Jonathan was a soft, warm man living in a hard, cold shell that he created purposely to keep people out of his personal life. Over the years I wore away at that exterior like water drops falling on stone, until an opening appeared tiny enough to sneak through. He did and didn't appreciate my persistence.
In our high school freshman English classroom (1956) he called us Miss this and Mr. that, which let us know the only way we could conduct ourselves during those 50 minutes in his presence was with dignity. Well, as much dignity as a teenager can conjure up. He used words like complacency, vicarious, and auspicious. He insisted we all memorize John Dunnne's No Man is an Island. I know it to this day.
He was a man of mystery back then, wearing very dark glasses whenever outdoors, sporting a practically permanent frown, speaking softly always yet sternly when appropriate. Never talking down to us, but expecting us to rise up to meet him on a higher road. Now and then he would surprise us with his unique wit.
My parents divorced when I was small, and my father lived in other parts of the world. My stepfather was not a nice man. In retrospect I believe the reason Jonathan lived in the spotlight on the stage of my young life was that in the role he played opposite me, he never yelled at me, never swore at me, never hit me, never behaved inappropriately toward me. He was gentle, kind, intelligent, supportive, and inspiring. When I handed in an original short story as an assignment, it came back to me with his note in red ink -- "I am constrained to ask the painful question -- did you write this?" Crushed, I assured him I had and he asked me to write another for him, after which he said to me the magical words, "You are a writer." It wasn't until my thirties that I began to believe him, to prove him right, and we reconnected.
There is so much I'm grateful for relating to Jonathan, but more than anything else I think I am grateful that he and my husband were able to know and like each other. A few years back he invited us to spend a weekend with him at his home in Tahoe. He made it clear that we were free to wander off to sight see or visit the casinos. I made it clear we were there to spend every waking moment just being with him, which came so easily to all three of us. There were so many questions I had asked him throughout the years about himself and his life, receiving only cryptic replies. I had no idea he had stored my questions away, to answer them in his own time. At Tahoe he talked. It was almost as though he had been waiting until he knew I had someone at my side to help me support the weight of his words.
Among other things he told us that, as a young US Marine, his duty during the Korean war had been to document interrogations led by the CIA. He carried a heavy and hurtful burden on his shoulders for the rest of his life. With his death my consolation is knowing that the burden has been lifted. And while it is said that most tears shed graveside are for words unspoken and deeds undone, I know with absolute certainty that I said and did everything within my power to let Jonathan know throughout our relationship that he holds a special place in my heart. He felt unworthy, of course, embarrassed at times, but now and then one corner of his mouth would turn up ever so slightly, letting me know he was secretly pleased.
I thought I was prepared for his eventual death. Frank and I had planned in advance. He read the obituaries daily and we had rehearsed how he would inevitably break the news to me in the least devastating manner possible. Yesterday he simply said "Oh-oh," put down the newspaper, and stood with his arms open, saying, "Come here." That was when my crying began. It hasn't stopped yet but it is lessening.
Joanthan's last words to me (a phrase he repeated often) were, "Strive on." Rest in peace, Jonathan, and rest assured that I am striving on. I am striving on.