Thursday, April 23, 2015

I'll Never Sink When You're With Me (A Tribute)

Cat and I have a shared history of rough surfaces.

We’ve picked our way across the black basalt of the Spiral Jetty, dusty shoes in hands that are flung out for balance while our bare feet wriggle and grasp the irregular surfaces, slipping every other step into the shallow Salt Lake. Eyes squinting against the glare of the August sun and the gusts of hot, dry wind that work to push us off our precarious perches, we still felt welcomed by the hostile landscape after driving through two hours of desolation to get there. Cat was already married and moved away, I was consumed with my own life changes, but that day as we made silly poses with Rosemary we were giants, explorers, elemental pilgrims responding to the simple geometry of the site with equal reverence and humor.

We’ve been crammed into the back of an economy car, limbs tangled and wedged into corners, heads thrown back and eyes closed as the third hour of us singing along with the radio came to a close. Chests heaved and muscles strained as we wailed along to “Oh, Darlin’,” and “She’s So Heavy.” Pitch is abandoned in favor of raw, ragged emotion. Swimsuits already on, our skin stickily adhered to the door jam, to the upholstery, to each other with warm familiarity as we turned the final bend to Bear Lake, parked, and then leaned back for one more howling chorus. We were dying for the soft sand, we had fantasized all week about thick, melty raspberry shakes after a long swim, but we clung to the journey with equal fervor. We sank into the comfort of shared skin and space, the smell of sunscreen and sound of Ringo's indefatigable beat enough for now.

We’ve sat on threadbare, fraying, greying carpet and silently passed a 2-liter of Diet Coke between us while we soaked in every drop of SLC Punk on an old VHS. The carpet did nothing to belie the floorboards beneath, but with only one chair in the room we unanimously decided that our sore tailbones made the experience more “authentic.” Our faces may have reflected the carpet’s same greyness from the dim, slightly warped images on the screen, but flat Diet Coke and antitotalitarian angst has never been so vividly consumed than in that living room.

We’ve lounged on metal bleachers that looked over an abandoned high school parking lot, swigging from chilly glass Coke bottles while the ridges of the seats dug into our thin jackets and jeans late on a March evening. High on the lingering scent of fireworks, we belted out Depeche Mode and Green Day lyrics between dirty jokes about what Cat would be up to the next day. Overly aware that we were creating a picturesque memory on the last night of Cat’s single life, we aggressively policed our mood and conversation. We were determined to crystallize every misty streetlight and tragically faulty cigarette lighter into multifaceted symbols that could be proudly dangled for display in the future. The three of us were, in that moment, in a perfect friendship, and we sipped on that singularity with the same relish we gave the almost-empty bottles.

We’ve lain for two straight sleepless nights in a bare, echoing New York City apartment, windows open to the sweltering July air. All the contents of my two suitcases had been desperately molded into a mattress for us on the bare parquet floors, and we pretended that such efforts were sufficient; we stayed up talking until 4 and woke up at 7 out of desire, not necessity. Cat had spent five hours on a bus from Boston and another hour on the subway to be with me on my first weekend in my new home. If she was nonplussed by my lack of furniture and broken ankle, she hid it well.  She gushed about my new space and theorized on my coming adventures while I nervously leaned against the dirty walls and avoided eye contact with the cockroaches. She pounced on the opportunity to help me set up when the first of my furniture arrived. They were two entirely useless Tiffany lamps, sans lightbulbs, resented for the lack of cushioning they would bring that night. But the packaging that disintegrated into fragments of white Styrofoam so light and small they didn’t actually land on the floor exasperated and amused us, skating all weekend just above the surface, evading all efforts to be swept up, gracefully looping around and over the path of the pests that skittered by.

Our rough surfaces aren’t just environmental, they’re the landscape of our temperament and relationship. There have been pitfalls and landslides, blocked passages and gaping canyons in our almost seven years of friendship. I stand in awe of how Cat has made herself within and around her landscape. She wins and gives love to people and subjects in a way that looks effortless, but actually takes care and passion directly from her in an exhausting way. My acts of friendship, my presence, my attention, my patience have been imperfect throughout, but Cat has shone through despite all of the personal debris I’ve thrown about. She is a remarkable woman who is going to populate everyone around her with epic and sweet memories without ever growing trite or tired.  Happy Birthday, Cat.

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