1: A Word between Friends

1: A Word between Friends

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

A Word between Friends

Never pass up new experiences, Scarlett. They enrich the mind.

~Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind

“Scarlett” was to be our code word, our “sign” from heaven.

My dear friend Norris Mailer and I decided on this soon after we met. I had interviewed her for People magazine when her first novel, Windchill Summer, was published in 2000. It was a yarn about a Southern belle in Manhattan — she herself hailed from Little Rock, Arkansas — and as we talked of all things Southern, we discovered our mutual obsession with the film Gone with the Wind.

In their Brooklyn Heights brownstone, Norris showed me the prized antique Scarlett O’Hara doll that her husband, literary lion Norman Mailer, had given her. I, in turn, displayed my ability to recite all four hours of dialogue from the film — not only for the two female leads, Scarlett and Melanie Wilkes, but even minor characters like Aunt Pitty and that damn Yankee overseer, Wilkerson.

Norris was impressed. From that moment onward, her nickname for me was Miss Scarlett and mine for her was Miss Melanie (Miss Melly). It was her casting decision and why she placed me — a Canadian — in the starring role when she was a bona fide Southerner perplexed me. It had to do with my ability to cry on cue and flirt up a storm, she assured me, and not because Miss Melly suffers an early demise in the film. Norris herself was struggling with cancer at the time and would endure a barrage of surgeries in the years to come.

Her fragile health situation and our respective loss of loved ones revealed another mutual interest — the afterlife. Do our spirits die with our mortal bodies or do they live on? It was a topic we debated endlessly while sipping Kir Royales on her balcony. Norris was a lapsed Southern Baptist and I leaned toward agnosticism. During these chats, we’d look across the East River to the Statue of Liberty — she reminded us of Scarlett at Tara, holding up her fist and looking skyward, vowing: “God is my witness….”

We delved further into the spirit world when I began work on After Life: Answers from the Other Side — my first of many books with psychic medium John Edward. To paraphrase The Sixth Sense’s tagline — John, um, talked to dead people. We were intrigued, and attended several of John’s events, yearning to receive our own “messages” from this elusive Other Side.

At first, Norris wanted to connect with her deceased father. After Norman passed away in 2007, she ached to hear from him. And somehow, in auditoriums filled with thousands of people, John always gravitated toward her, giving personal details of her life with Norman that he could not have known without some kind of supernatural connection.

“If there really is an afterlife,” Norris said on the balcony one day, “we need a special code word to send to each other. Whoever gets to the Other Side first will send the word as a sign.”

She looked at Lady Liberty.

“If we can get in touch, let’s send the name ‘Scarlett’.”

“Hey, if you can get in touch,” I laughed, “you and Norman have to help me write my books.”

It was a deal. We clinked our champagne flutes.

Norris’s health deteriorated over the next few years. In the spring of 2010, she sensed she was near the end and she gave me her precious Scarlett doll, which I positioned across from my writing desk.

“I want you to have her,” she said, “to remember our code word.”

A few months later, I sat at her bedside holding her hand as she took her final breaths.

After she left this world, I was looking and listening for our code word everywhere — to no avail.

“Relax,” John said, offering me his sound, psychic wisdom, “you’ll hear from her when the time is ripe. Nothing is a coincidence.”

John was right. I stopped obsessing about it, assured I would hear from Norris when and if I was supposed to.

In the summer of 2013, I wasn’t thinking of the code word at all. In fact, my mind was a jumble of tens of thousands of words while on an insanely tight book deadline — I had six weeks to produce a celebrity memoir and was working around the clock, fueled by chocolate and caffeine.

In the middle of that panic, I got a call from an editor at Hay House Publishing, for whom I’d written several books.

“We have the perfect project for you,” the editor said excitedly. “The President and CEO is asking for you specifically on this. It’s very special, but it has to be written quickly.”

“Stop right there,” I told her. “Impossible. I’m on another deadline. What is it?”

It was a heartfelt story about a mom from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, whose little boy, Jesse, was one of many killed in the horrific school shooting that shocked the nation a few months earlier. Jesse was a hero; he saved the lives of several classmates that day. Since he died, his mother had received beautiful messages from him… from heaven.

“It sounds great, but I’m too busy.”

“Please. Just give her a call,” the editor urged. “You will love her. Her name is Scarlett.”

I hung up. It was the first time I’d heard the code word since Norris had passed. It was probably nothing, but I had to at least make the call.

An hour later I was talking to Scarlett Lewis, and she was wonderful. She described the otherworldly messages of love she’d gotten from her sweet Jesse.

“Do you believe in signs?” Scarlett asked.

“I’ve worked on three books with a famous psychic,” I said. “I’m practically a sign expert.”

“You don’t happen to mean John Edward, do you?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“I had a reading with him yesterday! What a coincidence! You are perfect for this book. I don’t want to talk to other writers. I want you.”

I hated to dampen her spirits, but had to tell her of my other deadline.

“Unless a miracle happens, I just can’t. And to be perfectly honest, I called because your name is Scarlett.”

I explained about my friend Norris and our code word, and she grew very quiet. Suddenly, I heard a commotion on the other end of the phone.

“Natasha… your friend, Norris… is that Norris Church Mailer?”

“Yeah. How did you know?” I asked, for the second time in five minutes.

“My mother is here with me. She just finished reading your friend Norris’s memoir, A Ticket to the Circus.”

Pause. I closed my eyes and took a long, deep breath. This was no coincidence. Hi, Norris!

“Well, Scarlett,” I said, “it seems I’m writing your book.”

After we said goodbye, I looked across my desk at the Scarlett O’Hara doll Norris had given me.

“How am I supposed to write two books in six weeks?” I asked out loud.

A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was my current co-author, the one whose memoir I was racing to finish.

“Natasha, I’m sorry. Something’s come up and I have to go out of town for six weeks. We have to put the book on hold.”

I hung up the phone and looked back at my Scarlett doll.

It might have been my lack of sleep, but I could have sworn she winked.

Well, fiddle-dee-dee; maybe there’s a heaven after all.

~Natasha Stoynoff

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