Steve manned the grill and served up scrummy burgers, dogs, and brats, and, as usual with any gathering involving theatrical folk, the drinks were plentiful. At the heart of the evening was Ann, who seemed to be reviving a bit after a week no one should have to endure; she's blessed with a group of friends who have surrounded her and John for a quarter of a century and more. I mentioned to a couple of people how remarkable it is, that the core group of the Washington Stage Guild has remained largely intact for so many years. They are truly each others' family.
It was heartening to hear of all the people who had sent condolences to Ann this week, including, if you can believe it, several of the local theatre critics. (Critics! Sending condolences! One of them even showed up at the house, but I heard that was a drag...)
[Sorry, cheap joke. I'm nothing if not cheap, especially in times of grief.]
Last night was a bittersweet evening of reminiscences, and even some tentative talk of the future, which always seems to help in moments like these. A few tears flowed, along with many more laughs, hugs, and slurps of Jameson's. Ann told the alternately hilarious and harrowing story of her attempt to get back to DC from Atlanta on that terrible day. From her story, I am sure there will be one or two Delta employees burning in hell soon. But a couple of others, who helped her as she scrambled to get home, will get angels' wings.
As the evening lengthened, I kept noticing the dog.
Her name is Sandy (at least, I think she's a she), and she is one of those faithful family pets who have been around for ages. As usual when a crowd was present, she was excited and enthusiastic, even as advanced age seems to have affected her eyesight and her range of movement. I would one day like to know Sandy's story, which I'm sure Ann would be glad to tell, of how she came into the MacDonald-Norton household and became a fixture in the Stage Guild community. But that's not the story Ann told last night.
Instead, she told of a single occurrence earlier in the week. It appears that Sandy has always been a homebody, and has never really attempted to escape the household's environs. But one morning this week, she disappeared for a while. Search parties were being formed when one of Ann's neighbors appeared with Sandy; he had found her snooping around the neighborhood.
Of course, Sandy wasn't snooping. She was looking for John.
In telling this story, Ann made passing reference to the fact that, when John took that terrible fall, Sandy was with him, alone in the house. I'm tortured a bit by the thought of that dog at that moment, wondering what was happening, wondering what to do, wondering how to help.
And now, all of us have to try to make sense of the inexplicable. My experience losing my mother in my 20s taught me at least one thing: our human brains will process the loss, and force us to accept John's absence. But how confused Sandy must be, to have her Alpha suddenly vanish. Where did he go? Why isn't he coming back?
I've shed more than a few tears this week for Ann. And for Bill and Laura and Vinny and Bob and Helen and Lynn, for Steve and Kathleen and Tricia and Michael and Keri, for Jeff and Jewell and Conrad and Morgan and Marianne and Ben and Louise, for Alan and Sunshine and Becky and for me too. I've cried for everybody who surrounded John during these years.
Tonight, though, I've surprised myself. Tonight, I'm crying for that dog.