I have a lion sculpture on my coffee table. One late summer when Kate was visiting, she asked what his name was.
"He doesn’t need a name,” I replied. “He knows who he is.”
This answer delighted her so much she would repeat it back to me over the years.
If you know who Kate Bartolotta is, you are missing her. When my phone buzzes, often it used to be Kate. Now I know that of all the people in the world that could be sending me a text, she is one person I can forever count on it's not being. I want to write some things of her that will give you a chance to get a hit of her energy through me, and, if you love her, to add to the picture you have of her as a human.
Kate and I became acquainted while she was head editor at elephantjournal.com, and I started writing for elephant, during the last year I lived in Nashville. When I moved to New England, she invited me to meet: Hey, I live near Hartford, it’s so close to you! We should get together. Little did I know that she would become one of my best friends.
Kate and I were the kind of friends who, when we got together in person, which was about every month and a half, it was like two souls sitting on a cloud, taking a breath before plunging back into the perplexing chaos of Earthly life. We never ran out of things to talk about, and would only stop when it was time for one or the other of us to drive back home.
We would check in like this during the weeks as well, texting each other when we needed a fresh perspective on some social conundrum which was confounding us. Do you have fifteen minutes? And we knew to say, Is it an emergency? I’ll be free in an hour if we weren’t free right then. And then we would thrash something out together. It was usually refining an email we had to send, or a boundary we wanted to reinforce with integrity, or how to field some flakey behavior we were encountering from another person. Since we each knew what the other wanted for herself, it was easy to coach one another.
One of my favorite moments with Kate was going to see The Conjuring with her and at the reveal shot of the ghost crouched on top of the wardrobe, I screamed and literally threw my popcorn all over her.
Kate and I were extraordinarily different on the surface. But what we shared was our deepest understanding and expectation of friendship. She shared my warlord-like expectations of loyalty in friendship. Friendship is about emotions, and wanting the absolute best for the other person, otherwise you have a zillion other more beneficial things you could be doing with your time. Between us, it went without saying.
Example: a few months ago I dropped a friend because she did a project with a photographer that I’d had a hard time with personally in the past, and that this friend knew that I’d had trouble with. When I learned about this collaboration, I almost threw up. When I told Kate what happened—she knew the photographer in question—she was on top of my last word before I could even finish: “NO. You don’t do that. The fact that she brought it up means that she knew what she was doing and went ahead and did it anyway.”
I just about cried with relief. “Really? I am so glad you said that. I was wondering if I was being a dick.”
“NO.” Kate said this so vehemently that I even remember where I was when I was telling her this on the phone. “You don’t do that to a friend. You go find another fucking photographer.”
Kate was one of the people I trusted to keep Huck at her house while I traveled. He became friends with Kate’s cat Desmond. One thing Kate said of Huck, I think she was numbering the people in a room and she included him:“Huck is a person. He always looks like he is getting ready to say something.”
There was a period of months where Kate and I didn’t speak. I had returned from an ayahuasca retreat in Peru on a rampage against men. It stemmed from the fact that the men in my travel group (not on the retreat itself, just the men in the group that traveled down together) were so blatantly needy and oblivious to the fact that they were—from that material, I concocted all these theses about the race of men basically not being as good as women.
I can’t remember exactly the things I was saying, but I thought I was hilarious and insightful and I was hellbent on the fact that I was right. But once when I was on some self-amusing rant on the ‘phone about how stupid men are, Kate stopped me. She told me that I was being too negative and she was tired of listening to it and that she wasn’t going to entertain this toxicity any more.
I was taken aback and I. WAS. FURIOUS. HOW DARE SHE???
I hung up on her and then we had a few angry texts back and forth. I was like, I am supposed to be able to be myself with you and then it simmered down to a resentful, nasty semi-silence that went on for many months. We never unfriended each other but I was totally annoyed with her. I did start to notice, however, soon after this episode, and catch myself, and I started softening toward men.
Kate was right: I had been out of control. Her intervention saved me from a horrible fate. There is an ogre of a woman at my work who hates me—trust me, she is just loathsome and vile. One day I overheard her talking to one of her work friends with pompous conviction about how women are smarter than men. This woman has sons!!! It stopped me in my tracks. That could have been me. I heard clearly how repellent she was being and realized that was what I had almost become, and Kate had been the agent that saved me from becoming such a monster.
I never told Kate about that exact moment, but I did tell her that she was right. We started making tentative forays to each other and then eventually fell back into the rhythm of our friendship. When I had the opportunity to write a character reference for Kate, I made sure to mention this episode and the fact that she had been a real friend by interrupting my momentum of horribleness, even though I was furious with her for it at the time. The fact that Kate and I came back together as friends has always meant to me that we are true friends.
She was one of the people I saw in my ayahuasca vision when it was showing me the friends of my soul.
Mourning is primitive. I feel like I am supposed to say objectively, Kate is an excellent woman and a mother and a life coach, that if I say, I miss her because she was my friend, that is somehow less. But I am going to say it. Her general excellence is a matter of public record. I miss Kate Bartolotta primitively and selfishly because she was a treasure to me. When I got the text saying that the doctors had given her three weeks to live, I took my car to the far end of a parking lot and howled. I screamed to Them, Not Kate. NOT KATE. YOU CAN’T TAKE HER. PLEASE DON’T TAKE HER. PLEASE CHANGE YOUR MIND. I AM NOT BARGAINING WITH YOU, I AM ASKING YOU. PLEASE CHANGE YOUR MIND!
Kate never let me down, never set me up for a fall, never lied to me. I could relax around her in the way that when an animal falls asleep near you, you know they finally trust you, I knew I was safe with her. Part of her beauty was her honesty and in that honesty I felt safe because I knew she was not fucking with me behind my back. I knew she wouldn’t pull strange shit because I knew what kind of person she wanted to be and that’s exactly the kind of person that she was.
When I was with Kate I could be both my authentic self and my best self. I could discuss honestly the things in humanity that bothered me and that I was perplexed by, and also the amazing things in the world that I loved. She encouraged my shining and my personal victories. She believed in the things I wanted to do and understood why I made adjustments to my course—like when I realized I wanted to move to the desert instead of live by the ocean, she listened, believed me, and affirmed me. She never wanted me to become less of anything or stay trapped in the dimensions of any compartment she had made for me in her mind, to suit her convenience. And I was able to give all of those same things, all that same room for movement, and respect and honor, to her.
I don’t know if all these details are narcissistic. Maybe all of this makes me look like a monster. Maybe I don’t know how else to love a person. Maybe, if you are discerning, you can tell more about me than you can about Kate, from the details I choose to tell you. Every relationship Kate had with every person in her life had different aspects of herself in play, facets of a jewel of endless facets. But these things, and the many more memories I keep back for myself, are how I love Kate.
The last time I saw Kate was on Easter. She was full of tubes in the ICU, and she had lost a lot of weight, but her eyes were bright. One of the things we talked about was the documentary series Wild Wild Country about Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers. Kate and I often discussed topics like cult mentality. “At one point in my life,” I said, “I would have judged these people for buying Rolls Royces for him. Now I just don’t care. It’s your money, do what you want with it. I just think it’s lame.”
“Yes,” she laughed. “It is lame.”
“I mean, if that’s the experience your soul wants to have, is the experience of following some guy around, I guess go on and have it.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I just hope that that’s not how you end your life, that you are able to get out on the other side of that and be free.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want to have to wait for another life for a do-over.”
In the last couple years, Kate discovered that she had Judaism in her family lineage. Her ancestral Jewishness became very important to her to explore. She began going to cultural events at her local Reform congregation, and observing Shabbat. She knew I had studied Kabbalah and asked me for a list of recommendations of books to read, which she then began plowing through. We had a conversation about the Nephilim.
“Kate, you know that’s me.” (I have Rh Negative blood.)
But Kate was sincerely and deeply exploring Judaism, the texture of it, what it meant for her. It was part of her identity journey, part of her discovery of herself in this life. I want to share the things of my time with her that will be of use to you, to hold up the gold standard of what a great friend is and some of the many ways we are loved by those who love us. We are loved in so many different ways.