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She passed on New Year’s Eve, nearly twenty years after we met.
 
I was eighteen when I first walked into her office. I had never acted before. Not in a school play or a home movie. My boss at the bookstore I worked at thought I should give acting a try. I guess I was better at goofing off than selling books. Her son had appeared in an episode of The Sopranos and she sent me to meet his manager.
 
Her name was Eileen DeNobile. She gave me two scripts to read. The first was a toothpaste commercial. The second was a dramatic monologue. I had never laid eyes on a script before, so I read the scene headings aloud by mistake. She didn't care. She called me a natural. She said she’d send me out on auditions and we’d see what happened.
 
A few months later I booked my first gig, a commercial that filmed in Toronto. She handed me a contract and became my official manager. I joined the screen guild. Suddenly, I was an actor.
 
I kept booking jobs. I asked her if I needed to take acting classes and she said no. She didn’t want me to mess with whatever I had going on. 
 
After college, I signed a record deal and I told her I wanted to step away from acting to focus on music. She didn’t try to convince me otherwise. She just kept sending me projects, only asking that I look at everything before saying no.
 
I got older and she signed younger and more talented actors, but I still felt like I was her favorite. She was more than my manager. She and her husband, Dennis, came to my wedding. She read my early attempts at fiction. She supplied me with actors to use in my music videos. She let my wife and I stay at her place on Tybee Island. When I had my second child and money was super tight, I asked her if she’d reduce her commission. “For you,” she said, “anything.”
 
In 2015, I received a call that she had suffered a massive aneurysm. I visited her in the hospital. Her head was shaved and half her body was paralyzed. I tried to lighten the mood by telling her how nervous I was to shoot an upcoming scene for Vinyl where I would have to be half naked in a threesome. She could barely speak, but she said she was going to contact the producers to make sure it would be a closed set. It didn't matter that she was in the ICU. She still was looking out for me.
 
Even though she couldn’t smile, her positivity shined through. I figured if anyone could recover from this ordeal, it was her. She was a warrior. She was Italian. She was tenacious and slightly mad.
 
Sure enough, a year later she was back to work. She had regained mobility and her speech sounded great. I had written a song for her called “Almost Lost You” and I sent it to her. She called me up in tears. I had never heard her cry before. The song meant so much to her. To think I only sent it because my wife encouraged me to. I’m just glad I got a chance to tell her how I felt about her.
 
There were so many times I wanted to quit acting and she'd say: No, you can’t quit. I won’t let you. You’re too talented. She believed in me more than I believed in myself. She made me tackle the things I was most scared of. She didn’t indulge me when I complained. She gave me a more exciting and interesting life. She inspired me and made me laugh. She had my back, always. Her tireless energy baffled me. She didn't know how to quit. I tell you, she was the best kind of mad.
 
I received a text after New Year’s asking me to call Eileen’s husband. He's the one who broke the news to me. A week later, her funeral was overflowing with people. Of course it was. She was that kind of person. Everyone kept echoing the same sentiment. She treated us all the same. Each of us believed we were her number one.

And so, she was always there and now she's not. I want to move on, but I don't want to move on completely. How do you hold on to someone and let them go at the same time? How do you do it? I'm all ears.

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Copyright © 2017 Val Emmich, All rights reserved.


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