i dreamed the house was on fire. someone told me to grab “important stuff.” i scrambled from room to room gathering red lipstick and cowboy boots and a box full of the best things i’d ever written. i opened it and found college essays on The Beatles and Vietnam and poems about Paul and Plath. in my dream, i blushed and threw the box back into the fire.
when i woke, i heard seagulls squealing and could smell ocean air. it was so much like my childhood i almost expected to see my Mother in the doorway. instead, i rolled over and tried to recall what day it was. where did i have to be? are the bills paid? did i remember to buy toilet paper?
i thought of her. i rolled over again. most days began like this.
then, she’d call to reschedule and i’d read the New Yorker searching for a poem about me.
I told them I always thought I’d be married by now. We were poolside at the same hotel my childhood best friend and I promised we’d spend our 21st birthdays. There were cans of Tecate everywhere, like bulbs off a Christmas tree. We sipped Mezcal from clear plastic cups. Someone jumped in the pool, then another. I think De La Soul played in the background. And I couldn’t but wonder if growing up really just meant growing happy?
2 weeks ago marked the 17th anniversary of Brandon’s death. Writing about a passed loved one can be redundant, if not gratuitous. So, when that day came I refused to publish something melancholy. In fact, I refused to be melancholy altogether. Instead, I went to a matinée and ate popcorn and drank Cherry Coke and remembered what Howard Zinn wrote regarding two deceased friends, “I owe them something… not to waste me gift, to use these years well… I have no right to despair. I insist on hope.”
Justyn and I stood outside the burger place waiting for her order. The night was warm with no wind to scatter the ash from our cigarettes. She crossed her arms across her chest and shifted weight from foot to foot. From a distance it looked like she was playing Hop-Scotch. “I don’t think Jesus hates me for the choices I make,” she said. I’ve idolized this woman for nearly 7 years. She taught me how to be confident. She told me it was okay to go bra-less. She fed me and clothed me and got me high for the first time. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer I wasn’t even sad, I was pissed off. Yet, I thought if anyone could dignify something so terrible, it was her. And she did. Looking as beautiful bald as she ever did with a long mane.
“You know what I”ve always liked about you,” I said, “You care about what actually matters and don’t give a shit about the rest.” She laughed, “Well, life’s too short.”
All weekend– in bar bathrooms and crowded airplanes, on patios and street corners– I found myself as happy as I’ve ever been and thought, “Maybe I’m far from Adult, but I have no right to despair.” Then, I’d find my friends and dance to whatever the radio was playing.
they sat indian-style on a blanket shared with strangers. the air was warm with weed and she felt safe as he took her hand like it was some sort of drug that could make the music sound better.
Photo by Allison Webber.
leaving his bed was the coldest part of winter. as she grabbed her things and caught the first bus home, she swore it was the last time. eventually, they would see each other on avenues or in arcades and the warmth of his Hello always made her forget the coolness of his rejection.
Photo by Allison Webber.
the wainscoting in his hall reminded her of rubber stamps she collected as a child: sunflowers, hearts, and fleur de lis.
she was never as sure as she was after they stumbled up the staircase to his room. she wore sobriety like a robe, resting in the stink of his tobacco stained clothes. his smile became sadder as the night went on and she wondered what he was remembering.
in the morning, she wrote “please forget me” on the back of a receipt and pinned it to the wall.
photo by Mr. Stuart Green.
it was the time of year when red and green envelopes came pouring out of her mailbox like pennies to a fountain. the calligraphy used to address them told her he still wasn’t celebrating Christmas.
on friday, Hope will turn 28. we spent the weekend at a cabin, playing catch phrase and drinking homemade bailey’s. there were 20 of us. some married, some parents. others young and single and unsettled. it rained the entire time, making the surrounding trees dark with water. it looked like a twilight movie.
after dinner, Hope sat in the middle as we went around giving speeches. i didn’t know what to say or how to say it. i can write a letter that’ll break your heart, but can’t form an audible sentence worth a damn. i should have said, “i really don’t want you to die.” instead i stammered, “you saved my life.”
and she did. just about this time last year, i was homeless and depressed and so completely lost. i needed help. she wasn’t even my friend but she gave me her home. she mended my wounds. she fed me. she became the best friend i have ever had.
so, what do you do when you know the best friend you have ever had is going to die much sooner than you will? ben gibbard said “love is watching someone die” and i’m starting to think it really is.
she was standing at the kitchen counter as i was sitting on the living room floor reading Vanity Fair. i saw her: young, vibrant, pretty, laughing. i thought, “how many more times will i see her like this?” then i went back to reading, welcoming the distraction.
later, a few of us were huddled on a sofa drinking bourbon from a pint glass. the room was dark. it felt so much later than 9PM. some lives are shorter than others, but i think those lives are richer with moments. because what is life other than a sequence of moments? you could live 80 years but never find yourself drinking bourbon from a pint glass playing truth or dare with the best friend you have ever had.
you could have asked, “when were you the happiest?” and i would have said, “right now” even though all i was doing was watching SNL with friends.
i spent so many years chasing pots of gold but they were at my feet the entire time.
Stuart’s stories are suited for a man 3 times his age. i could listen to them for hours. Lauren looks like a model on a day off, wearing jeans and collared shirts. when she laughs you feel like the funniest person in the world. we were sitting in a row along the counter of Catbird’s open kitchen. i was first-day-of-school nervous, afraid i’d say something stupid.
the thing about Catbird is they don’t tell you what you’ll be eating. you just sit and watch and enjoy. 9 courses and 3 hours later you’re too full to function. maybe you have a cigarette in the rain or take a shot of fernet at the bar, but you are certainly going home well before closing time. during dinner i kept asking questions like, “favorite smell” or “best concert.” we’d tell the stories associated with the answers. mostly we laughed, but sometimes the air got heavy with sentiment. Lauren asked “biggest flaw” and i said, “i care too much what people think.” Stu said, “yes, you do.”
i remember this journal exercise from 6th grade. the teacher asked us to write down our biggest fear and i wrote, “what people think of me.” she responded, “that doesn’t count because you can’t control that.” that was 14 years ago and i still disagree.
then one morning you wake up all achy from sleeping on a air mattress with last night’s makeup smeared every which way. then a friend joins you, then another, then a couple more. finally, there’s 5 of you crowded on that stupid air mattress and you feel so much at home you almost forget where you came from. and in that moment it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about anything because you’re too deep in gold to care.
“and we’re such wanderers, you and me. we like the feeling of leaving for somewhere new.”she whipped her hand around as though it a bow and the air her cello.
he hated saying hello almost as much as I hated saying goodbye. if the Beatles came on, he’d grunt and change the song. Sometimes I’d look at him and wonder what I was doing. But mostly I’d smile and ask if he was hungry like some soccer mom holding a sandwich baggie full of Cheerios.