We were bad friends. She hung up the phone on me. I corrected her when she mis-sang song lyrics. We fought and spent too much time together. Even though she was short and plump and I was tall and flat, people called us by each other’s names. We both scowled a lot and had waist-length straight hair parted in the middle, mine blond and pulled to the front to cover my lack of bust, hers chestnut and another way to hide. Sometimes we braided it wet before bed, woke up and brushed it out to a full frizz. She looked like Janis Joplin and mourned her, learning the songs on Pearl,turning Janis’s licks into her own, doing white girl jazz and hinting at an overdose.
When we were good we laughed and laughed, fueled by dope, everything entertaining, an exhaust fan blowing me across a friend’s kitchen (stop the histrionics I hear my dad say), falling and laughing and crying and then forgetting. I used her as a way to try rebelliousness, after my synchronized swimming practices, copping weed in the church basement teen drop-in center. She was easy to blame.
We grew up and stopped being so mean, fell headlong into our own messes, determined to figure out men and art and drinking by overdoing all of it. We were different but I stayed loyal, enchanted by the child she had at 25, sympathetic to her divorce, a little scared of her affairs and her drama. My drama was internal and I kept scratching at life, till I figured out I needed to get out of the city and fake art and temp jobs and just read books and write. We checked in when I visited and she tried things I didn’t get, shamanism and chanting and a talking kind of prayer, but I didn’t judge.
Then she dropped me. I was stunned. We were 38. We lived far apart. Why drop an old friend, occasional visitor? I realized I had always disapproved of her, but given her the benefit of the doubt. She was in pain and trying. But then she dropped me.
At 48 I saw her again and the dead fish of our dead friendship stank, lying between us.
She has a side to her story. I don’t speak her language. On YouTube I watch her sing, classic blues and that hand gesture I know so well. But the person inside that gesture, I don’t know her.
Everyone with that name reminds me of her. The first J.