Sunday, April 05, 2009

Dear Laurie

I went to see Chad VanGaalen tonight.* This wouldn't qualify as relevant in any sense (trust me on that) except that it got me thinking about you. Specifically, the last time I saw you. I don't know if it was the overwhelming youthfulness of the crowd - they'd have been, on average, the age we were last time we saw each other - or the aching earnestness of the skinny boy in the Handsome Furs shirt on stage, but goddamn, for a moment I was back at the Trash, at a Hayden show, hugging you a fast and disbelieving goodbye before the reality of my pending flight, the finality of the evening, and the inevitable tears set in. I remember you leaving before the show was done, and me waiting to chat with Hayden and getting him to sign a thieved poster for you. My memory gets sketchy around here, but I think I left it outside your apartment door on my way out of town. It always struck me as funny, that our last night would be at an CanCon indie show, because, really ... Down By Law, Sebadoh ... the bands I associate with you and that time, Hayden ... not exactly on par. But I suppose that wasn't really the point.

The point was that it was two of us, for the last time, in a long time.

We met over a boy. His name was Dan, and we both volunteered to decorate for the Student Film Society’s Hallowe’en party because it was at his house. Long story short, we did a fair amount of not so surreptitiously sizing each other up at the meeting, and by the end of the walk back to campus had sort of grudgingly admitted that ourselves that we liked each other. Random Dan facts: his birthday was on Valentine’s Day; he was once in the audience of Jerry Springer; and apparently he is a part-time farmer now. WTF?

You were different than most of the people at Queen’s (translate: didn’t eat ivy or row boats). Although I didn’t eat ivy, I did formerly row boats. However, I was from a crappy public school in BC and apparently spoke funny (i.e., didn’t pronounce vowels through my nose). I had badly bleached hair, and an eyebrow piercing and tattoos. You had always perfect (though ever-changing) hair, bigger tattoos, loved Spike Jones and were a huge dose of awesome antidote to the ridiculous girls in my dorm, with their Anne Geddes babies-in-flowerpot posters, Backstreet Boys, and constant pre-bar fighting and crying and making up. Ugh. Never even mind my one roommate who upped the barf ante with a Little Mermaid poster and Love Fool by the Cardigans on constant repeat. But I digress.

We lived together in our second year, with three other girls in a house that was, apparently, of former ill repute. Exhibit A being the Peterborough Needle Exchange shirt we found under the deck ("Don't Fuck With A User Unless He's Hooked on Condoms"), and Exhibit B being the cab drivers that thought we were hookers. I was broke and had to take what I thought at the time was a year off, working two shit jobs at the mall, never thinking that was the end of my higher education. I’d come home all grouchy from doing time at Le Chateau, with its endless Savage Garden soundtrack, or reeking of coffee from a shift at Second Cup and you’d be there, all lovely and raring to go out dancing at the Trash (remember shopping for the right running shoes? The ones that had enough bounce to let you get back on the heels?), or to do whatever it was we did at the grotty little place up Princess ... I can’t remember the name of it. I do remember sitting there, totally skeeved on mushrooms, convinced that my spinal fluid was leaking out of my neck tattoo.

We had fantastically fun nights, we had terribly scary nights, we hosted an epic party for which business card sized flyers were, unbeknownst to us at the time, handed out around town. We hitchhiked to Ottawa to catch a bus to Montreal for a rave (god, that word makes me shudder now). We returned the karma later that year by picking up a hitchhiker who not only turned out to be a carnie, but actually had a hook for a hand. I think every Sarah Michelle Gellar movie was based on this incident.

We pierced out tongues and ate popsicles. We talked about boys (invariably named Jason) and how your kids would be born with tattoos and wearing beaters, and ate chips and french onion dip. You trained me to make Kraft Dinner was weirdly chunky. You took me to the SPCA to adopt Griffin, who paid you back by eating your chair and Bjork poster, and bringing in fleas that left the one other awesome roomie (hey Shannon!) and the two less awesome roomies alone, but left you so scarred below the knee that your mom offered to have him put down.

You had inarguably style and a pretty fierce sense of self. I was always a little in awe of you, and still am. Because I was, and in some ways still am, always searching, but you, you always seemed so sure.

So that night, a hundred years ago at the Trash, Hayden singing his slightly off-key sensitive boy music, I had no idea than that, what, 11, 12 years later it would still be the last time I saw you. Or that after all this time, and all the incredible friends I’ve made since, that there would still be a hole where you and your ever-present (diet?) Coke used to be.

You have two beautiful daughters (with a new addition on the way) and a husband who I've never met. Of course I've seen photos, and heard them on the background on the phone during our fleeting and awkward conversations. I had the opportunity to meet your husband and your beautiful Grace, of course, at your wedding. Your wedding that I was so excited for, and ultimately didn't attend. Small dose of the honesty here? And I'll type it fast because this is going to hurt. It wasn't just time off of a new job and money and logistics that that kept me from making the trip. Yes, those things were factors, but factors I could have mitigated and made work. It was me, indulging my old friend Depression, terrified of who I'd become, or rather not become, and who you'd always been, so beautiful and so fucking real (to paraphrase your song), and how I wouldn't fit anymore. As much as I love Facebook for facilitating reconnections with a lot of people I've lost track of over the years, the access to the lives I haven't been a part of, and the photos that show, so clearly, that I don't fit in them anymore, is the ugly flipside of that coin. I couldn't face being the nostalgic friend, the novelty that no one quite understands how they once fit. So I pulled the parachute. I went to Vancouver for the weekend instead and saw Bloc Party and Final Fantasy, feeling the whole time every inch the asshole that someone who, because of bullshit insecurities, skipped the wedding of one of the most important people to grace her life should. I'm so sorry. Your photos were so beautiful, and I should have been there, taking them.

I didn’t go to Chad VanGaalen expecting to come home to such an aching sense of nostalgia or want of a friend I haven’t seen since my 20s were still starchy fresh. I also didn’t expect to be gleeking beer in the hair of some dime-a-dozen indie ‘ho trying to douchebag her way between me and the stage, so surprises all over the place here. The beginning of the year was a bit of a shitstorm for me, and out of the loss and opportunity and franticness that all barreled together came a balls-out desire for some straight up honesty, and to say thank you to some people who have been so very important to me.

So Laurie, you’re first one the list. Thank you for being one of smartest, strongest, and unapologetically herself women I’ve known. I hope that, one day, when I have daughters, they will know you. Because I want them to know that independent and challenging and true to self is beautiful. And I can’t think of a better way than knowing you to deliver that message.

* I started writing this Sunday after the show, but due to a bad cold, a strong martini, and total lack of appropriateness filter put off finishing and posting it a few days.

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