Jean Stein (1934–2017)

Jean Stein, photographed in New York, 1991. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe.

Jean Stein
Taught me how to walk out
Of movies.
Sit center.
Order the biggest popcorn.
Give the movie its opening credits
And then a minimum of three minutes.
Do you like this, Ottessa?
See me grin and shake my head no.
Then stand and duck and go.
Say, Excuse me!
To the knees of those poor souls
About to waste another hour or two of their lives
For twelve dollars and fifty cents.

Jean Stein
Spilled her popcorn along the sidewalk
Like a trail for the angels.
As if to say,
Here I am, here I go.
Don’t lose track of me
Because I am one of you.

The times we stayed,
She exclaimed at every magic moment.
Wow! Wow! Oh my God!
So enraptured and delighted
She couldn’t hear the shushes from the audience
Over her Wows!
And Huhs!
And Oh my Gods!
Tell everyone what you love.
Exclaim without shame, Ottessa.
Oh my God!
Did you see that?

And that is just one thing
That I had with Jean.
Imagine ten thousand people.
Imagine one hundred thousand people.
Imagine all the things she had with anyone
And what we have with anyone.
Be it a handshake
Or a painting
Or a true friendship.
Or the song of a bird
Or the East River
Or a stroke of genius
Or an orchid on the windowsill.
Even just all the passing glances on the street.
Can you imagine all you’ve shared
With everyone?
Don’t you want to share it all with everyone?

Imagine Jean.
I wish I could put my arm around her again.
Wouldn’t you want to put your arms around her?
Because she shows you enchantment
And the heartstunning madness
Which is your gratitude for life?
For the lucky break
That you even get to be here?

Jean Stein kept a tube of Neutrogena lip balm
On her working table.
She ate cold soups at lunch.
She gave me a blue cashmere sweater one birthday.
When I had food poisoning
She stood by the bathroom door with a glass of water.
Oh, Ottessa.
Oh, my dear Ottessa.
You poor thing,
As I retched,
Grateful, in fact,
That I had eaten the bad clam that did it,
And not Jean.

And can you stomach my sincerity
When I say that she was like the shyest but most certain rose
That only blossoms in the gentle glow of the sun
Just before evening
When it knows its running out?
And that she came alive under the glow of love
Of others
For others
Like me
And all of you.
Like every single last one of us?

Ottessa Moshfegh is a writer whose 2015 novel, Eileen, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Moshfegh was a close friend of Jean Stein and the final editor with Stein on her last oral-history book, West of Eden. They met in 2007.