"Wonder When You'll Miss Me"

Elissa Schappell

Real Simple

 

I have been dreaming about my friend Amanda Davis. In one dream I am in her bedroom, lying on the bed while she is trying on all these glittery party clothes and dancing to music coming out of a radio. I can’t understand how it is that she is so cheerful, as I know she’s going to die soon. She knows it too.

"Come on," she urges pulling on my hands. "Get off the bed and dance. Don’t you like this song?"

"How can you dance?" I say, incredulous. I didn’t know what the music was, and I didn’t like it.

She shrugs and keeps dancing.

"Its mountain music," she says, "You have to dance to it."

Mountain music. No wonder I hate it.

Amanda died on March 14, at the age of thirty-two, when the small Cessna carrying her, her father and mother, crashed in North Carolina’s Smokey Mountains. Amanda’s father, an amateur pilot, was flying her around on her book tour promoting her first novel, the all too aptly titled Wonder When You'll Miss Me. It’s the story of Faith, a formerly fat girl with an imaginary fat girl side kick, who, after being sexually assaulted during a Homecoming pep rally and spending time in a mental institution, runs off to join the circus. At story’s end, Faith is beginning to learn the trapeze, something Amanda had always wanted to do. Amanda was always one for the underdog, for hard-earned redemption and the happy ending.

Sometimes at night, when I can’t sleep, I imagine Amanda in a spangly silver dress somersaulting out of that Cessna’s cockpit window and into the clouds, lifted up into the sky as though she’s been caught in the hands of some cosmic unseen trapeze god.

Amanda herself had run off and joined the Bindlestiff circus for a time. During her adventure she’d had blue stars tattooed on her arms. They didn’t appear to be in any particular order, they didn’t spell out Mom or form any constellation I was familiar with. Though no doubt the placement meant something to Amanda–from the first time I met her, I found her and her stars intriguing.

"We should be friends," Amanda Davis said to me the first time we officially met, in the spring of 2000, but despite all our mutual friends, the fact that we were both publishing our first books with the same company, and that we both lived in Brooklyn, I didn’t want to be her friend.

Here was the case against her: Amanda seemed to be having entirely too much fun. She seemed to be every one’s friend. You couldn’t throw an olive in the New York literary world without hitting someone who knew her. She’d gotten them a job, an apartment, introduced them to their husband, posted their bail, blurbed their book, or just last night cooked them dinner even though she had fallen down a flight of stairs and cracked her tail bone. Yes, all true. Not only that, Amanda seemed to be at every book party, every reading (we would exchange pleasantries), and shockingly, appeared genuinely happy and supportive of whomever it was in the limelight, a rarity in our world. Which is not to say she was always kind or nice–no indeed. Once when a writer who’d recently written an unflattering review of a friend’s book happened to pass by, she’d skewered her in language unbecoming a lady, and laughed, "My mother always said, `If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.’"

 

 

I'd read her collection of short stories Circling the Drain so I knew she had an off-kilter smartness (the agony) and perhaps, worst of all, she was funny. I didn’t need any more friends.

Despite her many charms, I resisted entering Amanda’s world for several months, until the summer when we were both fellows at the Breadloaf Writers Conference in Vermont, and then we became inseparable. In the sometimes cliquey universe of writer’s colonies, Amanda was rare person who appeared on speaking terms with everyone. When she linked her arm through mine that afternoon, I was joined to her. Amanda was like a latter day Dorothy Gale and I became part of wide-ranging gang comprised of men with courage but no heart, women with brains but no courage, all of us inspired by Amanda’s generosity, humor and pluck, charmed by the smile that promised: There’s adventure ahead! Oh, don’t mind the flying monkeysyou’re with me now! I will protect you to the death!

Thus I met every bartender, waiter, literary agent, and award-winning writer, while she provided hilarious, impassioned running commentary. Pity the student who said he didn’t see how a book could save anybody’s life, pity the handsome man who insinuated women writers were inferior, or the beneficent-looking middle-aged woman, working the room, who’d be friendly to your face, but stuck a knife in your back.

She seemed to be that rare mix of brave and vulnerable at the same time. She could talk to anyone, and people talked to her. You could walk down the street with Amanda and she’d smile and say hello to anyone who spoke to her. Once in my neighborhood, I ducked into deli to get a coffee, sitting outside the deli was a homeless man who often commandeered a milk crate and sat there begging. Out the window I could see him talking to Amanda. She was nodding. I was anxious to get out of the store as I was afraid he was harassing her.

I hurried outside, "Come on," I said, pulling on her arm.

"Wait," Amanda said, not moving. "Do you know John?"

"I don’t think we’ve been officially introduced, no…" I said, blushing, and shook the man’s rough, firm hand.

"He’s been telling me the most amazing story," she said.

Then she recounted how he’d told how he had served in the Vietnam War with a man, a firefighter, who had been killed in the World Trade Center, he hadn’t seen him in years. Then he’d seen the guy’s face in the newspaper. He started to cry, "Why wasn’t it me?" he said. "I have nothing, I’m nobody." he said. "Look at me, why him? He had a family…" he began to cry.

"Don’t say that," Amanda said. "You can’t say that."