By Jerelyn Hanrahan
I met Marie through a mutual boyfriend, Christopher Biggart. Marie was dating Christopher, and through circumstances of youth, I began dating Christopher.
The first time I met Marie, we were 16. She came over to Christopher’s house, clearly to assess the situation. Even then she took things head on. She left an indelible impression: tall, thoughtful, a quiet intensity, somewhat mysterious, beautiful, and a foot and a half of incredible Afro-like hair. I was so envious of that hair. I thought, this girl seems totally cool. We became fast and inseparable friends. We worked at jobs together, ran together every day, read together, analyzed books, politics, and boyfriends, swam, sailed, traveled, cooked together (both inclined to add massive amounts of garlic) shopped (a somewhat religious experience for us) drank, and danced together, all with equal diligence. When Christopher had a motorcycle accident, we visited him every day at the hospital, 3:00 sharp, on our way to our waitressing jobs at the yacht club.
According to Christopher, we always had on our yacht club waitressing uniforms. It was like that then; we were all family, petty circumstances didn’t apply. But motorcycles were not always our friends. Three months later, when Chris got out of the hospital, Marie, Chris, Timothy Pommet and I were drinking in a remote beach bar called Mayo’s. Timmy, who was a sax player, said, when I play the sax I feel so good, it’s not fair, and he began throwing money in the air. As usual, we closed the place. Marie went in the car with Chris, and I got on the back of Timmy’s motorcycle. It was a chilly night, and the bike wouldn’t start. Timmy being the sweetheart he was, said, It’s cold Jerelyn, you go with them and I’ll meet you at Cagney’s (the next bar). We never saw Timmy again. He crashed on Shore Road, a long winding road along the water, and was killed. Now THAT wasn’t fair.
A happier memory: Marie and I took jobs at Seawanhaka Yacht Club, a remote club on the water with an international sailing crowd. Marie would pick me up in some old bomb of a car (I had a white Galaxy Ford that was like a huge couch on wheels). I’d say, what’s up? And we would drive along the water, Marie’s big face and that big hair laughing and blowing; we would chat stream of consciously about everything, and she would tell me all the international news. Even then Marie was addicted to The New York Times (and coffee, at least 26 cups a day). The French chef would let us back up our car, and he would fill the trunk with exotic dishes, for our friends at our private parties.
One night, around midnight, we got off work at the Yacht Club, and, as we often did, we decided it was time for a swim. We made a few Long Island ice teas, (usually we were pre-gaming during our shifts – perhaps it explained that slow motion spill of a tray of 40 vichyssoise soups, I think it was to the Ambassador of Belgium’s table), and we headed down to skinny dip in the jet-black waters we knew so well. After 20 minutes I came up onto the dock to see where Marie was. She was nowhere in sight. I began to panic, yelling out her name. Mind flashing, I was trying to think where would one find help. There was no one around, and if I left to find someone, it would be too late by the time I got back. Then, in the far distance, I see these long white arms in the dark night, reaching up and out of the water; it was Marie with her long slow, casual swim stroke. With tremendous relief I dove into the water to meet her. Once out of the water, time for a hot bubble bath. Everything we decided was done with equal diligence and conviction. In our towels we stopped in at the club’s bar for a few more drinks to warm up (we had the keys). The bartender, Walter, was oddly still there. We grabbed a few bottles of Champagne and Walter, a tall blond with a mustache, and headed for the tub. Nothing indelicate happened in that tub, except ten million laughs. I do remember Walter, with his big blond head, sticking out of the bubbles, a bottle of Champagne in one hand, a smile from ear to ear, saying, “ I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.”
After we saved some money from our jobs, we decided to go out west. We hitchhiked from Colorado to California, and then decided to hitch to Mexico City. Just imagine two 18-year-old girls in shorts and hiking boots. We were told it wasn’t a good idea to show our arms, so we covered those up, but the shorts, well we weren’t informed that would be an issue. We called a radio station with a ride board, and got a ride with a woman older than us (maybe 21) who said she would drive us over into the border. For some reason we drove through the night and at one point saw a man in the middle of the road, with boulders strewn all over. This is a common technique to force cars to stop. Marie and I, with alarm, told at the driver, Do not stop, go over the rocks. We didn’t know what might be waiting in the dark.
The car broke down immediately, but we insisted she drag on; eventually it came to a halt, with the entire axle broken. I think we slept in the locked car, and in the morning we walked through the desert until we came to a town of about six houses. Here the locals told us there was a doctor who spoke English. We went to a three-room, shower out back, humble home, and knocked. The doctor was a huge man of about 300 pounds or more, intelligent, and distant. He offered us a room until the car was fixed. We woke up in the morning to a crowing rooster on our dirt-floor room. This well-dressed doctor read all day and ate the hottest jalapeño peppers directly out of the jar. He was something Carlos Castaneda would dream up. He then brought us to the silver mines and explained that the workers made about 6 cents an hour, and mining conditions were dangerous.
I think this moment was profound, and the start of something for Marie. I remember seeing a haunting skeletal figure of a woman covered in black, with five little children following her like birds, wandering through the desert. The doctor told us she was a widow with no home. I’ll never forgets that flock of vulnerability.
We sent a boy into the next town with money on a bus to get the car parts we needed. I don’t recall if he ever came back, and I’m not sure we stuck around long enough to know. I do remember driving into Durango, and the Mexican cowboys checking us out, (as we checked them out). It felt like the Wild West. Lots of guns everywhere. One man laughed at me in the market, because I carried a large knife on my belt.
In Mexico City I got deathly ill with the revenge. Marie, who spoke Portuguese, was running around town trying to find me medicine. After a three-day recovery on the bathroom floor, we left for a small beach town outside Mexico City; we thought this would be a cheap place to stay.
We got off the bus next to an abandoned beach, not a soul in sight. Hot, and avid swimmers we jumped into the water, almost drowning due to the riptide. To this day I am suspect when a beach is void of locals. Suddenly out of nowhere, two Mexican boys appeared, one a cliff diver, and the other his brother. They rented us a bamboo hut on the beach for three dollars, and with a smile placed a plastic bag of something tucked into the roof, which we never touched. The next day Marie announced she was going swimming with the cliff diver (the better looking one of course). Although I play it out there with my luck, I told Marie, I don’t think you should do that. But if you knew Marie, this meant nothing. When she didn’t come back I went to the beach, to find her fighting off this muscled cliff diver in the water. I jumped in, pandemonium followed, she got free, and we took off through the jungle, nervous, but laughing all the way. We were fast; all those Long Island runs came in handy. We grabbed our bags out of the hut, and hopped on the next bus booking out of town.
There were numerous and memorable encounters getting back to the border. I remember a rabbit being skinned on the beach, a German man who was hanging out with Marie, a variety of entertainments. We never thought anything could touch us in those days, and in some ways it never did. We were two wild but practical Long Island girls, who always seemed to make it under the wire.
Once back to Long Island, we both went off to college. I would visit Marie at Yale, we would dance and drink at parties surrounded by fabulous people like Norman Mailer, whom I recall being incredibly short. I would study in the library, we would run, have poolside recoveries.
The amazing thing about our friendship is there was never once an argument, a disagreement, or even a moment of annoyance. We were young, healthy, endlessly curious, confident, wild but not dumb, with our eyes on the big picture, although we didn’t know what that was. Small details seemed trite.
How often does one find that in life?
We both moved to New York, and real life began. Marie as a writer, me as an artist. Marie got me my first job giving gallery and studio tours to the Teamsters Union members. I would drag (often with some form of a hangover) these Union Workers to avant-garde Lower East Side studios in 1980. In retrospect, a dynamic time for contemporary art. We always stayed in touch, she would come to my shows, I’d read her work, we supported each other’s efforts and accomplishments, but as lives do, we got busy. I married and moved to Italy, then Switzerland, then Germany; Marie moved to London, and married, and married. She began her life as a war correspondent. Through our small town, and families, we always kept a mind’s eye out for each another.
When I received that call about Marie’s final journey in Syria, I was, as we all were, utterly devastated. It is almost a month now, and there isn’t a day when the tears don’t flow. As soon as I got that call I went to the liquor store, bought a bottle of Scotch and headed to the Colvin house. After all, its what Marie would have wanted, and I was going to an Irish home. When I entered the house and saw Rosemarie and Cat, Billy, and Michael (Eileen was on her way), I was struck by how solid they all seemed. I hadn’t seen the members of the Colvin family together for several years, and there they were asking me how I was doing, with the news!
Rosemarie looked so tired. With endless reporters coming into the house it was suggested, Rosemarie maybe you should take a break from this, and she so famously replied, I will never say no to a reporter, Marie would have hated that. I want this story, and the truth out, and my daughter back home. I thought, that’s where Marie got it.
I always loved being in the Colvin house; it was intelligent, practical, kind, conscientious, accepting, liberal, educated, and lively. As an artist and a mother, I can say with conviction that the most significant accomplishment in life is raising a child into a healthy adult. It’s the biggest story, and let’s face it, it covers everything. Rosemarie raised five outstanding children, all good people, solid, strong, honest, and wonderful individuals with diverse talents and personalities.
I admire and love Rosemarie, and I know that the reason why Marie could go to the places most would avoid at all costs was because of her upbringing. In that household, there was right, and there was wrong. This steadfast position is what Marie marched into war zones with. That moral practicality provided solid ground for Marie to traverse in war torn landscapes.
I want to thank Rosemarie, a remarkable woman, for raising her outstanding family. For providing Marie with the strength, conviction, intelligence, honesty, and humor to sustain her through impossible situations . The world was inspired, because they witnessed Marie mainline for the truth and have the courage to stand up for what’s right, to do the right thing, at all costs.
On a personal note, thank you Rosemarie for bringing Marie into this world, and giving me the friend of a lifetime and the happiest years of my life. Thank God we had each other, in that little town.