I met Amy Stout the first time twenty-one years ago, pretty close. We celebrated our 21st anniversary of meeting each other on January 20th of this year. Might have been off by a day, maybe two, but probably not more than that, based on our mutual recollections.
I was taken with her from the first. She and I were both married to other people – me rather more happily than her, as I learned in some detail in later years, but neither of our marriages lasted. I had flown to New York on business and she had just bought my first novel, so we met for lunch. I was a vegetarian at the time and Amy took me to a Chinese restaurant – the thing that sticks out in both of our minds is that I tried to order coffee there, and they had none, so after lunch we ended up going to another location to try to chase down a good cup of coffee, and ended up talking together for a couple of hours.
I was in love with her within a year or two of meeting her. We found ourselves talking on the phone together, three thousand miles apart, for hours at a time. Usually they started off as business calls, but they didn’t stay that way. The conversations ranged across every conceivable subject at one time or another – we sent letters to each other, back in those long-ago days before email, that ran on for pages beyond what was necessary to get business done …
As I write this she’s lying in our bedroom, dead asleep. She’s still the beautiful girl I fell in love with, all those years ago. I sat on the stairs that lead down into our bedroom, and watched her sleep. I’ve aged – lost my hair, lost an eye, lost my jump shot. But she hasn’t: five children to the contrary, she still looks like the girl I knew all those years ago, when we were young adults and thought we were grownups. Time passes ….
I’ve used this one before – the first time I said it Amy said it was the best compliment anyone had ever paid her – but it was true when I met her and it’s true today. Wherever we’d been and no matter the company, over all these years she’s always been the most interesting person in the room.
My daughter Alexandra is nearly 18 – gets to escape from the grasp of the Los Angeles Family Court System, which is all to the good, in just a few short weeks. Once she turns 18 I’m adopting her and she’s changing her name to Alexandra Stout-Moran. It’ll be nice, sharing part of my name with her, but not nearly as nice as being legally her father after all these years.
She’s graduating third in her high school, and has been chased by every college in the country that matters. After years of theater, she’s picked up the theater-people habits and mannerisms – she’s loud, witty, opinionated, colorful – she has that thing some people have, actors in particular, that quality of demanding attention when she enters a room. Now and again I see odd flashes of my father in her – not very surprising; I use a lot of his phrasing, and she’s picked up a fair number of mine. She’s tough and direct, as he was, and when one of his phrases emerges from her mouth, it’s always jarring … and very nice. I don’t know if that’s immortality, exactly, but it’s not bad.
She’s going away to college in September, and even leaving behind a house with six people, I’m going to miss her dreadfully.
My daughter Andrea is nearing 16-1/2 … not shut of the court system yet, but nearly to the point where she can decide who she wants to associate with, so she’s nearly safe as well. After some years of struggling in school, in recent years she’s buckled down and hammered away at it, with predictably superb results. She’s incredibly focused, probably the most focused of my children; wants to be a psychiatrist, and barring something unexpected happening, should be, a decade or so down the road. (And she speaks Mandarin. Every now and again while I’m feeling smart I think about the fact that my sixteen year old daughter actually speaks Mandarin, and I’m thoroughly humbled.)
She’s the one who had the worst time of it when her little brother died three years ago, for reasons we needn’t go into at this point. But for all the difficulties she’s had to work her way through, she’s kept her head up and kept plugging away.
She took up cross-country in high school – which surprised me. Andy’s short. Her legs aren’t that long and she’s not really cross-country material, in any obvious way … except that she doesn’t quit. Every race, the pack would pull away from her … and then all the people whose conditioning wasn’t up to hers would falter, and Andy wouldn’t. The second half of every race consisted of Andy doggedly chasing down all the long-legged runners who lacked her fire and dedication, and I’ve rarely been prouder of anyone than I was of Andrea at the end of each of those races.
When the season ended this year, her team had an awards banquet. We weren’t expecting any individual awards for Andrea, though her team did well enough in competition we knew she’d take home a team trophy, and she did … but she also took home a special trophy from her teammates: “Most Inspirational.”
It works for me.
Happy Valentine’s Day to Amy, Alex, and Andrea. I love you all.