I sometimes feel sad when celebrities die, very sad, but I don’t join in public grieving. Even when great people pass, I am mournful but rarely feel bereft.* I lost interest in Ephron’s movies over the years. Her characters can’t bear the weight of my feminist-womanist-Marxist gaze. But when I saw she died I was crushed. I started crying immediately and called my mother. She has no idea who Nora Ephron is, but I called her anyway because that’s what you do when you lose a friend.
She certainly wasn’t a friend in the usual way, and I had no interest in meeting her, but her heroines—quirky, high maintenance, hopeless romantics—managed to get through my cynicism. And I don’t care if it’s a cliché to say it: I love Sally. Love that she is uptight and a bit of a know it all. That she orders so much on the side.
Sure I loved Claire Huxtable and Murphy Brown and Julia Sugarbaker. Still love their sass and their strength (sometimes I watch old clips of Julia Sugarbaker just to stiffen my spine). But just like there’s always been a part of me that is Mary Richards, there is a part of me that is Sally and that woman in “You’ve Got Mail” on the Upper West Side.
Especially in my closet.
When I see pictures of myself from the past, in men’s ties and hats and funky scarves, I know that Annie Hall seeped in when I wasn’t looking. That phase passed (along with my Birkenstock phase, thank the fashion gods), but Sally (and her iterations) has remained.
So when I heard that Nora died, I thought of the pearl gray dress I bought earlier this year and the linen skirt with the side pleat that needs to go to the dry cleaners. I’m drawn to clean lines and, for the most part, muted colors. Given a choice, I will always choose tea-length skirts and ballet flats. I venture out from time to time, but even my favorite, bright red linen dress looks like something that Sally might have worn—if she could pull off such a bold color. There’s a sweetness to that style that I’ve always been drawn to.
I may live in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, walk by a huge portrait of Jay Z every single day, and sign e-mails to my colleague-friends “Omar,” but I also wore a twin set to a Trinidadian Cooler Fete, a fact that makes everyone who knows what that must have looked like laugh out loud.
And just last week, when I was overcompensating because I’m fairly certain the afro I’m sporting these days makes me look like a boy and I tried to balance it out by putting on a mini skirt and heels, I didn’t feel a bit like myself. It didn’t matter how great my friends told me I looked, the outfit was just not me. Even if the skirt was seersucker pink, and I wore it with a pink cardigan.
Sometimes “You’ve Got Mail” will come on, and I’ll roll my eyes and change the channel, but I always come back to see the taupe and grey linen dress with the cardigan and the skimmers. It’s a sweet scene with Ryan and Hanks in some garden. There are flowers and a dog. And I can just about get past the horrible politics of the story.
I’ve wondered over the last few years, as I’ve settled more comfortably into the many different parts of me—the Mary Richards and the Omar Little, the Julia Sugarbaker and the Clare Huxtable—if I still feel such a strong connection to Nora’s women. Then I look in my closet and know that I still do.
*(exceptions include Etta James and Lucille Clifton)