Friday, December 21, 2007

These are my friends

I often wonder if Miriam and I would still be friends if she hadn’t been murdered.

We’d met the summer of 1988 at Darien Lake, an amusement park just south of Buffalo, New York. I was singing and dancing in the park’s extravagant 100-songs-in-30-minutes Broadway show, and Miriam was in the nearby open-air pop-music show. Both casts were extremely close that summer—ten of us even ended up living together in a tiny hippie commune of an apartment with one bed, one couch and one bathroom—and Miriam and I had forged an especially deep friendship amid the chaos.

In retrospect, I’m not sure what brought us closer to each other than to everyone else in our group. We certainly had more in common with other people—especially to the people in our own shows. But for whatever reason, Miriam and I found ourselves hanging out with each other, taking long walks, sharing inside jokes and sneaking into each other’s dressing rooms during our shows to tape stupid song lyrics to each other’s mirrors. My photo album from that summer still has the scrap of envelope she used to write “Oh, I wanna dance with somebody. I wanna feel the HEAT with somebody.” Whitney Houston was rocking the charts in 1988, and we both thought she was pretty ridiculous.

Those were the dark ages before email and cell phones, so when the summer was over, we all exchanged addresses and many of us did a pretty good job of writing letters to keep in touch. Miriam went directly to London to spend her fall semester studying abroad under the auspices of Syracuse University. And when my mom found cheap airfare to London that fall, I flew out to spend Thanksgiving week with Miriam and her roommates.

I made it home safely at the end of November. But nineteen years ago today, Miriam and a third of the students in the Syracuse program were blown out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, by a terrorist bomb.

As would be expected, her murder brought me closer to the rest of my cast … and even to Miriam’s London roommates. Our friends Jody and Brad got jobs dancing in a much cooler show at a much cooler park in Ohio the next summer, and I drove out for a long weekend to see them. Miriam’s roommate Christine and I started writing each other with such regularity that I spent a week with her and her family in Boston right after I graduated.

But time passed and lives were lived and local concerns trumped distant friends from long-ago summer jobs, and of the ten or so close friendships I had that summer all I have left today are the Christmas cards I exchange with Jody and the occasional email from Christine. Ironically, I’ve recently reconnected with Miriam’s London roommate Jessica—who was traveling the week I was visiting London so I’d never even met her in person though we’d talked on the phone a couple times after the bombing. She’s living in New York now, and I’ve actually met up with her twice in the last couple years. She and her husband were investors in the Broadway indie-pop musical Spring Awakening, and they’d gotten tickets for the fiancé and me when were in Manhattan last February.

Obviously, musical theater plays an important cultural role in the lives of theme-park entertainers. Miriam and I spent hours gushing over the amazing London revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies after we saw it together, and she’d even made me a mix tape of her favorite Sondheim songs before she died. She called it “No One is Alone.” Tonight the fiancé and I are seeing the opening of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd movie—something we’ve been anticipating for months with the giddiness of little schoolgirls.

I find it strangely fitting to honor Miriam’s memory by watching Sondheim on the anniversary of her death. I’m certain she’d be as excited to see the movie as I am. I know she would have pre-ordered the CD, just as I did. I bet she’d get tickets on opening night as well.

I just wish I had the same certainty we’d still be in touch.

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