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Selected Work by Judy Sklar Rasminsky

Farewell Letter to a Friend

The Gazette, Montreal, October 28, 1996
Personal essay, 950 words

Dear Joanne,

I just heard that you sold your house. It's a beautiful house, and I knew you'd sell it eventually, but this is much too fast for me.

It's barely been three months since you told us Stan had a new job and you were leaving Montreal, and in that short time you've organized the house to sell, found a school for Jeremy, taken Jessica to university, packed, and rented a house in Connecticut.

Of course, it's been much too hectic for you to spend any time with me. I feel lucky that we had that one lunch together when you explained why you were going.

The news didn't come as a great surprise. Of all of our friends, you and Stan were the ones with the most opportunities to leave. Despite Quebec politics, you've stayed for almost 25 years because no place ever looked as good to you as Montreal.

The referendum changed all that. Stan's colleagues at McGill began moving away, and budget cuts prevent the university from replacing them. What used to be a world-class department isn't nearly as exciting as it was. This time when an offer came along, he accepted it.

I don't blame you for going. If Michael and I were 10 years younger, we might do the same.

But that doesn't stop me from feeling abandoned and hurt. We've been friends since Abby and Jessica were two-year-olds playing in the sand in Westmount Park. When Jeremy had meningitis as a newborn, I stayed with Jessica while you rushed him to the Children's Hospital; when Abby and Jessica graduated from high school, we gathered at your house for a barbecue and champagne.

For 16 years we've been like family, adopting each other's visiting parents, celebrating Rosh Hashanah, Passover, and Thanksgiving together, talking endlessly about babysitters, schools, teachers, doctors, politics, science, food. We didn't always agree, but we thought more alike than most of the people I know.

Circumstances change, people move on, and it's natural to be sad. But why is my sadness so tinged with anger? And why do my feelings seem so much stronger than the situation calls for?

For me this leave-taking is altogether too familiar. It recalls too many other occasions when politics intruded into my personal life, inflicting losses.

Growing up in McCarthy-era Hollywood as the child of a blacklisted writer, I watched our closest family friends disappear one after another. One went to jail. Another fled to Europe. A third cooperated with the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities, and my parents never spoke to him again.

During the Vietnam War, Michael and I had to leave New York, where we met. The American army needed doctors, and he was about to be drafted, despite being Canadian. I loved the Big Apple and didn't want to part from my friends. On the day I was to leave, I stayed with one of them so long that I missed my plane. (Because of that experience, I know how you must feel about leaving your Montreal friends.)

You aren't even the first close friend I've lost to Quebec politics. When we arrived in 1973, I met a designer, her architect-husband, and their 3-year-old daughter, who was exactly the same age as my daughter Sonya. She was as important to me then as you became later, and together we muddled through the small and large crises of daily life�two stillbirths on my side; an adoption and a hysterectomy on hers.

But it wasn't long before boomtime ended in Montreal, and there was no work for architects, always the first to feel an economic crunch. My friend's husband found a job in New York, and like you, she sold her house and left.

Now you're gone, too, leaving me to face my fate here.

Your absence makes it seem real for the first time. Oh, I've seen the vacant stores and the proliferating For Sale signs. I've heard that university students can't register for classes because their professors have left and that the class of 1969 at Westmount High�the first to go from kindergarten through Grade 11 in French immersion�couldn�t organize a reunion because so many of them had left Montreal.

I know several other people who have moved this summer (three teachers from our daughters' high school; the entrepreneurial friend of a friend who intends to commute from Florida); and some of my friends who are staying have put their houses up for sale so that they can take their money out of the province.

Both my children have gone elsewhere to university, and I know they're unlikely to return.

But none of this has the same resounding clang as your defection, which forces me to ask myself and everyone else I know: Are you leaving? Should I leave, too?

For many, the possibility doesn't present itself. Businesses and houses tie us here. So do jobs and family.

I had assumed I was settled. In my late 50s, I lack the energy to make a fresh start; I no longer have small children to help me meet new friends in the park.

And I love the city Michael and I chose as young idealists committed to educating our children in French, eager to join the two communities. Though every departure diminishes it, Montreal is still a wonderful place to live.

The anger I feel isn't meant for you. It's for the situation that is driving you away and leaving me with so little control over my own destiny.

I wish you luck in your new life. May you have friends who love you as I do. I will miss you terribly. And I will miss the Montreal we knew together.

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Copyright © 1991 by Judy Sklar Rasminsky. This material may not be reproduced in any manner or medium without written permission. For information, contact

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