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My Friend, Valerie Bessette

girl dressed in pink, crouching, straw hat

Yesterday was the birthday of my friend, Valerie Bessette.

She and I went to High School together. Val was petite with silvery blond hair. She played the Good Witch Glinda in our High School production of the Wizard of Oz. The next year she played the lead in Booth Tarkington’s Seventeen. Her character carried a tiny dog wherever she went, but nobody in Vermont has a tiny dog--the closest we could find was a forty pound poodle. Val made her entrance buried under that dog with perfect aplomb. And that was her way--she could handle anything.

The summer we were twenty-one I was languishing in Stowe with a bad boyfriend, a pile of debts and no plans for my future. Valerie came home from New York City where she’d been going to Parson’s School of Design. She was living my dream life.

She suggested we take a day trip to an art gallery in the next town. Just getting out of town opened something up in me. I remember one painting, a huge abstract with squares of bright yellow.

I don’t remember what Val and I talked about that day,

except that she told me she had a two bedroom rent-controlled apartment in Manhattan and she needed a roommate.

Talk about a good witch.

Pen & Ink yellow house

So in September of 1969 I moved to New York City, got a job in a ski shop and started taking classes at the School of Visual Arts. We had a great year and mostly got along well. When we walked together in the rain she always carried the umbrella, even though she was shorter than me. It would bump on my head, but it didn’t occur to either of us that I should carry it—Val carried the umbrella.

two girls, It's fun

Neatness and order were very important to Val and I was a slob. My messes bothered her so much that she would clean my room, just so she wouldn't have to look at it. Years later, when I had learned to appreciate order and had two kids messing up my house, I said to her,

“I know that with all my messiness I was awful for you to live with, and I’m really really sorry.”

Valerie just looked at me and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Remember what Arthur said about letting go?

Here we are at her wedding.

Two women, wedding picture

Val was a wonderful mother to her son, Ted. They made a pet of the spider who spun a web in their cellar door and named her Charlotte.

She made sure Ted was steeped in the rules of civility. When he was barely three I helped him into a chair and said, “Let’s slide your butt back here.”

He said sternly, “We don’t use that language in this house.”

In May of 2004 Val went for a check up and after some tests the doctor told her she couldn’t go home.

It was Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She died on August 22 of that year.

I miss her. I miss the talks we could be having now. I’m so sorry she never got to see Ted become a man.

I'll always be grateful to her and for her.

The last time I saw Val we met at an outdoor cafe in the midst of a sun shower. I can still see her walking towards me, the raindrops sparkling all around her in the sun.

Thanks to Carol Skinger for filling me in with some details, and also to Jodi and Erica; the Skinger girls were Val’s sisters.

March 03, 2019

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