Sometimes irony hits you over the head like a rubber mallet that keeps bouncing and bouncing. I was sitting at a Starbucks with my cousin Sunny and we were having our bi-monthly catch-up session. I had just told her I was attending the Cleveland Museum of Art's "Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt" exhibit.
Then my phone rang.
I normally don't answer vaguely familiar numbers, especially when I am with someone, however, this time I did. It was James, my friend Sylvia's life-partner. When he identified himself, I was expecting him to tell me that Syl had arrived at the Cleveland Clinic from California, so I could visit with her. Sylvia and I had discussed this a couple weeks ago, so I was expecting to hear she was here, bored, and wanted company.
I never expected him to tell me that Sylvia was dead.
I was stunned. I've had friends die before, but it was usually expected. This one came out of left field. I mean, I'd just talked to her, and while she was feeling awful, she had a plan on getting better. She was going to come home and go to one of the best hospitals in the world and defeat her congestive heart failure. She didn't like the healthcare available in California. If you are from Cleveland, you learn at a very early age that healthcare here among University Hospitals of Cleveland, MetroHealth, and the Clinic are the exceptions to every bad thing you hear about hospitals. It's pounded into you with your breakfast cereal. I encouraged this and told her that I'd come and hang out with her there, just to let me know when she arrived. I even told her about the upcoming exhibit at the museum.
We met a long time ago. I was interning at Cleveland City Hall, and she worked at my bank down on East 6th Street while she finished her degree. We recognized each other when we took the same film and writing classes at Cleveland State. We worked on a couple of short films and collaborated on some short screenplays. After classes we'd go out, have a few drinks, and be rowdy and argumentative. We'd discuss our lives, our loves, movies, books, and family. We shared a deep love of history and archaeology. I attended her wedding, helped her through her divorce, listened about her family dynamics (which were screwier than mine), and encouraged her to take the risk and move to California. We stayed in touch, and each Christmas exchanged silly gifts. We sent each other books and articles throughout the year. We always talked about our pets, especially our cats, and mourned with each other when we lost them.
I didn't expect to have to mourn her so soon.
We were friends, even though our lives had taken different trajectories. I guess we were like a Venn Diagram. We were in different circles but had points of intersection.
So where's the irony that keeps beating me over the head?
CMA's "Pharaoh: King of Ancient Egypt" brings 3,000 years of ancient history to life through some of the finest objects from the vast Egyptian holdings of the British Museum, along with other Egyptian works from Cleveland's collection. Ancient Egypt is renowned for its exaltation of death. The Valley of the Kings, the pyramids, mummies, embalming, the ka, (where the soul is weighed in the Hall of Osiris), and so on. We've seen the movies and the exhibits, and read all about the curses of disturbing the dead. It's fascinating, even for someone more involved with Classical, Celtic and other mythologies and who spent some time doing medieval archaeology at the York Archaeological Trust, like me. For Sylvia, it was even more.
Sylvia was an Egyptologist.
Even though her career path had veered into finance, she was still keenly interested in all the finds that were reported. As ill as she was, we even speculated over the report that they'd found Nefertiti's burial place behind Tutankhamen's tomb.
Sylvia even went to Egypt and worked a site or two in the days before repression and war reared their ugly heads. She worried about antiquities destroyed by the ignorant, and we both condemned the narrow-minded fools who destroyed their past.
When I told her that CMA was having the Pharaoh exhibit, she was very excited. We made plans to go if she received a clean bill of health. I even promised to wheel her around if she couldn't walk. I was waiting to hear from her that she was in Cleveland, and that the congestive heart failure was under control, and she was going to be fine.
We are going to PHARAOH tonight. It will be bittersweet, and after we see the exhibit we will raise a glass to Sylvia's memory.
I hope that her ka, has been released from Osiris' Hall of Judgment, and will walk along with us.
As another ancient culture would say, in this case, Hellenic, "May her memory be eternal."