a girl in her city, watching the sunset

Archive for the category “Sweetbest is best and sweet”

About two visits from Sweetbest in February and Fucking with the Future

Sweetbest (who thinks her nickname makes her sound like a pastry, but I don’t) comes to visit a few weeks after I’ve moved in to my place.

She and I walk to the coffee shop a half mile away, and we talk about things and stuff.  I babble on incessantly about the boymen I’ve been seeing.  I show her the pics they send me of their penises, and the text messages we’ve exchanged.  We talk about how she is, what’s she’s doing, her life in Europe, things & stuff (I’ll leave it to her to explicate this); I explain how I’ve discovered I want to go to med school, and I want to enter a post baccalaureate- pre med certificate program to pick up the science courses I didn’t take/need in university, how I love math, how I want to do research, not clinical practice.  I prattle on, like I do, about how reading med lit is like reading a language I didn’t know I already knew.
She says,

“Babe, you’ve got to do this.  You’re lit up like a christmas tree.”
Her words are the kiss of a blessing.

She and I wander down Fairfax to make a long loop back to my place.  We stop in a thrift store which is dusty and crowded and expensive,  and we continue down the street,  she puts her hand at my bent elbow.  She walks with a kind of ease, sun-kissed and bright, we giggle about the memories of baths together.  It’s delightful.  There’s only a couch in my apartment and a few things Tomastio gave me: plates and a pair of tumblers, some spoons (the forks I have are plastic).  I have cans of things, and G’s can opener, and a $3 corkscrew.   In my apartment, she looks at my back room, noting that all the  clothes are in piles, organized by when I might wear them.

 “So you need hangers?”
“I guess, yeah, I’ll get around to it.”

I’m more concerned about finding a job than whether the doorknobs won’t do for my suitcoat.  She has to leave too soon, and it’s hard to say good bye.  I hadn’t seen her since January 10th, we had dinner with Uncle Abduction.  This was two weeks after Valentines day.  Too long.  Would it be another six weeks before I saw her?  Of all the things of which I might be afraid, I worry most that she’ll forget about me.

But it’s not going to happen.  She has memento from our life before.  A pot I made poorly in ceramics in grade 11, scribbles I made on the backs of offering envelopes, a sunflower dish for which I likely saved for a month to get her from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  (Mallorca kind of sunflower plate, I think.)  She has castaways and trash and calls them treasure and reliquaries.

Sweetbest hadn’t forgotten me, at any point.  She took keepsake of mine with her even when she lived in other countries.

She is a bit like a bird, keeping things about her that make up her nest.   The sight of her memoirs is her comfort.  And then she wraps her buffalo exchange-found shawl over her shoulders and draws her arms to encircle herself,  breathing in through her nose to catch a bit of the jasmine on the air.

I am more serpentine: I shed everything now and then.   I get rid of my clothes and my hair, I find myself with nowhere to live.  I grow a bit taller.  I have seemingly no burden.  A backpack and only the clothes that fit in this carpet bag.  I have good shoes that will last a while, and we’ll see what happens.   The jasmine on the air only heightens my awareness of everything else I can sense.

But we are not in and of ourselves bird and snake.  We are more than this.  She says she’ll be back at the weekend.  She comes back, she really does, and she brings a lamp and a card table, a plastic filing/bin thing, silverware, wine glasses, plates with imagery from France , plates she’s had for ten years, coffee mugs that mean things to her, towels, a heated blanket (!) and the most beautiful comforter cover I’ve ever seen, with a thick down quilt to be covered.  She brings me stacks of hangers, she brings me candles galore, a pair of folding chairs.  A table cloth and napkins (and napkin rings).  She brings me groceries.

And she laments I have no pot in which we can make soup.  She tells me three times (maybe more?):

The tupperware is for the soup.

Make the soup in the tupperware.

Use the tupperware, put the soup in that, here’s how I do the soup from these ingredients.

I was so confused by her insistence on the damned tupperware.   I nod when she says it, and I agree with words or something when I realize she’s insisting.  OK. OK.  Tupperware, soup, roger.

She leaves me a book she’s recently read, that she has told me is so beautiful and it seems so parallel to me starting over here.   It is late at night, that same night, when I pick up the book, because I can’t sleep and I don’t feel like anything else.

It’s Patti Smith’s Just Kids.  The memoir she wrote of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe.  I devour the first hundred pages.

But I at page 42 I cry.  I cry the long distance between Sweetbest and me.  I cry the too many years since I’ve had her in my life.  I cry for not knowing when I get to be near her again.

“I worked long hours at Brentano’s and skipped lunches.  I befriended another employee, named Frances Finley.  She was delightfully eccentric and discreet.  Discerning my plight, she would leave me Tupperware containers of homemade soup on the table of the employee cloakroom.  This small gesture fortified me and sealed a lasting friendship.”

(Smith, Just Kids p.42)

I don’t want to give away the rest of what I know of the story, but it is totally Sweetbest to assign herself a role in the corps de ballet when she’s the Prima Ballerina.

We are to each other, really Mapplethorpe and Smith.

I txt her immediately.

“I got to the page with the soup.  You are the sunset.”

I send this the next day:

 “She has a song that says, ‘I don’t fuck much with the past but I fuck plenty with the future.’  Let’s do it, Babe.  Let’s fuck plenty with the future.”

And I am confident this will be the case.

I fuck plenty with the future.

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.

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