It’s strange, what you recall about the people you have loved and lost. Of my grandmother, her soft smile and the whirr of a sewing machine; of my Gram’s true love, Eddie, his hearty chuckle and the plink of a ping-pong ball bouncing between two paddles. These little things can crack your heart clean in two, especially when you think of them after your best friend, your soul-mate, has suddenly left the earth.
When I think of her, I think of how she made eggs. She made eggs all of the time. “It is very hard to ruin eggs,” she would assert in her melodic scratched-vinyl voice, as if to convince me, as she haplessly stirred a bowl of yolks and milk that sloshed onto her floor. I would shrug, “I suppose that is true.” I would mostly just observe her in uneclipsed wonderment. Although she would stir them quite sloppily, she would then become extraordinarily precise in pouring them onto the hot skillet, flipping them with great concern, worrying to excess that perhaps a shell had fallen in. The duality of her intense, artful focus colliding with her complete give-no-fucks disregard defined her and made her someone you always just wanted to watch and listen to and forget yourself for.
I can still recall all the details of that very first Winter morning I spent at her shitty apartment on School Street: the light at exactly dawn fell onto her speckled alabaster skin. We had not yet slept, and were half-drunk as she spoke wistfully of prose and far-off lands with a fire behind her black-pebble eyes, then chattering very nervously of plagues and death moments later; and as she spoke and smoked her Parliaments, it was all done in such a way that made you realize instantly you were in the presence of a muse, a poet, of someone far more special than yourself.
The eggs smelled sweet even though she had burnt them very badly. I enjoyed them anyway and covered them in too much ketchup. She ate hers plain, with an exaggerated “MMM” that devolved into a snicker over how very burnt they were, and laughed at herself as she often did with a sincere appreciation for the comedy of it all. What a charming quality, I thought then and, then, always.
I was a young twenty-four, she, a very young twenty-five, but both a fair amount emotionally mangled already. We worked the same bar in Lowell, a mill town that rested on the shores of the mighty Merrimack twenty-some miles out of Boston. She told me that she didn’t believe she would like me at first glance; I was “very blonde…too blonde,” she noted, and she hoped that I would “not be very dumb,” nor in a sorority. As we sorted our beer bottles for inventory, she thanked me for not being dumb, but I then confessed that unfortunately I had been in a sorority, but had left college in favor of the road due to my fear of people getting on 401K plans that postpone their fun until they are old and trapped in boring lives. We bantered in a great, glorious, hot-skinned mania the first few hours that we spent alone together, simply talking about fuck-all. We shared a penchant for dismantling, astounding candor and for putting words to absolutely everything. Candor and words fixed an awful lot, we had learned the hard way, so we thought. I think they still do a bit, far less now than they could then, back before we knew just how hard life’s ways could get.
We met up after our shift and went to the local bars until they closed and had beer that tasted like pee and flirted with boys who were between jail stints. Unlike most women in their twenties, she was generally unimpressed with men and diets and being well-liked; she chased nobody and everybody chased her, with great futility. When some girl shot her an icy glare, she leaned close to tell me that night, you are nothing if you are not a polarizing figure in your hometown. She was just fucking cool. That night, she excitedly read lines to me from her favorite volume of Margaret Atwood poems — the binding to it was cracked and unraveling, and the pages were falling out, and I can’t imagine her with any other kind of book than a very, very worn one with things spilled on it. She didn’t even bother to brush her dark raven bangs out of her eyes while she read it; she read through her hair. It was enthusiastic, yet solemn; it was revelatory, but bleak.
She had a most rare kind of beauty, the kind you felt. Though she was obviously very, very pretty, a dead ringer for a young brunette Meryl Streep, it was irrelevant mostly. She had a sort of glow that you can’t emulate, or pin down, or comprehend without fully experiencing it. I wanted to simultaneously crawl inside of her skin to join her while, at the same time, running to the ends of the earth to get away from her because both her freedom and her fear honestly fucking terrified me to no end. I always chose the former — until I chose the latter.
I don’t think you ever forget how it feels the first time you are fully in awe of another woman, and when you are similarly awestruck by your arresting connection to her. I think the majority of women never experience it because of our innate boundaries and formulated hang-ups. Too many are caught up in jealousies, competition, and surround themselves too often with similarly closed, boring, tedious people: the uninspired and the uninspiring. Kyle was exactly what those people could never understand. They saw her as lost; and she saw them as pathetic, trapped, too dull to bear. They saw her as silly; she saw them as forgettable as they were. They saw her as someone they should not leave their boyfriends around; and, well, they were actually smart on that front, for after an hour of talking to Kyle, those boys would likely return to their girls with a newfound disappointment.
She was the kind of archetype that screenwriters claim to portray in vaguely indie films when they write a whimsical, troubled girl, but none are brave enough to write such a character, so they go with the safer quirk of Clementine in Eternal Sunshine, of Sofia in Vanilla Sky, of Legs in Foxfire…the Kyle archetype would be one of intrigue, and at times, shine like those very charming girls, but she would also be far too dark and far too unrelatable for most people who need their darkness cut with bright light at the times when it gets uncomfortable. Kyle could make you very uncomfortable — a talent she no doubt knew she possessed.
She was this wildly mysterious and tragic hybridization of Holly Golightly and Hunter S. Thompson, with a splash of Snow White atop such a cocktail of absurdity and brilliance. She was living and breathing art. I have honestly asked myself lately, can art really die? How is that even possible? I think the answer may be that it doesn’t, and that, perhaps, she is only gone in a most literal sense.
Over the years, though, our natural bond became increasingly impossible to fracture; we grew like two pieces of a broken bone that should have been set properly, but never was, so it grows back together all fucked-up like. That was Kyle & I for nearly a decade. We were that leg that was born ready to break from the weight of the world, so then, duh, it broke in two, but then found it’s other half again and healed up in some way but mostly was a hot mess, and yet, worked — just barely — if you could hobble on it in just the right maladapted slant, and in some ways, our leg worked better than it had before as one swinging pirate peg. But whatever…at least we could walk, if we were together, in the right tandem stride. And for a time, we could.
I always felt so lucky that she chose me to be so very close to, and I would tell her so, and she would say, “Oh Megie, I didn’t, it was the universe that chose us, together.”
That is really how she spoke, like literature just falling right out of her mouth. I would say, “you have such a great butt,” and she would say, with great woe, “it is all behind me, though.” And then she would say things like, “I like that sweater you are wearing, but I am compelled to tell you, Megie, it will suit me far better than it suits you for your shoulders are broader, and mine more slight, aren’t friends supposed to say so though?” I would promptly give her the sweater, because she saw me in ways I couldn’t, and told me so, and I loved her for this trait too.
Then one day I called her and said: let’s move to the beach — my boyfriend has left me for another, and she replied, that girl sounds very boring, and I shall come! And she did, in a matter of days, by quitting her job, taking a bus, then a train, then another bus, and then another train to meet me in Atlantic City at midnight with a single duffle bag, probably someone else’s Red Sox cap, and requested of me only a single draft beer as payment “for her troubles.” We sat at an Applebee’s in the fog with our beers, snickering about how she had an unsightly bruise and I had a cold sore and we were simply impossible to look at despite being fairly hot and charming, overall, and otherwise just grinning and sulking and staring into space, as we both did a lot.
I asked her, terrified of her reply, will I ever get over him? And she said, sure you will. I mean, look at your hair. It’s BEAU-tiful. It is a perfect Summer Bronde. I said, lol, what is Bronde? And she said, you know. Brown-blonde. Like Gisele. She continued to explain that she had always wanted her hair to be long and bronde and never short and sad like people tell her it should be for job interviews that she never wanted to go on anyway. When Jay-Z’s “Forever Young,” that was so popular that summer, came on the radio, she substituted “Forever Bronde” into the lyrics, and I smiled in a way that surprised me, after not having smiled for ages, as my heart was so very broken at that time. She was a salve and a savior to me, and I don’t think she ever even knew she was. She understood it all.
We then spent the most magical four months possible in a cottage, on a marsh, in the dunes of South New Jersey, just three blocks from an unpopulated cove of a beach. We basked in the salt air every night and slept beneath the quietest, brightest stars and moons and the giant air conditioner that dripped and was very, very loud, yet comforting and wonderfully, bitterly cold. We shared a twin bed filled with our own foot-sand, because neither of us much cared to rinse outdoors — perhaps a defiant move that carried over from childhood, always being told to rinse off. What would happen if we didn’t? Well, we would have a bed full of sand. So what.
Our lanky, golden, anxious little bodies merged together in our little mattress with one throw-sized pale blue fleece blanket we continually fought over in the night. I would usually acquiesce the blanket and get up and sit on the cold floor cross-legged so I could write everything while she slept. We never thought to get a new blanket, or another blanket. I guess that’s weird, in retrospect.
We were Siamese twins, though. Biology dictated that we were woven together, so we operated as one. We celebrated a birthday of mine that summer, and when some boys hadn’t called us back, we put on our two denim skirts and we danced like bouncing monkeys and giraffes with our flailing arms and shrill giggles and absolutely no rhythm at a typical Jersey Shore dance club with everyone looking at us like we were full-blown lunatic hippies. Truthfully, we were not fully sane — but with a partner in an encompassing, brazen, unbridled lunacy, you never feel alone or crazy, you actually feel freer than ever, you feel like everyone staring at you is missing the fuck out as they stand there, dancing politely, trying to be pretty, trying to be loved, looking like lame, inhibited effigies of boredom to the four eyes trained to view such things with great clarity. We took a photo that night where our legs were so intermingled we couldn’t tell which belonged to whom. She found this absolutely delightful. I found it comforting, but also scary. Closeness has a double-edge when it can bring you immeasurable intimacy and, yet, at the same time, the terror of losing yourself in the person you’ve melded with.
Though that summer was magic, and like no other time, some very difficult years followed. Really, our emotions ate us alive. Eventually we simply did not work anymore. We were back in Lowell. She refused to leave a boyfriend that was crushing her spirit, she refused to help herself, I was exhausted and had other terrible shit spattered on my plate, and she became so dark that she put my own light out like two wet fingers squeezing a lit candle’s flame.
But Kyle. What the fuck. You are gone. You died before you ever had to turn thirty-three. You HATED the age of thirty-three. “I would never prefer to be that old and wrinkled, how boring, how awful!” you would lament. I would shrug, “I guess, but what’s the alternative?” Your reply? A shrug. A cigarette. An egg. “At least we are young now. We have great legs, don’t we? Let’s go out.”
Many days of late I feel like I may die, or am half-dead, in knowing that we no longer share the same realm, and I need to talk to you, like I NEED to, and I can’t, and it still doesn’t make sense that I can’t. But I don’t think anyone has ever severed a limb, or removed a lung, or lost a hand, and been able to move quite right, or breathe quite right, or write quite the same ever again. Death can change a person though, without ending them, and this is the saddest and most essential lesson that all of us have to learn to survive.
But Kyle, wherever you are, please know this. I feel gratitude for how you changed my life, how you saved me that summer, how you made me see myself clearer than I ever had before. I feel forever grateful that the universe chose to throw us together in the way that it did, and I will think of you whenever I hear a poem or phrase that makes me feel something, whenever I spill shit on the floor and choose to laugh instead of cry, whenever I burn my eggs, whenever I feel alone, whenever I miss your sweet smile and outrageous cackle, whenever I need to hug you and no one else, and whenever I shove my feet very deep into the sand and don’t rinse them off and climb them into that very same fleece blanket.
To me, you will be forever young. And so, so bronde.
For my most Evelyn, Kyle Elizabeth McGuane. 11/6/81 – 8/28/14.