9 January 2012: Sweetbest Reunion, Catharsis and Courage, my love.
I saw her first, she was looking the other way, but I could tell her by the tilt of her head, the way she held her hands up, her shoulder-width stance in those fantastic boots. Her silhouette.
I planted my suitcase on the platform, stood still and waited, out of the way of the other off-boarding passengers. I waited for her to turn this direction, to see me seeing her, and when she did, the world immediately became watery in my vision.
I tried to cover my wobbly mouth, but it was more important to put my arms around her, slight frame though she has.
Since we were 12 we’ve been this way, there are things about bodies that don’t change. I’m bully and triangular. Even when I weighed 80 pounds less than now, I’m broad-shouldered, have wide hands and I could probably cause serious damage to a china shop. She, while maybe wreaking some havoc with her (alleged) clumsiness (she was a ballerina, after all, she has to be clumsy), she is still some amazing kind of fine; she’s delicate. Her hair is shorter than when we last knew each other.
It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters but filling my eyes with hers, deep warm beautiful dark brown.
In the one flash of our embrace, we erased a 20 year gulf. Chasm? Absence. The longing I have had for this friendship never ceased. I couldn’t replace her with anyone.
I had contacted her moth (mother) through Facebook when I knew I was coming to visit L.A. Sweetbest’s moth provide her own email address, and I wrote to her, asking her to forward to Sweetbest. She did. When I read the first words from her in so long, I shook. I couldn’t believe it. She wanted to see me, she was glad for me. We arranged the day and time of our reunion, on a train platform in Tustin. And when that Monday afternoon finally arrived, I wore the prettiest thing I had packed—packed just for the purpose of wearing when I met her. A pinkredpurpley shirt and a wrap skirt of patches of saris. My purple doc martens. It was colorful, intended to convey my gladness. I was bulkier then than I am now, these months later, all the walking, the abject poverty, the diet I managed between tight money and illness (I’ll get to that subsequent to this post.) But that day, I was as big as I’ve ever been, and she didn’t care, made no comment on my size, but took me as I was, who I am. We talked, we held hands, we sat hip-to-hip with each other on a bench near a Starbucks, drinking coffee, she bought me a pastry that I nibbled. She was the same and different at once. She was all beautiful everything, but so tentative. Her hesitancy struck me. Wasn’t Sweetbest the bravest girl ever, when she was? (More on that later, too.) She could offer me encouragement to be brave myself, to take on Los Angeles and leave the Austinites. She could provide strong words and yes, do, and her support was incredible, but altogether credible. This is the woman with whom I grew from girl to adult. For all anyone could offer me, her words were the most treasured things.
She treated me to dinner in her town. We blissfully supped on delightful rich Italian food, a good wine she knew well and we talked, oh. That which I keep close to my memory, that which stays with me when I’m lower is her soft beautiful speech, her strong back as she walks. She and I made a pinky power promise over our entrees: Never Again Apart.
Remembering this is hard, in a way. Because I want to be near her all the time we can. I made some inquiries as we ate as to tattoos shops on the drag near we were. I was going to emblazon upon my inner arm, inside my right bicep something to memorialize this reunion.
It would be scylla’s tattoo. (I’ll get to scylla, she figures into this, too.) But not in scylla’s Chinese characters. I wanted the words scrawled. It’s a tiny part of a tiny poem by William Blake.
Kiss the joy as it flies
The whole poem:
he who binds to himself a joy
does the winged life destroy;
but he who kisses the joy as it flies
lives in eternity’s sun rise.
There’s some serendipity in this, as the inside of my left bicep is tattooed with a pair of wings.
My friend, who went by the handle scylla, was beset with major depression. She fought hard against it, she worked hard to maintain her tenured position as a librarian at a university. She was the inspiration (nearly solely) for my going back to work after having been on disability for 6 years. She was a good friend, we understood each other’s words very well. I found out the day before I met up with Sweetbest that her death was ruled by the coroner as suicide.
Scylla and I had long discussions about suicide. She was tormented by the thought of doing it for years. She had attempted in her 20s and had learned a lot by the time we were friends (she was in her mid-40s then.) We spent hours together in chat online. One Sunday we laughed as I had babbled at her for the entirety of 10 hours. We had read a book together about suicide. Together we celebrated the words of the poet Douglas Dunn, that Jamison included at the end of the book.
”Look to the living, love them, and hold on.”
We elided this phrase when talking with each other. She would say, “h, look to the living.” I would say to her: “scylla, hold on.” She would reply something like, “holding as best I can.”
But she lost her grip.
She had become gravely ill, not to do with mental health. She had idiosymptomatic gastroparesis. She couldn’t digest anything, hardly could drink and she was in a lot of pain. She overdosed on a lethal combination of meds, said the autopsy. It was intentional.
I love her still, in ways that no one else will likely experience. But that’s ok. It’s hers. She will have it for as long a I am.
Sweetbest has my heart, too. (Other people are in my heart. There’s plenty of room.)
But Sweetbest is has a memory (and relics) from time I don’t recall without fog. Her reappearance in my life, our sharing of each other –so previously unfathomable—is now the fabric of my days and nights. I look forward to her huge toothy smile in my view. I look forward to the way she holds her hands by her face. I love this woman with historical goodness.
Scylla’s tattoo. Happier times for her, playing in the sand on an east coast beach.
My freshly inked reinterpretation. Happy times for me, the day I re-met Sweetbest.