My sister Mary called. "Elizabeth Taylor," she said.
"Yes," I said.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"I am, too," I said.
"You must be mourning."
"You were obsessed with her," she said.
"I was," I said.
I was? I am---although my obsession is now reined in and harnessed.
After I saw Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet in 1944, I learned how grand it felt to worship someone from afar.
I never wanted to be Elizabeth Taylor. Worship is not about identification. Her middle name, Rosemond, may have been close to mine, Rosalind, but even a besotted child knows that sharing four letters out of eight in a middle name leaves four letters unshared.
I may have had fantasies that she would appear in my little town and pop me into her car and take me to Hollywood to be her friend, but I never really wanted to be that close either. Worship is not about sharing a toothbrush.
I wanted what I had: the wonder and curiosity and exhilaration and freedom to range widely that a giddy reverence provides. Elizabeth Taylor's life was larger than mine. It was distant from mine, but it was close enough for it to warm and open my imagination and my heart. As a child, I could recite the names of her parents (Francis, Sara), of her brother (Howard), and of her chipmunk (Nibbles). Later, I could rattle off the names and characteristics of her first fiance and then of all her husbands. Oh, yes, John Warner, he was a bit of a rest stop. Even without seeing them all, I can chatter on about the movies.
Like prayers, such recitations were a sign of my devotion. But a far greater sign is the quality of my attention to her activities, rapt when I was young, dearly engaged when I was older. She was a goddess worthy of my solicitude. She had both beauty and talent. She used her talent well. She seemed to do what she pleased, but she never seemed snotty or mean. She had a good time on several continents, but she did good things as well. She had courage. In National Velvet , she cut her hair and rode her horse to a championship. She was loyal, generous, and brave. She never fudged things---or not that I could tell.
And, she had all those illnesses and injuries and addictions, but she was reborn again and again, rising up from rehab and hospital beds. As divinities must be, she was capable of resurrection. Unlike some divinities, she was bawdy and earthy. She could camp out unpretentiously. In 2002, she published a book, Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair With Jewelry. Such stones, such pearls. Hers was hardly a sand lot collection. The first picture shows her in profile---all gussied up. In the second she is also in profile, starting to kiss a great-grandchild. And her hair? It is in pink and blue rollers.
My realistic self is aware that she died on March 23, 2011, at the age of 79, in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her publicist said the cause was complications of congestive heart failure. These are facts. However, I also know that she is off to fresh woods and pastures new, though they may be yachts and 4-star hotel rather than fields and sheep folds. She dedicates the jewelry book to "my beloved Mike and Richard, the two greatest loves of my life. And to my children, without whom there would have been no life." So Mike and Richard will be there, and her friend Roddy McDowell, and favorite dogs, and her family when they are ready to roam to be with her.
I elided the truth in my conversation with my sister. I am gratefully remembering "my" Elizabeth, whose presence enabled me to enter into the realms of worship, rather than mourning. Late yesterday afternoon, in such a spirit, I asked a young man in my office if worshipping Elizabeth Taylor were a generational matter. Were his circles as involved in her doings and being as mine? "The chatter on Facebook is less than I might have expected," he said diplomatically. I took this in, but I would never, never make book against the enduring face of Elizabeth Taylor.