Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

"Meet Me at Metropolis"

Feb 02, 2011 by Victoria Noe, in Delle Chatman , Friendship , Grief
All you really need to know about Delle Chatman can be summed up in one story.  It was November, 2002, and she was in post-op after ovarian cancer surgery.  Not all of the cancer could be removed, and the surgeon told her she wouldn’t live to see spring in Chicago.  “What are you talking about?” she asked.  “We don’t have spring in Chicago; we go right from winter to summer.”
Delle was a force of nature:  a tall, elegant African-American woman whose many talents included playwright/author/photographer/screenwriter/professor, with a deep spirituality and a great laugh.
A year later, a coffeehouse opened around the corner from the Academy of the Sacred Heart, which our daughters attended.  Metropolis soon became the school’s unofficial annex, with parents, students and faculty using it for socializing and meetings.  It’s a “Cheers” kind of place:  as soon as you walk in the door, they’re making your “usual”.  The coffeehouse serves an eclectic community, including recent immigrants, retirees, Loyola University students and moms in need of caffeine and adult conversation.  Many days Delle and I would talk or email or just run into each other, parting with a “meet me at Metropolis.”
One morning in the spring of 2006, we sat there, me with my Earl Green iced tea, she with her green tea chai latte.  She had been to Paris with her daughter Ramona that spring, and believed she was in remission.  There was a pause in the conversation and I changed the subject with great trepidation.
“I have an idea for a book to write,” I told her.
She was thrilled, encouraging as always of anyone’s dreams.
“I didn’t want to tell you because it’s kind of…depressing.”
She demanded that I tell her.
“It’s about what you go through when your friends die.”
She certainly knew that she was the impetus, the inspiration.  But she never acknowledged it, preferring to jump on the bandwagon.  “You should do it,” she insisted, with great enthusiasm.
“Yeah, right,” I said.  I’d never written a book, never tried to write a book.  My writings were limited to grant proposals, press releases and the occasional fantasy story about my girlfriends and I when we were in high school.
“Just do it,” she said with a wave of her hand, as if I were talking about ordering another scone.  She made me promise.  Before Thanksgiving, she was dead.
About a year after she died, I tried to write the book.  Four times I started, four times I gave up.  I’d get a little ways, interview some people, and then hit the wall.  I couldn’t do it.  I felt like I’d let her down, and told her so, in one of my frequent one-sided conversations.  “You can haunt me for the rest of my life, but I’m sorry, it’s not going to happen.”
Over the next two years, I’d think about my promise and feel guilty.  Whenever I faced a challenge, I would hear Delle’s voice:  “if you’d write the damn book you wouldn’t have to worry about that.”
In August of 2009, I was going through a rough time emotionally and physically, having suffered a concussion the previous March.  My husband and daughter and I were in Michigan on vacation, when I woke up one morning with a start.  I’d had a very strange dream, and decided I didn’t want to forget it.  I dragged out my laptop and started typing everything I remembered.  Not long after I finished, I was hit with a revelation, completely unrelated to the dream:  I knew exactly what the book would be like.  I’d struggled before with the format and tone of it, but now it was crystal clear:  what would be covered, who would be in it, what I needed to do. 
From that moment on, I was on a mission to finish “Delle’s book”.  But it wouldn’t be about her, or even about her friends.  It would be about people who didn’t have the opportunities I had:  to support her through her illness, to grieve her, to honor her.  It would be about people who were left out:  friends. 

My book is not about Delle, although it would please her no end if it were.  But she is the reason it exists.  Our friendship was one of the great joys of my life, and her other friends will tell you the same thing.  She continues to guide us and inspire us, and remind us of how precious life can be.  Hopefully she'll be pleased with the outcome of my promise to her.  If not, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

Friday:  Your own personal "Big Chill" moment