The years pass. Friendships, like palimpsests, grow layered, and it becomes impossible to separate what one knew then from what one knows now. If this task is even more difficult when it comes to Jane, it is because she, more than anyone I know, has the strangest relationship to the past. The agelessness one feels around her, and that I’m sure I felt that morning in May nineteen years ago—when I first met her on her stoop—has to do with the way time feels different around her. She embodies the past, without belonging to any fixed moment, or period, in it.
It was our mutual Brazilian friend Hugo Jereisatti who introduced Jane and me. The sense I had that day of knowing her before I had met her, and of it not mattering when we would meet again, of familiarity without attachment, is part of a mood I associate, through music, with the 1960s in this country. It is a kind of American subjunctive, if you will. It is there in songs, such as “Scarborough Fair” and “Famous Blue Raincoat”; it is there to so great an extent in Dylan, that feeling of chance meetings and of an unsentimental relationship to the past—“We’ll meet again some day on the avenue”—that it scarcely bears mentioning.
What I remember of that morning in May was how Jane was dressed, obviously. She wore jeans and a blue-and-white striped t-shirt, which, Hugo was quick to tell me, was what she had worn every single day of her life for the past thirty years. I remember her physicality: the very fine bones; the skin that was pale with an underlayer of dark; and, most remarkable of all, the eyes of frosted cobalt, which were set in deep arches, and contained equal measures of light, laughter, and sorrow. It was one of the most knowing faces I had ever seen, a face that seemed to anticipate what someone was thinking, or about to say next. I remember exactly what we spoke of.
I remember her laugh. It was pure abandon, pure contagion. It came from the deepest part of her being, and later, when I knew her better, I would see her string together whole decades by recalling the things that had made her laugh. I didn’t know it then, but it was an aspect of what I consider to be Jane’s greatest quality: her ability to repurpose what is painful and difficult in her life, converting it into a constructive force.
A Prior Life
There is no way to speak about Jane without speaking about Jann. When I first met Jane, her separation from Jann at Christmas in 1995 was still fresh. An awful hush had settled over the facts, so that they had acquired mythic proportions. People spoke of how the scandal of Jann leaving Jane for Matt first broke, and how even the most salacious papers didn’t have the stomach to report it. In the end, because of how intertwined their wealth had been, threatening the future of a major media house, it was The Wall Street Journal, of all papers, that reported the story. It led to a feeding frenzy that lasted months. Jane came apart. Her friends spoke fearfully of that time of dark drug days. All this was still in the air when I first met Jane. It manifested itself as a great pressure for her to get on with her life; and, as an extension, I suppose, for her to be quite aloof when it came to Jann, which she wasn’t. Her sympathy for Jann was such that it once caused Fran Lebowitz to remark, “When Jane and Jann split, I took Jane’s side, and she took his.”
My sense was always that she could see the full arc of their relationship from beginning to end, and as such, it contained so much love and friendship that she seemed to know that as painful as the present was, it would be subsumed into the course of a longer life, finding its place along a spectrum of joys and sorrows. It didn’t make the present any easier, but it allowed Jane to take the long view. I saw her operate under that strain of having to justify her life to herself: Why was she not dating again? Why had she allowed Jann to loom so large over her life? And, why had she not made a clean break when she had the chance? I remember her once saying, “Every time I get away, every time I get on with my life, he draws me back in.”
She could, of course, have said no; but the truth is that I think he had ruined other people for her. It was not just the largeness of his personality, but the largeness of what they were together: the adventures, the stories, the magazine, their children, the sheer scale of the life they had built together. It was so sublime a first act that I think Jane, whose life is nothing if not an aesthetic exercise, preferred an unending intermission than anything that might spoil the beauty of what had gone before.
Her sympathy for Jann was such that it once caused Fran Lebowitz to remark, “When Jane and Jann split, I took Jane’s side, and she took his.”
The public and the personal intersect in Jane’s life, making it often seem like a reflection of the times. I can still hear her words when Jann decided to have children with Matt: “I just don’t think I’m groovy enough for this.” But, of course, she was. She was groovy enough for it all.
For a long time, the pain of the separation from Jann had been part of knowing Jane. Not in direct ways, but indirect. I felt it made her doubt her self-worth. She exuded a kind of nervous energy that I always thought emanated from what felt like an open wound in her life.
“Every time I get away, every time I get on with my life, he draws me back in.”
I said earlier that one of Jane’s great qualities—perhaps her greatest—is her ability to convert hurt into a positive force. Well, the truth is that this was not something I would always have said about Jane. Certainly not in those first 10 years of knowing her. I might instead have said that she dwelt on hurt, obsessed over it, even exploited it as a means to justify what she did not like about her life. What I had not realized was that all the time I worried that Jane was weighed down by what had happened with Jann, she was redirecting pain into a process of healing. The most concrete mechanism for this healing—the thing she spoke of even back then, in 2001—was her children, and what she saw as her obligation to protect them from the convulsions of her personal life. There’s no greater testament to this than the almost superhuman effort it took to never allow what had happened between Jane and Jann to color her children’s impression of their father. I had never imagined that once she knew the kids were O.K., she herself would be O.K.—that she would let it all go.
Ten years later, corresponding to the time when her sons were grown up, I saw the full power of her transformation. It was arresting and physical. She let her hair go gray in streaks; she sold the house on 70th Street, which she had come to associate with the collapse of her marriage; she began to spend more time in Amagansett, to be nearer that North Atlantic light, which she loved so much, and which itself seemed endowed with healing properties. She stopped worrying about whether she had to find romantic love again. Never in my life had I seen such physical evidence of a person once again easy in her skin, a person who had healed herself from a defining trauma. Not only had she proved “groovy” enough to deal with Jann having children; they were part of her life, running about her house, as if they were her own. In a letter my mother once wrote to me, when I was turning 21, she said, “… after years and years of waiting for happiness and looking for it around every corner, as if it were something lying in a street that I would walk down, I realize now—at the age of 51—that those who do not find it are those that do not see it as something they themselves have to create—something they have to give back.”
In these photographs, what one sees above all is the achievement of what Jane has given back to life. They are set against the background of the house in Amagansett, which was designed by Jane’s friend Ward Bennett. If the brownstone on 70th Street came to be associated in Jane’s mind with darker times, it is safe to say that this house on Further Lane was always a place of light. We see it pouring into an upstairs room where the furniture is under white dust covers. It is morning light, which means Jane is downstairs in her room, drinking coffee in bed. A picture window, with white shells ranged along an outside sill—one of the most beautiful windows I’ve ever seen—gives on to the Atlantic. Regardless of how early it is, Jane is up.
Soon, as the morning advances, she will, in between telephone calls, potter and pace. Few things are more representative of the life of that house than a glimpse of Jane gliding down one of its passages, emptying an ashtray along the way, clearing up an espresso cup one of the boys has left lying about. The house is an obsession, almost as if every object or piece of furniture adheres to an inner design. Her personal taste has a quality that I associate with the best American prose. Simple and declarative, informed by an underlying horror of ornamentation. Happy hour is observed early on Further Lane. By five P.M.—even if I’m expected for six—I might get a call, asking me where I am. That’s Jane contemplating a watered-down tequila. What she consumes, as with what she wears, has a ritualistic quality, an inner logic, as if she were giving shape to the day. She drinks white tequila in short glasses with ice and soda. The mood of the house in the evenings is festive. There are always people dropping in, welcome or unwelcome. Tim, the chef, sends snacks out in a steady stream. On the occasions that I have brought people over for happy hour at Jane’s, I half find myself envying their luck at seeing that house for the first time.
“What are demons?,” Jane once asked her psychiatrist.
“Regrets,” he replied.
At one time, I suspect, it was what she feared most. It was a fear that arose from failing to have one’s life meet somebody else’s measure of what life should be. In the years I’ve known Jane, I’ve watched her let go of that external standard of what a successful life should be, and to come to herself. It is amazing for me to see this autonomy reflected in Theo’s photographs. It gives the act of bearing witness an extra layer of meaning.
We leave her now in that house on Further Lane. The setting sun is reflected in the rectangular picture window, behind which the figure of Jane, sipping tequila, is dimly visible. From where she’s standing, she can make out checked black-and-white Balinese flags, rising up out of the shrubs that cover the double dunes, which go right down to the sea. The flags honor the dead, but they are not heavy reminders. Their lightness is deliberate; they celebrate the lives that have gone away. In The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin implores us to reckon with the problem of life by rejoicing in “the fact of death, which is the only fact we have.” He writes, “One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.”
It is what I have seen Jane do in all the time I have known her, and it is all that can be done.
Aatish Taseer is the author of five books, including The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges