These things take a while, I’m told, to sink in. Cathy Seipp, my longtime friend, had been fighting lung cancer for years. Most of that time, I told her, I sort of felt sorry for the cancer — Cathy marching around to doctor’s offices and chemotherapy sessions with no-nonsense purpose; Cathy explaining to a Blue Cross bureaucrat, with restrained irritation, that it made no sense for the insurer to suddenly declare, now that a certain type of chemotherapy was showing some success with her cancer, that it was “experimental” and therefore not covered — really, truly, it looked to most of us like maybe it wasn’t a fair fight. Cancer vs. Seipp? My money was on Seipp.
So when she died Wednesday — slipped away, really, peacefully in her sleep — I found myself going directly to her blog, as I often did, to find out what Cathy Seipp had to say about this new development. If she would shake it off, call it “ridiculous!,” ignore it, or start one of her hilarious, acid feuds with it. She was smart, funny, uncompromising, fantastically and epically cranky — all of these things and more.
But she was also a girl. She had wide eyes and one of those high foreheads that girls have in 1940s movies, and there was something immensely flattering to male vanity to talk to Cathy Seipp because she looked at you as if you were saying something important and interesting.
It was a trick, of course — she was a brilliant, sneaky reporter. Once, at lunch, I launched into some ill-considered tirade and looked up to see Cathy staring at me with delighted, wide eyes and a wonderful smile….and then I noticed her right hand, scribbling away, taking it all down, without ever breaking eye contact with me.
But it also wasn’t a trick. A few months ago, two of her oldest friends and I sat down behind her back to have a What-Should-We-Do-About-Cathy? dinner. The three of us were concerned that as her health condition worsened, she’d be burdened with worry — financial, parental, all of it — and we met to figure it out. How much money did she have? How much money did she need? Could we hire her a home nurse? Did her daughter need a car? What can we do to make things easier for her? But how to broach the topic with such a famously prickly, cautious, organized, self-sufficient person? Which one of us was bold enough or stupid enough even to try?
None of us, but I did it. I was blunt: The three of us guys, I told her, have been talking. I laid out our concerns. I offered our offers. She smiled, laughed, told me that were we sweet, thanked us, and promised to call if she needed anything. I knew then that we’d figured her all wrong: She wasn’t such a tough bird after all. Well, she was, but she also knew that one of the things that men feel compelled to do is to take care of the women in their lives, and she liked that. She was a girl.
On Friday, I visited her in the hospital. We had plans to meet at her house, have me drive her to do a few errands, and then sit somewhere for lunch. But Thursday night she was more short of breath and in more pain than usual, so she spent the night in the hospital, and I saw her there. She was in typical spirits, though more frail than I expected. I brought tea and pastries and lots of magazines, and we sat there for a few hours, sharing malicious gossip, talking about hospital food, while I watched Cathy methodically rip out the ads from Vogue and Vanity Fair. “I’m not going to be lugging these huge things around,” she said. “Seriously. They make these magazines so heavy. Life is too short.”
Too short doesn’t begin to describe it. I go to her website. I look at her picture. I hit refresh.
These things take a while, I’m told, to sink in.