I’m on my second ridiculously overpriced holiday martini concoction in a Santa’s wonderland pop-up bar downtown. Christmas lights in all colors twinkle and dizzy me. Or maybe it’s the X kicking in. Everyone around me buzzes with holiday cheer I know well is as fleeting and bittersweet as summer romance — I resent it — but fuck it, I’m starting to tingle in my fingertips.
Bruce Springteen’s I’m On Fire is playing and suddenly I’m on fucking fire too. I close my eyes, smiling, swaying lightly. My friend asks if I’m feeling it yet and scrunching up my nose, I nod my head vigorously and open up my eyes again.
That’s when I see it. That shake of the hair. That hair. Her hair. Her!
I got a bad desire, sings Springsteen.
For the briefest of seconds, I have this image of taking shears to the bottom half of her tresses and I smile like the bitch I am.
What do you know? This girl with hair I’m so envious of — hair that spills out to her waist like early morning light — is a friend of a friend of a friend. After joining our circle, she tells me she is “just absolutely obsessed” with my boots and “omigod that jacket” and grabs my hand, leading me to the bar for a shot before I even catch her name.
Up close, fuck her, is all I can think. She’s so beautiful and carries herself with such nonchalant elegance that I want to hate her and cannot help but feel a twinge of jealousy, but there’s this warmth and openness about her that makes me feel embraced. This girl who I’ve never met before is talking to me like she’s known me her whole life.
She’s rambling — a little drunk quirk of hers I’ll come to adore throughout our friendship. Our mutual didn’t tell her that her cheating ex would be here and she doesn’t know anyone else. We bond drunkenly over tragic love for undeserving men, continuously one-upping each other sharing stories of our worst experiences.
I don’t know if it’s my own bleary-eyes from the drug, but when her eyes begin to appear misty, it is I, now, who grabs her hand.
“Fuck it! Let’s just dance,” I shout, dragging her to the dance floor.
One lemon drop, one Fireball, and two Patron shots later, we feel close enough to share a bathroom stall.
“Stick with me tonight, be my wing girl,” she asks of me, pouting the lips she’s painted violet and dragging her pleaseeee as I’m sitting on the toilet.
In brand new vegan leather red go-go boots, I gain four blisters dancing the night away with my new friend who constantly reminds me to hydrate after my pupils give me away. Bar after bar, we end up on 4th Street at some club’s after hours, both having been long abandoned by our friends.
Come three, she takes me home with her because “girlfriends never send girlfriends off in Uber rides alone.”
After smoking a bowl and devouring some bacon and sloppy grilled cheese sandwiches she made for us, we turn on The Craft to fall asleep to.
I think I’ve found my long lost sister, or maybe just the best friend I never had.
It’s a cold weekend in February and we’ve ditched “most likely subpar dick” for a sleepover party of two. There will be no tearjerkers or romcoms tonight, instead, our plans are to watch Jennifer’s Body and The Love Witch on her projector.
I should probably tell you about how this girl is a tornado, once she gets going, she sweeps you up with her, you never land exactly where you thought you would; sometimes, not even close.
Having both watched these films religiously, we’re not even halfway in before we begin to discuss the fact that Jennifer is unjustly vilified, being just a teenager who is sexualized from the start, her body used and stolen from her through violence.
She goes off on a rant about how Needy has feelings for Jennifer that go beyond friendship and that it’s not just obvious from their makeout scene, but from the very beginning of the movie when Needy is watching Jennifer cheer from the sidelines. The same longing is evident as she looks at her when Jennifer takes her hand in hers at the bar, the song reaching its emotional chorus, and then the sadness flashing bright on her face when Jennifer lets go and watches the lead singer in the band, the chorus now fading out. According to her, and I can’t say I don’t agree, Needy’s relationship with her boyfriend is dull and empty, a polar opposite from the one she shares with Jennifer.
Of course, by this point we’re entirely too drunk, abandoning all notion of a movie night completely. It was to be expected having poured our first glass long before the sun had set.
When I had first walked in, she was pulling out a bottle of Dom from her fridge, a present she’d gotten after making a sale on a few of her paintings a few weeks before. Whereas other people would save such a bottle for a special occasion, there she stood ready to open it, barefoot in a tank top and sweatpants, hair tied in a scrunchie.
“Wait! Wouldn’t you rather save that for something special?” I had asked.
“What could be more special than a fucking girls night…”
I loved her for this.
Truly, I hate to sit here and tell you about her penchant for living in the moment, because it all sounds so clichéd and she is anything but a cliché, but that’s how she lived, and I’ve come to find it’s an actual rare thing in a person. She was appreciative of the moment while it still breathed, viewing each day as something to be cherished. She did whatever the hell she pleased when it pleased her without second-guessing herself.
The perfect moment was mythological, she claimed, most often a crutch of a fantasy for people who were too afraid to act on their desires and instincts. The true “perfect moment” happened when you created it, she chose not to waste her time waiting for it.
I live inside my mind, lost in the maze of my innerworkings, and at war with myself so much of the time. I wished I could be free like her. Being around her made me feel like I could be.
Free I felt, right then, giggly from the champagne, getting on my feet to dance, while she made us Vampiros, a Mexican tequila-based drink I had introduced her to.
“Fuck it! Just dance,” she’s yelling over the music from the kitchen island. A reference to the night we met, now something we do and say to each other when one of us is sad, bored, or the occasion simply calls for a little dancing.
We go through pretty much the whole tequila bottle and burn a day’s worth of calories doing just that. She doesn’t freak when I spill my whole drink on her new rug. She doesn’t let me clean up the red stain, either.
“Don’t. Leave it. It’ll be the first of many I’ll collect on this one. I’ll remember this night every time I look at it,” she tells me, running her hand over the carpet.
We sit there, her Tarot deck and my own before us, giving each other readings and going off on tangents; all story-telling and confessions.
The thought crosses my mind that there is nothing inside her that I never hope to find.
I swallow. Hard.
The air feels a little heavier and I blame it on the alcohol. I blame it on her fireplace. I blame it on the weed. I blame it on the fact that I feel as if she doesn’t need Tarot, that around her I’m a silver specter, a heart wearing a gossamer gown, letting her in on more than anyone’s ever been privy to, when I’m someone who prefers to remain unseen. I blame it on anything I can grasp, other than the little flames I don’t understand coming to life in my hands.
“Good! You’re up,” she shouts from the other end of the line.
I’d rather not be, it’s my Friday off, but you know, anxiety and all.
“You have an hour to get yourself and a suitcase together, I’m picking you up and then we’re heading to New Orleans,” she says matter-of-factly.
If it were anyone else, I would argue, I would make up an excuse, I would feel annoyed, but I’m jumping out of bed, ravaging my closet to put together a few outfits for the weekend.
I make a mental note to text a couple friends and back out of an Easter brunch that Sunday and another one to refrain from posting on social media over the weekend. I can’t be honest about my reason for being M.I.A, they’ve begun giving me grief about how much time I spend with her, not really giving her a chance.
It was my belief they judged her for living the life she wants to live and truly not giving a fuck what other people think. A college dropout, who wasn’t wrong when she decided she didn’t need a diploma, a piece of paper, that according to her, people place too much value on, she waited tables, tended bar, swung around poles, played guitar at venues, and professionally dated older men, until she started making a name for herself in the art world. She had done well enough to have a house to her name and to travel freely when chasing inspiration and curating moments and experiences to serve as her muses. I think they felt an air of superiority for leading a more conventional life.
The last time I had seen them, they jokingly mentioned I preferred hanging out with my “other friend”, their eye-rolls giving me all the commentary necessary. I explained that we just had a lot in common, that we bonded over strange things I didn’t with anyone else, and placed a bit of the blame on our mutual singledom.
Rolling my suitcase to the front door, I am thinking about the part of the conversation where the notion of a “girl crush” was thrown out there.
So fucking what if I had finally fallen susceptible to one those? Doesn’t a girl at one point in her life crush on another? It’s perfectly natural and platonic. If finally feeling understood by someone and meeting a really cool fucking chick was classified as a girl crush, then so fucking be it, I was crushing.
Fuck them, I’m cursing in my head, as I’m getting into the passenger seat of her car.
About six hours of her driving, singing, and laughing in that way that makes me feel lighter, looser, like she’s granted me wings, and we’ve arrived in the land of mischief.
A friend of hers let us borrow his house, which otherwise sits empty most of the year. Name the city, she has a friend there, someone she knows intimately. I have a quick look around when we drop off our things. I’m impressed, it’s almost a shame that we won’t be spending much of our time here during our short visit.
We freshen up, do our make up in front of the same mirror, and dance a little, and then off we go. She knows all of the city’s hidden gems, where to eat, the shops owned by real witches, and the jazz bars in the French Quarter away from Bourbon, which are pretty much only frequented by the locals.
It’s that weekend, I think, that I would choose to relive again.
There are some words given to us by the narrator in Daphne du Maurier’s gothic classic Rebecca that have always stayed with me:
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”
I would cork up the songs we sang on the ride there, the wind blowing through the windows, the Hurricanes we drank, the oysters from that local bar, her laugh, the reading from that psychic, the dancing, the walk through the graveyard, the jazz, the lights, and even the sprained ankle and the hangover that last day.
When she dropped me back home that Sunday night, the hangover began to feel more like a withdrawal from her. I didn’t understand what any of that was about.
That night, I thought of her with that hair of hers braided. In my dreams, I was reciting her poetry, lines I had written for her. The words were falling out my mouth and turning into ribbons the color of her eyes when they hit the ground. I was braiding them into her hair, trying them all over her locks.
It all felt like a scene I wasn’t supposed to see.
I’m standing in front of her golden gilded full-length mirror in a cherry-colored dress from her closet that she’s picked out for me, her little Black Dahlia. It’s a nickname she’s adopted for me because of my affinity for wearing the color.
“Don’t get me wrong,” she’s saying, “no one pulls off the black widow look like you, you sultry little bitch, but if I had your skin tone…”
And off she’s going on again about how I should add more color into my wardrobe and to trust her, that I just must wear this dress and that lipstick, both of which are too bright for my usual tastes. I stare at my chest spilling out where hers would sit gracefully. But, how could I not trust her? She looks like what would happen today if Serena van der Woodsen walked out of your television screen; her closet a carefully curated collection emblematic of her multitudes.
She’s also got this way of making you say yes when you want to say no, but her intentions are always to pull you out of your shell or bring you closer to your best self. Besides, her smile is reason enough to oblige. So, I let her finish zipping me up and bejewel me with a pair of her chandelier earrings and raucous bracelets that constantly clink together for our Friday night out.
When we make it back to her place after enduring hours of waiting in line for drinks at crowded bars and patios overfilled with bodies giddy for summer, we go to bed together like we have dozens of times before. Only, she’s going to bed with a friend, and I am going to bed with a sharp-toothed shame that feels a lot like hunger in my stomach.
It terrifies me and it’s something I can’t understand. But at some point in the night, she rolls over, her hand sleepily placing its weight on my hip, her lips barely brushing my shoulder, and I can see minnows scurrying beneath the surface of glassy waters. She’s dreaming, I’m certain, and I’m in a dream I don’t want to wake up from, only I’m wide awake, I know, because in that moment, I stop wanting to grow new cells.
The faint light of dawn warms up my skin through the slits in the blinds, I wake up holding her hand, and I close my eyes again, feigning sleep.
To stare into one of her paintings is to walk through the wonderland that is her mind. It’s no surprise that here are all these people at what is her own solo art exhibit. It’s no wonder I feel like Alice looking at each one.
I’ve never had a friend I admire this way. As a creative who dreams of a livelihood dependent on the thing she loves the most, I’m in complete awe of the way she’s built a whole life out of her true passion.
During our most recent late night smoke session, she had grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me hard in the eyes, and said, “you can do whatever the fuck you want in this life, Nat,” and it sounded a lot like the most definitive statement she had ever made.
She has this way of making you believe anything with the weight of vehemence behind her every spoken word; her beauty lies in the way she wields that power to make you believe in yourself.
It was that night, when she let go of my shoulders, grabbed the joint from the ash tray and handed it to me, that her fingers brushed my own, not for the first time, but with a current so unusual and novel, that I swallowed what felt like a fluttering Verdin down my throat — one whose existence I had been denying for some time, despite the sound of its chirping outside my window.
I stopped feeling jealous of that hair and, instead, began to live my sleepless nights in reverie imagining the way it would feel between my fingers. To admit to the countless occasions I fought the desire to lean into her and inhale its lavender scent, would be to spectacularly embarrass myself. So would it be to confess I bought her shampoo, not because I wanted to smell like her, but to feel her close to me.
There are so many things I felt, then, that I mustn’t confess.
I coveted her closet. My eyes would land on her, and always without fail, I’d get a thought somewhere along the lines of imagine looking like that. I felt lucky just looking at her; being in her presence. She was the kind of human I felt blessed being able to call a friend. I was in awe of her magnetism. I wanted her confidence and unwavering faith in herself. I envied the way she is able to move on past the ugly and painful things and, not only the way she still has it in her to find beauty after them, but her willingness to look for it. How she never doubts happiness is hers to take.
Yes, I wanted to be like her, but I also wanted her attention. I craved her affection. I looked at her and I didn’t just see a beautiful girl anymore, but the person who made my heart pick up speed.
I didn’t want her hair or her clothes or her body. I didn’t want any of the things I admired, and even envied, about her, no. What I wanted was my hand on her knees. To touch her back. Trace circles over the wispy blue veins of her wrists. My mouth on her pulse. My thumb brushing the sacred crescent moon curve of her bottom lip.
So, seeing him standing there, surrounded by walls adorned with creations spawned from the innermost corridors of her mind — works she had poured her soul into while healing from the wounds he had detonated on her like a bomb — I felt not only rage justified of a protective friend, but one birthed from a place of desire and possessiveness. But mostly, I felt a sadness. The thought that losing her would be inevitable was so palpable, like feeling something not right and looking down only to find my grandmother’s ring I wear at all times missing from my finger. It was the sensation of something so precious slipping out of fumbling fingertips.
Someone asked me about her not too long ago and my stomach did a dirty somersault.
It’s been years, now, since I’ve seen her and since we’ve spoken. Our friendship ended the way many do, by simply fizzling out, over nothing really, no one having really inflicted a particular kind of blow or offense to the other party. And like many friendships, it was also over a guy that it saw its finality.
He had come back into her life, and I began to pull away feeling like there was no more room for me after a few canceled plans. Between her traveling, work, and now her relationship, our schedules didn’t really align. Where she once spent her free time with me, or invited me on her trips closer to home, she now spent weekends with him, or brought him along. There was an uncomfortable exchange of texts at one point, in which I warned her men like him didn’t change, and in which she accused me of not being a supportive friend. I shot back that she was the kind of girl that stopped being herself when under a guy’s spell and fully immersed herself into her relationship. I knew this wasn’t exactly true, but I also knew that hearing it would get under her skin. I wanted to hurt her the way I felt hurt. She ended the conversation by telling me I turned on people the moment they committed a minor infraction, and that she was surprised it had taken so long for me to push her away the way I do with others. She said if I was mad at her for simply postponing plans to just get over it.
A couple of weeks later, we apologized to each other, but things were never the same. Our conversations became shorter and shorter, until they ceased to exist. Truthfully, I played the most part in that. She made multiple efforts to hang out and include me in things, but I began shutting her out.
The reality was this: I felt a connection with her and it went well beyond friendship. I didn’t understand it and I was afraid of it. I had no idea what to do about those feelings because, back then, I wasn’t self-aware enough to know what they meant; that they were born from a place of desire. I had kissed girls before and I had experimented, but this was my first substantial serious attraction to another woman, and I felt it during a time I was still repressing my sexuality. Those ten months we lived a close and intense friendship, I spent calling her my “girl crush” and my “best friend”, but those were only terms I used to skirt around something of more depth. To remain friends with her would mean to not only be forced to examine the reality behind my animosity to her boyfriend and why I felt so hurt, but to be true to myself about my queerness. It would also mean that I’d have to be honest with her. But if I left things the way they were, if I just walked away, and blamed the demise of our friendship on anything else, then these were all things that could remain in my head, innocent and unreal. I was afraid to allow them to become something solid and tangible because of what it would mean for me.
So, I chose to hold it in the most delicate way, like a secret, like snow holding the sound of something so silent, and I made it easier by letting go of that which I was coveting.
I wonder, sometimes, if she was already seeing through me, before I could see myself, that night we were discussing Needy and Jennifer.
Sometimes, I play at telling myself she was really awake that night her mouth grazed my shoulder and her hand found its way on my hip, that maybe she also felt something. Then I break my heart, over and over again, remembering how she wasn’t one afraid to act on her desires or voice her feelings.
I don’t know where she is or what she’s doing now, she was never one for social media.
I do think of her often. I hope she’s loved. I hope she has someone in her life who slices watermelons and peels her oranges for her. I hope she’s still making friends in bathroom stalls. I hope she still feels like there is no sin she needs to apologize for. I hope she finally learned how to trust people who smile sideways. I hope life is giving her beautiful things to paint. I hope she is still the only thing she’s ever needed.
Whenever she is sad, I hope she just dances.
I hope that red stain is still on her rug. I hope she still has that rug. Even if not, I hope there are still things that make her think of me.