:: Norma Wikler Memorial ::
...:: mary pat kane: norma's depression ::...
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I did know the sad side of Norma while also cherishing the bright cheery sparkling person who rushed at me across a Berkeley campus and scooped me up into her life and gave me a place to stay. I was a friend of two of her siblings, Dan and Jeanne, and her former sister-in-law Lynn and was sent up to see San Francisco while I was visiting Southern California. “You can stay with Norma --- you’ll just love her”, Lynn said. And, I did. I have all the joyful stories of trips to San Francisco, of visiting her in New York when I still lived in Philadelphia and from the time she came to Philadelphia and spoke about her book, Up Against the Clock.. I had set up a series of talks and interviews for her and Norma enchanted everyone. She stayed at my house in S. Philadelphia and ran around the Italian market with me the day after. She called my house a “hotbed of creativity”. My work is everywhere but those were also the days when you grew bean sprouts in a jar next to your dish drainer --- what ever happened to that?
Twice that I know of, I helped Norma get out of horrible depressions and she, in turn, helped me through some very blue times which is why I now own a silly ruler with animals that move on it which she talked me into getting in a toy shop in Soho one doldrumy day. How she delighted the salesperson with her joy in his products! I can still see him falling instantly in love with her. I have never been able to part with that ruler though it doesn’t measure at all --- it’s in centimeters! I will bring it to the service this afternoon, the service I can’t believe I am going to.
One time in San Francisco, right before I was to get on a plane to go back to Philadelphia, I realized that Norma was really ‘off’. So, I pushed her by asking questions and found out she was very isolated and depressed, working on a book that she loved but not seeing people --- too much alone time. We exited the restaurant we were in and walked straight up and down those tall hills of San Francisco with me hollering absolutes that she had to promise me she’d do or I wouldn’t get on that plane. It was the toughest love I ever remember giving; I think I physically shook her. I know depression inside out and could not take any chances. She promised me she would be okay while I flew back. I called her as soon as I got to Philadelphia (there were no cell phones then --- thank God!) and sent her my suicide poem the next day. She talked to me about that poem for years after --- it is a very simple poem, I wrote it and never corrected a word. She always said she felt it helped her which made me feel so good. We made a pact then that we had to call each other if we ever got to that last desperate point and give the other the chance to talk us through.
But, that was many years ago. We lost touch. When I was laid off my job and traveled for a year I ended up living in Northern California but she was, by then, in New York. Then, she moved to Costa Rica and I moved to New York --- so, if she had called my old number, my phone would have been turned off. But, I doubt she remembered our pact --- that we had to call each other. We lost touch which happens and is very sad, especially now.
If only I had known she was here. If only I had walked down the right little street where she was wandering or been at the same World Trade Center ceremony. All I did is wander streets for months after. I’m sure she did too. If only, she had called out my name somewhere in the midst of this city we both loved. If only, I could have been given a chance to try one more time --- like that long ago night in San Francisco when I somehow knew what to do.
This was a terrible time to be living in New York. People are worse now than they were six months, eight months ago. Mental health people are saying that whatever pain from past problems people are carrying with them is wildly exacerbated by what happened to us here. The tragedy is of itself horrific and it has also brought forth in many individuals long dormant demons --- as well as just the regular old daily ones which are tough enough.
Oh, Norma, I am so sorry I will not see you again and pray you have the peace you long sought.
Mary Pat Kane