A Memory, 10 minutes at a time
I just finished my rather uninspired Christmas letter and, after waffling back and forth, I felt I had to mention my friend Rachel. For awhile I thought it was Chicago that introduced so much of this into my life, but as time passes I have come to see the ordinariness of it all – friends, relatives and personal lives ruined by addiction. It feels a little selfish, this memory, but, like my Christmas letter, I want it out there that I’m thinking about it, because I want to think about it, and I want to be open to understanding it all better so I can be a better friend and ally.
There were a lot of people at the funeral and even more at the wake. But strikingly absent were her peers – people her own age. By this point Rachel had isolated herself from just about everyone. I hadn’t spoken to her in over a year, yet I was one of the first people to be contacted with news of her death.
When I moved to Chicago I didn’t have any friends, but my mentor in Amsterdam managed to set me up with a former student of his. So I clipped in and rode the 5 miles down to Wicker Park where I met a youthful glossy-haired kid and his philosophic friend. Within less than 10 minutes of getting to know me and my penchant for pedalling that the guys demanded, “You have to meet our friend Rachel.” was told I had to meet this girl Rachel.” They pretty much decided then and there that me and this mystery girl were going to be best friends. So, someone called her, like a spontaneous blind date set-up, and 30 minutes later she rolled up on her beautiful purple Botechia. A minute later we were friends and a month later we were best friends.
I always have a significant other, whether friend or lover. I’m not a deliberate monogamist this way, I just seek deep personal relationships mostly because I’m an intense person and casual interactions make me anxious…I’m not good at them. Chicago and my age make this increasingly difficult. If you don’t have a partner and you haven’t lived here a long-ass time, the people willing to hang out with you are into casually bar hopping, patio sitting, perhaps joining you for a yoga class or two and, of course, cancelling plans more often than not because casual friends reserve the right to change their minds at any time. So, the fact that bike-riding, sweets-eating, clever Rachel showed up in my lonely city world seemed serendipitous, especially since she didn’t seem to have any close girlfriends at the time.
Rachel was one of those people who looked like she had it all – a loving and well-to-do family, a beautiful apartment, a rockin body and bikes enviable by all the cycling community. To me she seemed infinitely confident, capable and energetic, but was also encouraging, complementary and welcoming. Within a few weeks we were driving to Michigan to spend the weekend at her parents’ summer getaway where I made peach cobbler and endeared myself to the family. Later that summer she introduced me to my first Chicago boyfriend, the best friend of her then-beau, and a perfect arrangement for any two girl friends (nevermind that neither man was good for us).
For much of our relationship we supported each other, encouraging the other to be strong, independent women and helping each other to that end. But, as also happens with many close girlfriends, we had our moments of jealousy. Rachel knew I was jealous of her seemingly endless amounts of energy (and money), her skills in making anyone do what she wanted and her ability to magnetically attract any man within a five foot radius. I spent hours at Rachel’s house, waiting for her to “get ready”, constantly flustered by her ability to control every situation and to NEVER come to meet me. At the same time, Rachel spent hours making me feel comfortable, talking me through all my stupid insecurities and dragging me out to social events I would otherwise not attend. When Rachel wanted to do something she did it, and when she didn’t, she didn’t…the exact inverse of what I felt my personality to be.
There were also weird things that happened with Rachel, like the time we were supposed to pick up booze on our way to a party in Pilsen and she had me wait outside with her 2,000$ bike getting stared down while she spent no less than 30 minutes behind the bullet-proof glass counter supposedly finding a bottle of vodka. She would often leave me to spend an hour in her bedroom or bath while we were hanging out. At parties she would disappear; but she had a boyfriend, that’s what they do, right? Sometimes she would convince me to go to some mess life party where I knew no one and I would agree, demanding that she not abandon me. And yet, despite the up and down promises there I’d find myself navel-deep in social awkwardness hell receiving her odd text messages that strung me along.
When we got closer she would tell me how she would get into fancy cars with men to procure drugs for our friends…all of which I assumed were some combination of cocaine, MDMA, LSD or pills. I watched her haggle over some molly one day in a McDonald’s only to get so nervous I had to take a walk around the block. Once, when I hit a rock bottom of depression due to a totally unworthy boy incident she handed me a brown and white pill and told me to take it. “What is it?” “Just take it, it’ll work.” Instead I put it in my pocket to save for a rainy day.
I would not qualify myself as someone you would call sheltered or naive under most conditions. Though Chicago had (and continues to) given me a first hand look at alcoholism and its real effects, especially on the young, it also seemed like these people had a perplexing ability to carry on the loop of party, drink, work, party, drink, drugs, sleep, work. Rachel would still get up most mornings and get to class, work as a courier and socialize at night, all the while looking gorgeous, happy and engaging. It was mesmerizing. So why did it all feel so different?
After a several months our relationship started to deteriorate. I was going through a break-up while she was becoming obsessed with her latest boyfriend. We would sometimes hang out and I would envy this handsome, quiet-tempered man fawned over her. She knew this and would throw it in my face a little, alternate between telling me how great he was, what he bought her that day and grilling me about what I felt about him. Meanwhile she seemed to be getting thinner. I knew she had had an eating disorder at one time and that this was a delicate subject, not to mention I knew it made me jealous as I was doing just the opposite. The thing is, I’m a pretty honest person, because I have on filter, and pretty damn suggestible, because I’m a fucking subjectivist. So when she asked me if I was jealous I’d admit that I regretted that my exboyfriend sucked and that she seemed to have it all. But I also played it as cool as possible, completely platonic and even-keeled around the guy and absolutely obliging in every single way to Rachel, as we both were.
But then things started getting worse…