Not one word did I say in reply to her request for suggestions for her syllabus. Each letter of that previous sentence humiliates me. Was I truly so self-absorbed in 2001? I was fifty-seven years old.
Betty didn’t reply—unlike her, but I can’t say that I blame her, either. Early in December I sent her a little note—with an article I’d found online. How are you doing? I asked in my three-sentence email.
On December 2 she wrote to say that she’d seen the fairly recent New York Times review of Miranda Seymour’s biography of Mary Shelley (October 7, 2001) and had a couple of comments about reviewers (I was a reviewer!) who don’t really know much about what they’re reviewing. (If she only knew!)
And then she dropped this tasty little appetizer on my plate: I am already thinking in terms of what extremely loyal friends will be willing to read through the very (& I mean rough) draft (after I have done some sandpapering first & spackling first) …
She didn’t really ask me, did she? But I leaped at the bait like a starving rainbow trout. A couple of days later I wrote: I hope your remark about “extremely loyal friends” looking at your early MWS draft includes me! I would be honored …. But if I’ve overstepped … let me know that, too. I have a pretty rough-bark ego and will understand. (Actually, I have a fragile ego, but I will STILL understand!) I went on and wrote a bit about her point concerning ignorant reviewers—then told her about some travel plans: another trip out to Oregon and a planned visit to Massachusetts to visit family.
Then … nearly six months of silence.
On May 31, 2002, Betty wrote this: It has been so long since we were last in touch. My reasons: I had a biopsy that was positive [lung cancer]. I am doing very well indeed—chemo plus lots of alternative treatments just about daily—to get the intruder out! And it is vanishing!! … I hope and trust your silence was not caused by any event similar …
No, Betty, my silence was caused not by a cancer diagnosis but by pure inattentiveness—perhaps even selfishness. And, of course, just about three years after Betty’s note I would have my own cancer diagnosis, would undergo my own surgery, radiation, chemical treatment. But that was in the future, and I was continuing to live and act as if I were immortal.
Oh, and Betty never did reply to my offer to read her draft. As I would learn, she had her reasons, and they were dark ones.