Last week I found out an old friend of mine, a woman I have known since high school died from an accidental drug overdose. She had relapsed after 7 years sobriety. I felt compelled to write about her, as she was an extraordinary person. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Let me start by saying what pretty much anyone who has known G*l* will also probably say, and that is… in all my years I’ve never met anyone even remotely like her. She was a truly unique and amazing person. I’m horrified she’s gone. While she has played no role in my day-to-day life for perhaps 15 years or more, she was and is absolutely integral to who I am. We were robbed of somebody special. All who knew her.
I want to remember her as best I can – now – because I’ve already lost so many memories, I’m only going to lose more. Also, I’m not going to say her name, that way Google won’t connect my impressions with her legacy and I can speak frankly without worrying about offending or upsetting her family.
I first met G*l* on the first day of summer school. 10th grade. I remember the day so clearly. It was hot and sunny, a day so-un-Massachusetts-like in it’s inherent optimism. Here it was, beautiful outside and I had to go to school. What freaking bullshit!
I was there for English, of all things. I say, “of all things” because it was my best subject. She was pretty literary too, so it didn’t make sense that either of us was there, but that’s how it went. I got into a beef with a teacher during the school year, and he failed me despite my mastery of the material. I don’t know why G*l* was there. She probably freaked a teacher out. That undeserved failing grade changed my life though and absolutely for the better, too. I met all the “bad” kids at Brookline High School that summer. Including her. And for that I’m grateful.
After class on that first day, I went out to the quad. I didn’t know it at the time, but these were the “freak stairs” and they would prove to be an important part of my high school experience. Davey Rogers – a bad ass East coast Jeff Spicoli, half of the famous Boston skating duo Chief and Davey was hanging out on the stairs that day. That was a big deal for me! Maybe this summer school thing wouldn’t be so bad after all. That’s when I met G*l*. She was leaning into a corner trying to stay out of the sun, smoking a cigarette. Small and skinny, she was just a little thing, but she had big presence. She looked tough in her combat boots and sly grin.
It was clear she was trouble. It was not at all hidden in her eyes. It was there for all that cared to notice, a glint of malice, of mischievousness.
The menace in those eyes was unknowable, the kind of thing where you imagined there was a two percent chance you’d find she drugged you in the night, eaten your kidney and then sat patiently at your bedside to see the look on your face when you woke. But you went to sleep next to her anyway, because hey, it would probably be all right.
We made fast friends. We smoked a joint together that first day. From then on, we hung out all the time. She was one of the only chicks I’ve ever known that would sniff glue with me. She was so funny, so morbidly twisted, with a truly bent perspective on the world.
She was a quintessential Brookline High character. Ask anyone. Even the kids who didn’t know her personally, knew who she was. She just looked like trouble. You either gravitated to that or avoided it – there was no middle ground.
And she was so cute! A slightly twisted classic beauty. There was something off about her, the way she held herself. She was skinny and didn’t have much in the way of breasts. She was maybe a little bit masculine, more so as we got older. She never had great posture. I think I might remember something about scoliosis. I’m not sure. She didn’t really date boys. Nor girls. I think we kissed once, but it didn’t mean anything. We were babies. It was a non-issue. The two of us didn’t deal in that realm and neither of us addressed it directly.
She dressed funny. She was a punk. She kind of reminded me of Angus Young, from AC/DC with little schoolboy outfits, but she’d subvert them, add an edge. Make them fucked up somehow.
I took some great photos of her in the school photo studio. She wore her white Doc Marten boots with a baseball cap on the bill of which she had written, “Eat me.” It was fucking genius. There was no posturing, it was precisely who she was. It was all there.
She took us – me, Ollie and Josiah – to her house and, instead of making things clearer, the mystery deepened. Her family lived in a huge and stately brownstone in an extra-nice part of the already upscale Brookline. When we got through the doors and into the living room, her mother greeted us, an eccentric and very large woman in house slippers wearing a flowing, floral dress. She spoke with a pronounced English accent – in retrospect, I realize she was South African – she complimented G*l* on bringing home such handsome boys. Theoretically it was a flattering thing to say, I guess, but was this a Hansel & Gretel type-story or something? What were her plans for us? Was she going to eat us? Molest us? I tread carefully.
The mother kept cockatiels maybe – or parrots – I don’t know the difference. I remember the birds talking, so maybe they were parrots. I don’t remember what they said but the birds had the run of the house. They’d fly from room to room and there was guano – shit – everywhere. It was fucking freaky. A big fancy house with bird shit everywhere and an oversexed mother! What the hell was going on here?
G*l* loved Nick Cave and Robyn Hitchcock. I thought that stuff was okay, but I was into hardcore and I thought those artists were pussies. We hung in her room, getting wasted, smoking joints out the window and sniffing glue, while we listened to her records. I eventually came around to her music. It was good. It had depth and nuance. When I hear Robyn Hitchcock to this day, I think of her.
We took a lot of drugs together. In school. Out of school. Everywhere. All the time. At that age who gives a fuck, right? Why wouldn’t you? With life being the way that it is, you’d be an idiot not to. That’s not a bad thing in my mind. It’s par for the course for a thoughtful, empathetic human being. Look at all the pain out there? How can you not want to numb yourself? You’d be an insensitive bastard not to wrestle with such a thing.
The drugs – in high school it was acid, lots of acid, mescaline, mushrooms, pot, glue, alcohol, cocaine occasionally – they were a key component of our relationship. Those were our innocent times. The drugs were still fun. They worked.
I went away for college. To a different city. In New York I graduated to harder drugs and in my absence, she did too. When I’d return to Boston she’d be there. She was a mainstay of Boston nightlife, at a show, hanging out, stepping into the pizza place for a slice, or to just say hello after the bars had closed. She was always quietly doing her thing, always lurking off to the side. She was unfolding in a way that seemed inevitable because she was who she was. She was inevitable. It seemed a foregone conclusion that she’d always be there. Standing outside the club with a smirk.
I was usually happy to see her. There was an instant intimacy between us. We had become who we were alongside one another, together. But the depths she could go to scared me as well. She’d get a look in her eyes. At times she’d be a million miles away. I didn’t know what she wanted. Usually people are textbook and you can read them quickly. This guy wants money. That chick wants love. I thought I knew her so well, but then I couldn’t immediately assess what exactly it was that she wanted from life. In hindsight, I realize it’s because we wanted the same thing: acceptance. To be okay with who we are. Which, after many years of therapy, you realize was probably why you were taking the drugs in the first place. But I couldn’t see that then.
When we met again after college it was in the rooms of recovery, neither of us was happy. Or I wasn’t anyway. I was at my worst, utterly flummoxed by life. I couldn’t really handle being good to anyone else. I didn’t push her away in recovery, but I didn’t embrace her either. I didn’t act like a good friend would. I regret that now.
The drugs had turned. They didn’t have the answers we imagined they would, when we were kids. They were killing us, killing our friends. We hadn’t connected the dots yet, hadn’t found our way out. We were both sick. Sick, but still trying.
I ran to a new city. Started life anew on the West coast. I finally, eventually got healthy. Without her. I heard she was better too, and I was happy to hear it. I fully expected that reunion where I could set things straight and tell her all I’ve said here and more.
And now it’s never going to happen.
I’m sorry for that, G*l*. What I would trade to give you a hug right now. To tell you how special you are. To let you know that you are practically an institution and a quiet miracle of a person. I wish I had gotten to say those things and more.
How I would love to be in this picture – this picture that warmed my heart on Facebook – a month or so before your untimely passing last week. I saw this photo, and I saw those people and was brought back to a time when everything was still possible.
I love this photo because the people in it aren’t my best friends. They aren’t each other’s best friends. They are just friends, friends that have known each other longer than they haven’t. They accept each other, wholesale, without reservation. It’s a joy to see that picture and say, “Those people, my friends, are still alive. They exist!” It’s a fucking beautiful thing . And we all need more beautiful things it in this life.
And now you are gone, G*l*. No more pictures of you, my friend. And I’m crying again for the 14th time this week.
Rest in peace G*l*. You were loved.