Hi Erin. How are ya?
It’s been almost two years since we last saw each other. It was three weeks previous to that I had left my ex-wife and you were six months away from getting married to your partner Phoebe. I have to admit, I was getting goosebumps and butterflies getting ready to see you again.
I hadn’t seen you in 10 years, and you looked almost identical to the girl who sat beside me in drafting class in grade 10. I know this is going to make you blush, but you looked like an Irish princess. Long red hair with a slight curl to it, milky white skin with a dash of freckles under your cheeks and wide, blue-green eyes with the heavy Goth black mascara. You were so freakin’ gorgeous. Later on, I would tell people that you were Shirley Manson’s twin sister. And you were. You’d even admitted it to yourself, grudgingly.
I never properly thanked you for that last visit. You had planned on visiting family here in Winnipeg and you weren’t going to have time to see me. I understood. We grew apart, as people often do, and considering how awkward things had gotten between us, it was surprising we even spoke after high school. But Randy emailed you, telling you what had happened with Annie and I, and you emailed me setting aside the afternoon so we could get together and catch up. That put a big kink in your plans, but I was hurting and you stepped up. That meant a lot to me.
We had lunch, and I instantly realized how comfortable I was with you again. We laughed. We drank beer. We laughed harder. And we drank more beer. And it was a few hours later and we were both more than tipsy and we were traipsing through the Forks Market, and we were looking through various stalls looking for a present for Phoebe, you telling me how wonderful she was and how I would love her when I would finally meet her, and even though I was in a wasteland as far as relationships went, I was really, genuinely happy for you.
We finally talked about us in high school, about how we both came from middle schools where we were mercilessly teased and we both felt like we were so alone. You knew I was special when you saw I had a (VHS, ‘cos that’s all there was back then) copy of Day of the Dead signed by Tom Savini that I brought to school one day, and you practically freaked out, and you made me promise that I’d come over to your house some day so you could show me your copy of Fangoria #27 also signed by Tom Savini, and I knew you were special too.
It didn’t take long before we were hanging out a lot. I loved being in your bedroom, laying on the bed watching Return of the Living Dead, listening to Alice in Chains or Violent Femmes, or just talking. I just loved the smell of your bedroom, and the bed was so much softer. We’d hit the downtown music and thrift stores on Saturdays and always have McDonald’s French fries for lunch. I should have told you those were some of the best memories of my high school years. No joke.
Sometimes I came over before school and we’d smoke cigarettes and drink vodka before class. It was wrong and we knew it, but we felt so rebellious and cool. We both had an alcoholic parent, so alcohol was in no short supply. We both bonded over that, I think.
And remember the time we dropped LSD and went to a midnight showing of Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness and we had to walk the 3 hours home because the buses had stopped running and we didn’t have enough money for cab fare? Classic. You were finding the skeeziest people to strike up conversations with and trying to bum smokes at 3 in the morning, and the next thing I remember, we woke up sleeping in your bed at 2 in the afternoon, both of us naked, and both covered head to toe in mud. We were pretty embarrassed about it, but managed to laugh about it after a couple of weeks.
And of course, I remember that afternoon in the first week of classes in Grade 12, where we cut class and went back to your place. You were distracted and distant, and there was something different in the air, but I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. Your mom was at work, and we sat in your bedroom playing CDs all afternoon, me mixing cranberry juice with splashes of vodka. We were both quite tipsy after an hour or so, and we lay on your bed, staring at the ceiling and talked, meandering from one subject to another, mostly about what we were going to do after high school. You were absolutely brilliant, and an academic scholarship at a prestigious university was virtually assured. I was on the bubble of getting a scholarship, but I didn’t apply myself as hard as I should have and wound up empty-handed.
There was an uncomfortably long silence, and I remember my heart started pounding before you even asked the question.
“Wanderer, why did you never ask me out?”
I so wanted to, so many times. I was so painfully shy, but when I was in middle school, there were a group of alpha females that took particular pleasure in tormenting me for a full two years. One of their first gags involved one of them pretending to like me only to have her publicly humiliate me in front of what seemed like half the school when I formally asked her out. That wounded me very deeply and since then I kept my cards pretty close to my chest. But I wanted us to date so badly.
Of course, it took me almost 10 years to tell you any of this. I told you I wanted to, but was too shy, too nervous, too scared to lose what we had. And that was all true. But a big part of me was terrified of reliving that humiliation. Did I know that you’d never do such a cruel thing to me, even if you weren’t interested? I do now. Back then, I was pretty sure, but I was slow to trust.
And you leaned over and kissed me, and I was flooded with a rush of nervous, electric tension. I kissed you back. We locked in an embrace as I pulled your t-shirt over your head and tossed it on the floor. You told me you could feel my heart pounding in my chest. I ran my hands along your sides and pulled you tighter to me.
It was heaven. But there was a tickle in the back of my head that it was wrong too.
I looked into your eyes and you looked like a deer in the headlights. You looked like you were on the verge of crying.
I asked you if you were okay, and you very unconvincingly said you were. I told you that we didn’t have to do this if you didn’t want to. You unconvincingly told me that you wanted to. You stripped naked and I did too. We kissed some more. But it was wrong and we both knew it.
I took your chin in my hand and looked deep into your eyes and you burst out crying.
“I’m sooo sorry… I’m soooo confused. I like you, I really like you. I just… please don’t be angry with me.”
I put your head on my chest and told you it was okay while I stroked your hair absently. But inside, I felt like I was played all over again. I felt so utterly undesirable. And embarrassed. In my immature, petulant way, I thought this was something you were doing to me, and never once did I consider how unbelievably difficult things were for you. I guess most teenagers are like that. Most adults too. We drifted apart after that day. I think we hung out a few more times, but it was never the same. You’d say something to try and make me laugh, and I’d laugh, but it was forced and you knew it. When you thought I wasn’t looking, you were frowning and worried, watching our friendship break up before your eyes. Before we both knew it, we stopped talking, merely nodding and smiling going past each other in the school hallways. We saw each other at a couple of parties, but that was it.
I found out at one of those parties you lost your virginity to some guy on the basketball team you barely knew. I was furious with you. I know, I know… I’m a douche, okay? But in my defense, I was only 17 and very confused myself. I found myself sulking and not wanting to even see you anymore.
I had to leave home a couple of months after finishing high school. In fact, I moved far, far away – almost 900 miles to be exact. Yes, it had to do with my dad. You knew that, I’m sure. I was gone for almost three years, and I was cut off from just about everyone – my family, most of my friends, everyone. It would be nearly 6 years before we’d talk to one another again. I needed to be away, I think, to finish growing. I needed to become my own person, and there were too many influential forces around me to let that happen.
The next time we saw each other was 2000, and we happen to be at the same bar that night. At first we were both stiff and formal, but as the beer flowed, we broke down each other’s walls and we spent six years catching up. And that’s when you came out to me.
Well, I found out you actually came out in a letter you wrote me about six months after I left, but I never got that letter. My mom told me later she must’ve misplaced it and forgot to send it on, but I have my doubts about that. It never occurred to me at the time, or even up until you said it that you were a lesbian, but it made sense afterwards. I was surprised. Not because that you were a lesbian, but because you never told me before. You were always so open, it never occurred that you were hiding this large part of yourself away. Then again it never occurred to me that maybe you didn’t know yourself.
You told me how sorry you were for what had happened. You told me that you wanted to be with a guy because you didn’t want to like girls back then, and you wanted that guy to be me because you thought the world of me. And you did find me attractive, and you had it all planned out, and you were looking forward to it, but when the time came it just seemed so wrong. And mostly you kept going because you didn’t want me to be disappointed.
I told you about the alpha girls prank in middle school, and how I felt like I was set up again only to have the rug pulled out from under me. And I told you I knew that’s not what you did, but I had this ‘oh why me?’ attitude, and I was selfish and it hurt so much because there hadn’t been anyone like you ever.
Ah, the idiotic melodrama of teenagers.
We made up that night, but our friendship was resigned to emailing every so often because you lived in Montreal now, like a serious artiste, and I stayed back in Winnipeg unclogging toilets and changing light bulbs in a hardware store to get through university. About eighteen months later, you had a photography exhibit showing at a small gallery and you sent me the invitation and I didn’t go. Well, I did go, but not when you were there. I went a few days later, and your work was so beautiful.
I still have that email telling me how hurt you were that I didn’t come. I’m so sorry, but I was so ashamed. I was unemployed and homeless by then, couch surfing when I could get away with it or sleeping in a buddy’s van. I didn’t want you to see me then, half-asleep with fatigue and hunger, chilled to the bone and needing a shower. Two weeks after that letter, I attempted suicide. I never told you that. That was my secret.
It was a full two years before I summoned up the nerve to write you again, apologizing for everything that had happened and hoping things were going well for you. Things had turned around for me. I was married then, I had purpose and drive in my life. I’d lose that mojo several more times throughout my marriage, but then I’d felt good, revitalized and ready to take on the world.
It took you a couple of years to answer back, but when you did, things were right again. We let bygones be bygones and you told me we’d see each other soon. That ‘soon’ was the last time we ever saw each other, a couple of years ago.
We shopped in the Forks, looking for something you could take home to Phoebe and you finally decided on an Indian sari that looked really smart.
At that same store, I looked at a silver necklace that caught my eye, and I’m not normally a jewelry wearer but I really liked this necklace, but put it back because the damn thing was like a hundred bucks, and I was living in a spare room in my sister’s house staring down the barrel of divorce. And then later on, when we were preparing to say so long (not goodbye, even though it’d be the last time I’d ever see you) you told me to close your eyes and you put that damn necklace around my neck and kissed me on the cheek. And I grabbed you and hugged you for what seemed like 20 minutes because I didn’t want you to see me cry and I realized how much I was going to miss you.
Anyway, we left each other our numbers to call on the phone properly, and I had a standing invitation to come to Montreal to see you anytime I wanted. I was planning to take a solitary road trip this summer and I was going to spend the weekend with you and Phoebe.
I was surprised when my phone rang and it was you on the called ID. I answered, but it wasn’t you, it was Phoebe, and after a second or two my heart sank terribly, because I knew something was dreadfully wrong.
She told me she lost you a couple of months previous to cancer. She said you fought valiantly, but succumbed despite your best efforts. I was shocked, because you always seemed so vibrant and healthy and I simply couldn't imagine it. My hand shook as I talked to Phoebe on the phone. I feel for her so terribly.
I miss you so much Erin. I know it's no good brooding on the wasted years, but I wish things had been different between us. You should have probably been my closest friend. But nonetheless, I feel lucky I got to know you at all. If there is an afterlife, I hope we can at least spend one afternoon in a while watching horror movies, eating Doritos and drinking vodka and cranberry juice. Until then, I have this necklace and yes, Phoebe did send on your autographed copy of Fangoria #27 signed by Tom Savini. You're one of the best babe.
*Note to readers... this video link Return of the Living Dead contains a little nudity and a whole lot of heebie-jeebie-inducing zombies and generally gory unpleasantness. Be fairly warned.
Hugs and kisses, until we meet again