Home Updates Eulogies Galleries Feedback About
Paige Polisner (Joffrey)

Back Up Next

Jennifer played a simple and huge role in my life. She was my best friend. She entered my life, or rather I hers, when I joined the Joffrey School of Ballet in 1980.  Jennifer was 13 then, a gifted dancer, and the darling of the school. I was 16, and had managed to get a partial scholarship there, even though I had a body that was imperfect for ballet. We met and became friends, despite our very different personalities.

The day I knew I had found a friend for life, though, was at the end of that same summer when I lost my scholarship.  We were in the dressing room, changing after class, when someone announced that the scholarship list had been posted. I stood frozen in the dressing room while Jennifer ran out to check it, although her fate was not in question. The fact that she took too long to return meant only one thing. When Jennifer did finally appear, there were tears streaming down her face. It was the first time I realized that she loved me, for I saw how deeply she shared my pain.

The rest is history, and the fact that I now mean this in the most literal sense, is too daunting for me to possibly comprehend at this time. Jen and I have been there for each other through nearly every important adolescent-to-adult milestone. The thought that she will no longer be there in the physical sense to continue to share in my joys and pains, and I in hers, is truly too much to bear.

To try and sum up who Jennifer is and what she has meant to me is also impossible. The best I can do is offer for public reading parts of a letter that I sent to her just before she died:

Dear Japers,

Of all the people in my life, there are none whom I have a more vivid recollection of the first time we met, than you. I will never forget you stomping up the stairs at the Joffrey School of Ballet, spewing obscenities about your aching knees as you entered the pristine classroom where I was shyly sitting putting on my Pointe shoes. I remember you throwing your bag down and continuing your cursing, and I thought thinking how irreverent you were, how totally defiant and grand! Already I admired and envied you. You were everything I wasn't -- bold, beautiful, brave.

I remember your stature in ballet class, your straight broad back, lyrical arms and big, doe-eyes, all of which gave you a softness when you danced that stood in complete contradiction to your brash personality. And, of course, there were those feet. Feet that hugged the floor and pointed in a perfect, voluptuous arch. Feet that I coveted.

I don't remember how we got to talking, do you? And I don't remember how long it was, though I think not very, before you invited me to your apartment for a sleepover.  At that first visit, I met your brother. He was peering out at us from behind a corner before he rushed in to the kitchen to amuse us with a ridiculous tap dance. I remember meeting your parents -- their warmth and immediate acceptance. We would sip wine together in the living room, with classical music playing, while they asked us questions about our lives together, and seemed genuinely interested in our answers.

I wonder what drew you to me as I was drawn to you. You were always so assured, while I was so anxious and demure.  You were so calm and commanding -- the authority on any topic. And if you didn't really have the answer from first hand experience, well, you put on a good front and kept us
all fooled. You were the person to go to for counsel, instruction, information, and I remember people flocking to you for it. Or maybe it was just me, again and again, over the years.

Oh, Japers, I was there for your first kiss in high school. I was standing in the foyer of your apartment
building while you and Arthur said your good-byes after an evening out at a Stuyvesant function. I remember you entering flush, with a big grin on your face and announcing that it had been great - even with your braces which you worried might get in the way, but didn't.

As we began to travel our separate paths--I, to musical theater and, later, to social work, you, to Brown University and then to Temple for your Ph.D., you remained there for me. My family and friends always marveled at how you managed to track me down anywhere in order to share some news or show your support. You have seen me through every important event in my life and have been instrumental to my growth and change, to my finding and understanding of myself. You have influenced almost every aspect of my personality, right down to my love of the colors burgundy, mustard and hunter green, which now accent my apartment, but were your original favorites.

Often, over the years, I've felt that I've seen your beauty, attributes and worth, more vividly than you ever could. And I've wished I could (and tried to be) a mirror, so you could see yourself as I did. When Karl came along and immediately did (see you as I did), I knew he was the one. I knew then that you had found your match -- that he would show you a love you weren't sure even existed for you. I believe that it is fate that brought you both together to love one another for whatever amount of time
you are given.

The people who love you will always carry you with them, and carry you whole. I know I bring you everywhere. My friends know about you, my lovers too. They see pictures, hear stories. They know the things you have said and done in your life, and what you have meant to me. Without ever meeting you, they know you. That will never change. You are part of my vocabulary, part of my inner being, part of my make up. Near or far, you will always be with me. And I will continue to tell our story....

Jen read that letter the day before she died.

It is simply impossible to make sense out of the turn of events of this past year. The speed and brutality with which illness struck and claimed Jen has left us all stunned and reeling. I never conceived that someone as strong-willed as Jen could lose in the fight, even with such a formidable foe, nor, originally, did she. But what is equally unbelievable, and what I prefer to focus on at this point, is the reality that, amidst such tragedy, some unimaginable beauty also emerged. No one was more aware of this truth than Jen.

The first miracle was, of course, Jen's relationship with Karl, which somehow, like a flower sprouting in a nuclear wasteland, managed to bloom and thrive in the wake of constant devastation and crisis. Jen and Karl's relationship from start to finish was as quick and accelerated as the tumor that grew within Jen, and, in the end, as love always does, it won out. I realize that Karl has experienced a seemingly unfair amount of loss in his young life. I can only believe that it is because he was given some incredible gifts: his strength, calm, compassion and wisdom, and, above all, an endless ability to love. He has been an angel on this earth for Jen, as she, I believe, will be in her new realm for him.

The second gift for Jen, was the deepening of her relationship with her parents. Jen longed to be able to communicate to her parents the depth of her love for them.   She also longed to be able to be weak and vulnerable sometimes, instead of always sure and strong, and to know that they could handle it. Through Jen's terrible illness, she and her parents were able to do these things for one another, and their relationship soared to new heights because of it. This may be a small consolation, but it is one that I know Jen cherished because she told me so. She would want to know that her parents, as well as others who love her, will be able to continue to be strong, endure and find joy in their lives, even with this unfathomable loss.

The final thing has been Jen's ability to discover, in no uncertain terms and to her own surprise (but not to mine), how loved she was and by how many. All growing up, my biggest frustration and sadness, when it came to Jen, was the fact that, on some basic level, she didn't seem to have faith in her own inherent likeability. She knew that she was bright and eloquent, and she mistakenly thought that that, above all, was what made her interesting and appealing. With friends, she feared that if she didn't call a million times a day, they might forget about her.  And, with strangers, if she didn't have some kind of outrageous tale to tell, they might find her dull, which Jennifer could never be even if she tried.

I, like all those who loved Jen, knew that her best qualities were entirely different from those she thought them to be. They had to do with the beautiful and quiet essence of her -- no more, no less. Jen started to realize this when Karl fell in love with her, but her full awakening came only with her illness, which, so ironically, struck her in her mouth--the place where she lived. Jen loved good talk and good food, and she knew no moderation when it came to either. They were the things that, up until this point, had both defined her and limited her.  After Jen's radical surgery, it took no more than a couple of days before she had learned how to cover her trachea hole with her hand in order to communicate, nearly bowling over doctors, as well as her friends.

But Jen was so much more than wise words and a big vocabulary, and, with help, she finally saw this.  Throughout her ordeal, she was surrounded and buoyed by the love of her friends and family who wanted nothing more than to simply be near her. Jen especially savored and reveled in the attention, adoration, and respect that she received from Robert, her brother whom she had always idolized -- and who was able to so generously give back to her in this time of need. In the end, Jen died knowing exactly who she was and how greatly she was loved for it. She had no questions or doubts, and, as we all know, had left nothing unsaid. She herself told me she was profoundly thankful for these truths.

And now, Jen, once again knows more than the rest of us -- the greatest mystery of them all. I have a feeling that, considering how controlling and smart Jen is, God better watch out. In no time at all, she'll be running things up there, and, my guess is she'll be doing a much better job.

During her grad school years, Jen used to go to retreats  where she would spend a weekend in group meditation.  At one of these retreats, she had an amazing visualization. Jen saw what she considered to be the true essence of herself: a joyous, dancing, pink lady. Totally free, totally secure, and totally in charge. After the experience, Jen went and bought herself a ring with a pink stone in it, so that she could remember what she was meant to be. Who she was all along. And what, I believe, she still is today.

Back Up Next

If you have any comments or problems with this site please contact  Karl Horton
Page last updated: Monday, 05 March 2001 06:22:23 Eastern Time.