Descansa en paz, Maria Elena

I’ve had a lot of unusual experiences on Facebook. I don’t keep many acquaintances there and I’m not looking for friends. I don’t bond easily with people in that scary way that you hear about because I’m autistic and my autonomic response just doesn’t function like that. But every so often I pick one up and there’s an affinity that is honest and not in any way scary.

I’m sorry. I’m in shock. I just found out she died. I don’t want to make this about me. I just want to tell you about her.

Mary Ellen and I met on FB in a 1975 fan group. I didn’t know anything about her except what she looked like. We would talk to each other in comment threads. We liked the same bands. She was in her 50’s and I in my 30’s but we both liked the young ones.

We were supposed to meet in June 2017 at Gov Ball. An Uber driver stole my anxiety medication and I was too scared to go back to Randall’s Island for a second day and face the crowds. And Mark Ronson was there. Mark Ronson…my then reason for breathing. Mary Ellen went and told me to get down there, because she was standing up front with Mark Ronson’s manager. Mary Ellen seemed magical that way. I didn’t go, out of fear. I should have. Because Mary Ellen did.

When I got home to Tucson, Mary Ellen had mailed me the most joyous thing. When I opened the envelope, I thought it was just a nice greeting card. But inside was a wound up articulated blue butterfly that flew up out of the card by itself. I felt pure unadulterated glee. Also in the envelope was a second yellow butterfly to send to someone I loved. She’d read enough of my FB posts to know about my deal with butterflies.

I sent Mary Ellen a picture of me and the butterfly.

I didn’t know what I did to deserve such thoughtfulness from a woman I’d never met. It turned out she’d been reading about my trip to NYC and following along on the saga to meet Dan in NYC (back then he was still the unicorn). It had inspired her to reach out to old loves. Mary Ellen was a fan. My first.

The next June, Mary Ellen and I made plans to meet up for reals. I had no idea what to expect.

Here’s the FB post that shows what went down:

**So Mary Ellen Barracliff (now Maria Elena forever) and I were supposed to eat at an underground restaurant called La Esquina. But they didn’t let us in. Maria Elena, ever quick on her feet, turned on a dime and suggested we go to Daniel.

“Daniel who?” I wondered, but I trusted her choice. Good thing she was in Chanel and I had my best travel clothes on because Daniel is a TWO Michelin Star restaurant off of Park Ave.

When we walked in through the revolving door, Maria Elena proclaimed that we would drink nothing but the coldest champagne the good waiter Joaquin (from Tlaxcala, Puebla) could muster. And he did not disappoint. Maria Elena then ordered a second bottle to be chilled for our consumption.

When the menus were brought to our table, there were no decisions to be made. We’d take one of everything on the tasting menu. Joaquin, ever the consummate waiter, suggested we substitute the foie gras cooked in mezcal for the terrine when he heard us ooh and ahh over foie.

We started with an amuse bouche and riveting conversation. I forgot to mention that this was the first time Maria Elena and I had met in person after a year of friendship. Over the next few courses we drank and talked, talked and drank. Each course was simply exquisite. But the butter! Oh the butter! It was dark yellow and melted on the tongue, accenting a brioche bun perfectly. Joaquin told us the butter came from a particular family in Brittany, France. And now I need to meet those lovely cows.

Midway through our seven courses, we met two Brazilian women who had come to Daniel for the white Cosmopolitan. Now, normally I don’t do cosmos. This is not Sex and the City. Sex and the City frankly isn’t as good as my night was last night. But the white cosmo is served over an orchid frozen in a ball of ice tableside. And it was to die for.

So now we were a group of four well-heeled broads laughing and swapping stories. My head was swimming from the champagne, the cosmo, the food, the conversation, and then meeting Daniel himself! How do you top a night like that?

Thank you to Maria Elena for everything. Next time I’m in town you must allow me to repay the favor.

Life is good, my friends. Life is very good.**

I left Daniel the restaurant that night to meet Roy (The Israeli) for the first time. Every detail of that night is etched into my memory. Mary Ellen was bubbly and sweet. She was so excited to go out on the town. I remarked on her Valentino bag and she told me about her personal shopper at Barneys.

She also told me about growing up in Miami Beach and speaking Cuban Spanish. And being addicted to drugs. Being in jail. Being abused. Having children taken away. Coming back from the depths of mental illness. Having horrendous anxiety. Working with George Soros on women’s prison reform in Ukraine. Seeing the mothers watch their children play on the other side of glass in a prison where they were never allowed to fraternize. Mary Ellen was not just a fan. She was a force of nature.

We met again in August. This time we saw Anastasia on Broadway and then walked to The Russian Tea Room for caviar. Mary Ellen had an anxiety attack midway through caviar and Crystal. She had to leave. She apologized profusely for something she didn’t have to apologize for at all. I kissed her goodbye on the cheek. I never saw her again.

Mary Ellen was nothing if not generous. She always had beautiful things to say to me on FB. She wanted me to know how my writing affected or inspired her. She wanted me to know she was rooting for me. I tell you this not to brag about myself, but to let you know that this woman, who owed me nothing, went out of her way to be kind to me from across a continent.

I don’t know how she passed. That’s not what matters. She gave me a window into how she lived. And it was quite a show. R.I.P. Maria Elena. TQM.

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