Kitty Burns Florey

I worked for ten years at the (long defunct, alas) Foundry Bookstore in New Haven, where we had a file drawer labeled NUGATORY GALLIMAUFRY. That's what this page is meant to be -- a little of everything: bio, photos, excerpts from books. This is a painful essay I've been sitting on for a year, unsure what to do with it. I decided to post it here.


I’ve known her since we were twelve. We shared the sad distinction of being the only two kids in our class who had “lost” a parent: her mother when we were in seventh grade, my father in eighth.

I remember going over to her house, which had deteriorated into a kind of bachelor pad for her father and her older brother: a mess of unwashed dishes, discarded boots, and a rank, male smell that was somehow disturbing to an adolescent girl. But when you opened the door to her bedroom, you entered an oasis of comfort and order: neatly made bed, pillows her mother had stitched, a sweet little antique nightstand, pictures on the walls. It was how she kept alive not only her mother’s memory but her care and tenderness.

We were close friends for much of our lives. We roomed together for a while in Boston post-college. After we were both married, living five hours apart, we visited back and forth three or four times a year. In those pre-email days we wrote letters and talked long hours on the phone. We knew most things about each other -- things no one else knew. We went, as they say, way back.

In the mid-1990s, she stopped answering my letters and returning my phone calls. No reason: just out of the blue. I called her, left messages, wrote letters asking what was going on, what was wrong: no response. I was living in New York City and, after 9/​11, I sent a particularly heartfelt letter: I’m your oldest friend, this is very difficult for me, I miss you, please tell me what’s wrong. No sane or decent person could refuse to answer it! But she did.

I searched my memory for ten years, trying to figure out what I could have done to derail a 40-year friendship, accusing myself of all kinds of things. Had I been too absorbed in my own life, which had certainly been tumultuous? Had I failed her in some way? Had my upheavals threatened her own stability? Was she so completely absorbed in her second, late in life, child that there was no room for anyone else? She had often said I was her only friend. Did she now need to reduce that number from one to zero? But why?

I thought of her often: on her birthday, or when I came across an old photograph: the two of us aged sixteen, raising glasses, pretending to be drunk; our daughters on the front step of her beautiful old house; the last one I took of her, in my driveway just before she drove home, looking fastidious and self-possessed in a blue jacket and gold earrings. I have objects she gave me, and a recipe she wrote out for me, for half-moon cookies, in her distinctive handwriting.

I stopped writing to her, stopped calling, stifled the impulse to pull up to her house and confront her. I slowly came around to a respect for her need to cut me out of her life. But it never stopped haunting me: one of the great mysteries.

Then our high school held its fiftieth reunion. We had been a small class: 52. The turnout was excellent: 38. Four were dead, one was recuperating from surgery, eight were either unfindable or didn’t respond. And one, said her husband, was “in the late stage of Alzheimer’s” and would not be attending. That was her. The news hit me like something physical: I cried out in pain.

There was no more information. Her family wasn’t saying much. What was there to say? And why bother? She was gone, as if she had died: but not quite. Somewhere, deep in the mysterious world of her deteriorated brain, she was still alive. What images remained? What memories lived there? I found two photographs of her online: in one she is a gray-haired crone, her eyes vacant. In another she’s crookedly, desperately smiling. She was always relentlessly, almost intimidatingly chic. But in both pictures she’s wearing outfits that, when I knew her, she would not have been caught dead in.

I've come around to the idea that the rift between us was caused not by something I did but by beta-amyloid plaques in her brain, or genetic unluckiness, or some long-ago head injury nobody remembers. I wish that idea were a relief to me. But what would be a greater relief would be if I’d done or said something unforgivable, made a wound so deep and serious that she couldn’t even tell me what it was -- and that she was still who she used to be, someone who created in her own life the haven from pain that she devised at age twelve , the haven that, in her company, was always a comfort to me, a balm for my own pain -- something I still miss.

And maybe, in fact, she has done that. Maybe that’s where she lives now, in that little room with its pillows and its peace. She’s got to be somewhere -- doesn’t she? I hope it’s there.

[Note: my old friend Carol died on March 30, 2015.]

A short bio...

I was born in Syracuse, NY, an only child, and went to the same Syracuse parochial school from 1st to 12th grades -- St. John the Baptist Academy, which inspired SISTER BERNADETTE'S BARKING DOG and makes an appearance (heavily disguised) in DUET. I have a B.A. from Boston University and an M.A. from Syracuse, both in English literature.

Since college, I've lived in Boston, New Haven, New York City, and New Haven again. My daughter, also an only child, lives with her husband and my three grandchildren in California, where she is a law professor.

I work as a freelance editor for publishers, websites, individuals, whatever comes along. When I'm not writing or editing, I read, take a daily long walk, cook for friends, do crossword puzzles (obsessively), keep a voluminous diary (as I have done for 40+ years), visit the kids in California, and occasionally write an actual letter, in an envelope, with a stamp, in my new and improved handwriting -- see Script & Scribble for befores and afters.

I can provide freelance editing of fiction and memoirs. If you’re looking for help with a manuscript, at any point in its development, you are welcome to e-mail me.