Tara, Renee, Leslie, and Gerard at my birthday party

One of the happiest events of my life occurred in March of 1985. I was at work on my Sunday afternoon shift at WDST, trying not to let my gloominess affect what I was saying to my listeners. As a piece of music was playing, I heard the doorbell ring and found my old friend Tara at the front door.   I was glad to see her.

Since I’d met Tara, about eight years earlier, she had become one of my best friends, a trusted confidante and someone I admired tremendously. Tall (six foot two) and glamorous, she was about as smart a person as I’d ever met, a prosperous full time professional writer with a wide range of artistic and intellectual interests. She was also real home folks, completely without pretension. Hell, she had taken money at the door the night my one-shot band The Pub Crawlers, with her then boyfriend playing drums, had performed.

Since I had plenty of time before the music ended, I invited her into the air studio and asked what brought her by. Nothing special, she told me, just wanting to know how her friend Leslie was doing.   I told her I was not feeling very good. Since a brief but disastrous affair with a bad woman a couple of years ago, I had been recovering only slowly from that awful experience. Recently I’d been dating a woman from New York whom I’d met through the Classical Music Lovers Exchange. It hadn’t been very serious, but she had just broken it off and I was feeling very lonely.

“I don’t know who’s going to want me now,” I said.  She grinned. “I do,” she said.

Well, we were both single, and we certainly knew that we enjoyed each other’s company. So we agreed to go out on a real date, unlike the friendly dinners we’d had before. Because I was about to go to England, we made the date for the day after I got back. And because that date was stamped on my passport, I know the exact day of our first date: March 25, 1985. We’ve celebrated that as our anniversary ever since–and we probably will always, even though we actually got married on October 17 of last year.

Within a few months, Tara and I had decided that we were going to be committed to each other. The relationship took a long time to evolve, though. We each had our own houses, and although we spent more and more time together, we didn’t even talk about living together. I think the scabs were still healing on both of us. Still, it didn’t take me long to realize that I was involved in the love affair of a lifetime.   From our early days, Tara and I encouraged each other in positive ways. She was very stern about my tendency to be careless with money, to the extent that she once broke up with me over that issue. Our dear mutual friend Charles Elliott, up from Florida for a visit, told both of us that we were crazy to look for anyone else, so after two months we were back together for good.

Although she was far more financially successful than I was, she never made an issue of it and when she decided we should do some traveling together, she insisted on paying more than her share so we could go. At her urging, we took some wonderful trips I would never have made otherwise, to Hawaii, Peru (a magnificent Nature Conservancy tour of the Amazon and the Andes), and Belize.   I didn’t like her tendency to work very late. She would often write until 2 a.m. or later (these were always “work nights,” when we stayed at our own houses), but I saw that such late work had a bad effect on her, and eventually I got her to promise she would stop by midnight. She admitted that she felt she got more work done overall that way. When I first got together with Tara, she was still smoking cigarettes. I urged her to quit, and she promised she would. But I still was finding ashes in the toilet bowl. One day when I was at her house, I was looking for something in her office and found an unopened package of cigarettes in a desk drawer. I took it out, put it on the floor, stepped on it, straightened it out, and put it back into the drawer. We never exchanged a word about it, but I never saw a sign of smoking again.

We encouraged each other’s creativity. Although I’d majored in Creative Writing in college, I was doing very little writing aside from my music criticism. Tara encouraged me to get back to it, and she shepherded me through the writing of a novel, which I wrote mostly just to prove to myself that I could get through a book-length project. When I began to write poetry–a strange result of a series of nightmares–she was extremely encouraging and helpful. I knew I could believe her when she said something was good, because when she said just “Needs work” I knew that poem was destined for the recycling bin.

Tara was writing short stories and poems just for herself, but she got involved in a local writing group and let it publish a couple of her poems and a memoir. I talked her into going to Omega Institute to take a writing workshop with Grace Paley. The night after the first session, she told me that Paley had invited the participants to bring in a piece of finished writing for the second day. She showed me a story I had never seen before and asked me if I thought it was good enough to show someone else. I read it and said, “She’s going to tell you to publish it.”  “You’re just being my fan club,” she said.  “No, I’m not,” I insisted, “and I’ll bet you dinner for two at New World (our favorite restaurant, still) that she says you should publish it.” She took the bet, but I won it. (Paley’s words, she told me, were “This one’s ready to go.”) I got the dinner, but she never did submit the story.

Most of Tara’s writing was for educational purposes, textbooks and teacher guides. Many of them are still in use. But early in her writing career, when she still had her original name of Agnes McCarthy, she wrote a book based on a year’s experience of teaching third grade in Wyoming, called “Room 10.” It was in print for more than 25 years. During one of our visits to Charles in Florida, I accompanied Tara to the large children’s library in St. Petersburg, where she wanted to do some research. She told one of the librarians that she was a writer and needed some help. The librarian asked if Tara had written anything she might know. Tara mentioned “Room 10.” The librarian asked her to wait for a moment, then rounded up all the children’s librarians so they could meet the author of “Room 10.”

When I think back on the good years with Tara, what I remember most is playing a lot. We would sit home and watch a movie. We would go out to see friends. We would go to concerts, movies, theater. (She insisted we go to New York to see “Angels in America,” one of the great experiences of my life.) We had tremendous amounts of fun, the most I’d had since I was raising my step-daughters only it went on a lot longer.

Nine years ago, Tara became seriously ill. A visiting friend of mine, Steve Smolian, pointed out that she seemed in particularly bad condition and urged me to get better medical care than we were getting. After some fumbling doctors dropped a few balls, we finally got a dreaded diagnosis: ovarian cancer. It turned out to be in a very early stage. This “silent killer” had apparently outraged her system, which had reacted violently and given warning. Her surgeon told us the cancer had been in Stage 1C, and that chemotherapy might not be necessary, but he strongly urged it. Then he left his post weeks later, leaving her essentially unsupervised. It took us years and hi-tech tests to discover that while her immune system was suppressed by the chemo, she had fallen victim to a brain infection.

We have both worked very hard to help Tara recover from her injury, and we have had some successes. Unfortunately they have not lasted. Today, she is incapable of living independently and I am her full-time caregiver. She still loves me deeply, and frequently tells me so. But she becomes so frustrated with her own limitations that she gets very angry sometimes, which is hard for someone who loves her as much as I do to witness.   I still wouldn’t trade her for any other woman in the world. And we still have plenty of fun together. Only two days before I am writing this, we went to see the Met Live in HD broadcast of Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung,” which lasted with intermissions nearly six hours. We both had a good time.

We still go to lots of movies and concerts, watch “The Daily Show” and “Real Time with Bill Maher” regularly, and do whatever stimulating activities I can come up with. Fortunately, poetry seems to reach her on a level that few other things do, so we go to lots of poetry readings.   When I decided we needed to be legally married so that I could do the best possible job of protecting her in difficult circumstances, I was concerned that she might not like the idea or even understand it. But she became very enthusiastic, and her only reservation was, “I thought we were already married.” She was right.


The Considerate Boyfriend

My lover is a very nice lover.

He doesn’t jump on me while I am reading.
He doesn’t paw me at bedtime.
He doesn’t ask me to take my clothes off after I have just finished dressing.

My lover is very considerate and subtle.
Like, when he sees a real hot movie star in a movie,
he just goes, “Wow, look at that!” “Would I like to have a piece of that!”

Then, after the movie, he says, “I hope you didn’t take offense.”
“I mean, she is a 10 definitely,
but you are a ten and a half.”

So eat the pizza slowly, because afterwards

you have to paw him and take your clothes off slowly, just to
show both of you that you are as wonderful
as he thinks the hot movie star is.

“Wow,” he says. “I love an assertive, take-charge woman!”

So you lie there and sigh a lot as he jumps on his dream.
Meanwhile, the movie star is probably reading the script for

her next movie! which you will probably have to suffer through
with this

Considerate Boyfriend.

–Tara McCarthy, c. 1987

12 Responses to “My Valentine”

  1. geraldine Says:

    When I need an example of a couple who should be together, Leslie and Tara
    Is the couple who come to mind. Thanks, Leslie, for a beautiful valentine to the love of your life.

  2. Pat Cusick Says:

    I am so touched, Leslie, by your valentine to Tara. She is just as extraordinary as you say she is, and I am so glad you are caring for her. She was my salvation at a critical time in my life when I needed a superb writer. She was it. Her imagination and her endless energy helped our writing efforts emerge into a set of real books. That was just the beginning. After years of collaboration, her works still exist and speak for themselves.

  3. Sam Schikowitz Says:

    Leslie, it means a lot to me to hear your story. Thanks for sending it. They say that the depth of one’s gratitude it equal to the depth of their understanding. I know that you you know what you have received.
    Be well,
    Dr. Sam

  4. Jay Wenk Says:

    Thank you both, Tara and Leslie, for this beautiful piece, for your friendship, and for the laughs. Jay

  5. Linda Beech Says:

    What a beautiful love story. Your blog says it all. I am so happy for Tara that she has you.

  6. Lee Haring Says:

    Your devotion to each other is a constant inspiration. My partner and I are always pleased to spend time with you both. Like Geraldine, I find you an example; like Jay, I am grateful for your friendship and the laughs. What a loving valentine.

  7. Barbara Sarah Says:

    What a beautiful tribute to love! It’s always so wonderful to see you together
    at the best music, theatre, poetry, venues in the area. I know I’m at the right place when you two are there!
    Thanks, Les, for sharing this great Valentine……

  8. marc black Says:

    Thanks, Leslie. It’s these trials that, while we’d never ask for them, often open us to the most beautiful experiences in our lives. Thanks for sharing your treasure.
    Love to you both,

  9. Liz Says:

    Leslie, That is beautiful – thank you for sharing it. You are lucky to have each other. I am happy we can be contribute to your lives together.

  10. Marka Gustavsson Says:

    Thank you for this tribute, testament, and reminder. Generous and awesome, both of you.

  11. Will Nixon Says:

    This is wonderful, Leslie. Thanks for brightening my evening.

  12. Carole Cowan Says:

    Hi Leslie and Tara, thanks for sharing this lovely tribute. I’ve known Leslie forever, and I am glad I got to know Tara a bit through the New Paltz dinners we shared. It is wonderful you have had these love-filled years together and I hope they continue as long as possible. Carole