A Perfect Memory of Briggs in London: Her Bicycle Ballet on the Mall


In the book I wrote in my wife Briggs's memory, Briggs:, Love, Cancer, and the Medical Profession, I wrote about the last time I remembered her completely physically free before her cancer. We did everything on our bikes...shopping, arriving at premieres in evening dress, even hitting bars, pubs, and Santa Monica Beach one New Year's Eve (sorry I couldn't use indented paragraphs here):

"That golden promise of London unfortunately soon began drifting away. It wasn't long before our foreseeable future was consumed with getting Briggs better here in Manhattan.

There are abundant non sequiturs and a revolving carousel of Briggs's capacity for happiness throughout the book. But before moving on to that first day we set foot in a cancer center, I wonder if I could put an image of Briggs in London in your mind first.

It began with us sitting in the Shaftesbury Theatre, one of the larger theatres in the West End. A stage and television company owned the theatre and we were in the office of the chief executive. We were in London for six weeks from Los Angeles. He was telling us that he'd discussed the high comedy with the owner. He wanted to make it the first production under his new regime. He said he knew we had another very prominent West End producer interested. He wanted us to know that he was offering us the production, and if there were a bidding war, that wasn't an obstacle. Below the desk, Briggs was pressing her foot down hard on mine in her excitement.

After talk of possible stars for the play and finishing our coffees, we left the office all grins. We'd bought a couple of second-hand bicycles for our six weeks in London. We started off on our ride back to the friends' house we had the use of. They were in our apartment in Beverly Hills.

The middle part of the ride was along the Mall, the long tree-lined roadway that leads to Buckingham Palace. As we turned onto it, we were still elated. We'd been talking animatedly to each other the whole way. And then we were aware that it was strangely deserted, especially for that time of day. We slowed up, taking it in, and looked to each other. Then suddenly Briggs struck a pose that let me know I was supposed to watch what she was going to do.

As she took off, I came to a stop...and she began performing a ballet on bicycle. She had studied ballet and designed costumes for ballet pieces. She'd taken a course in the history of ballet in Copenhagen. And except for in summer, she'd usually have on dancers' legwarmers. Now here all of it was melded together into something I couldn't believe I was seeing.

It was as if the bicycle was riding itself as she extended her arms and legs into impossibly beautiful positions. She pointed her shoes into becoming toeshoes. As the bicycle curled beneath her, her lovely hands were guiding me through it all. She glided back past me as if Swan Lake had been inspired by her. She danced on past bits of sky gouached into the trees, as she herself might have painted them. And then the leafy blue-and-green flickered at the edges of her arms until the broad, open, solid Mall held onto the final sweeping grace of her shoulders and waist.

As she came back to me, she seemed to be ethereally hardly pedaling at all. My mouth had been open the whole time. She came to a stop and I said, "You know that's impossible, what you just did." She just grinned that incredible grin of hers. We smiled deeply into each other's eyes and, cherishing each other and the moment, we resumed riding up the Mall together...lingeringly, catching each other's eyes as we rode.

That was a year before she'd be hit on her bicycle in Los Angeles.

The owner of the production company changed his mind because of "economic conditions." The chief executive subsequently resigned. Six months later the owner signed a half-billion-dollar deal for the rights to his television programs. The other prominent producer postponed meeting with us in Beverly Hills twice. Then he got miffed at our broaching the possibility of a co-production between the chief executive and him.

But in that perfect memory of Briggs, the world was allowing her the full extent of her capacity for happiness. We could have ridden our bicycles not just past Buckingham Palace and over the Thames to Battersea but on over the setting sun to Briggs's beloved Saturn. It fills my heart, and breaks it, at its simple, unfettered gloriousness, when she was so safe. A time I so long for, knowing I can never go back with Briggs and relive it."

A petition in Briggs's memory with a direction for ushering in a new era in cancer within years instead of decades has been signed by 25 stars of film, media, and tennis and 6 eminent doctors. They're all mentioned in the petition. I hope you'll join them and me by adding your name to the call: The Petition for Briggs for Cancer Immunotherapy for All