrote a single solitary word. Not one. If she has, she’s not published any of it. From time to time, I’ve searched.