(For those of you who only tune in occasionally, I am interspersing my poems, stories, and musings about India with shout-outs to the people I love. This one goes out to my beautiful, wild, notorious darling, Jenny Freakin’ D!)
I met Jen in the autumn of ‘98, when she was a freshman rushing at my sorority. Rush is a terrible, fascinating process, in which hundreds of eager freshman girls tour the various sororities, meeting the “sisters,” and deciding which houses they like best. On the other side, the girls who are already in houses appraise the “rushees,” deciding who they like and who they don’t. Over the process of a week, both sides have whittled down their preferences, and in a nail-biting, heart-stopping climax, they vote on each other. Freshman girls scatter like cards in the wind, ending up in various houses across the Greek system, some of which they love, others which they hate.
During rush, we usually talked about the same things to every group of girls who came through- Where did you go to high school? What kind of sports did you do? Why did you choose the UW? Oh, yes, our house is fantastic! We go to the best parties, and we have the best food! Our rooms are spacious, and I just LOVE every one of my sisters! The conversations got old quickly, and the smile on my face began to feel strained.
Then Jen walked in. She was gorgeously fresh, her face free of make-up, and her blonde hair loose and wavy. I felt like I knew her right away. Something about her was so familiar. I never did figure it out definitively, but we soon pieced together that we had spent significant portions of our childhoods on the same block in Capitol Hill, though neither of us ever remembers meeting. When she walked in and sat down on the chair opposite me though, I felt like an old friend had taken a seat. In less than a week we’d be sorority sisters, but at that moment, we’d only just met. And yet our conversation flowed as easily as though we had known each other forever. To hell with proprieties- in a minute flat we were talking about hot boys and hard alcohol.
That was over ten years ago, and Jenny and I are just as close today. She moved to San Francisco years ago, so it has been quite some time since we lived in the same city, but we’ve managed to jaunt around the world together a fair amount. We spent one summer together in Europe, getting drunk in France and losing my little sister, smoking Silver Haze in Amsterdam and becoming convinced we were in outer space, and fighting and making up in Switzerland before saying to hell with it and diving head first into the sparkling water that danced in the sunlight under the snow-capped Jungfrau. In Thailand, we went on steamy jungle hikes and drank far too much, leaving a trail of notorious pictures and scarred flesh in our wake. In San Francisco, we partied ‘til dawn, watching the sunrise from a rooftop in Pacific Heights and passing the joint until there was nothing left but giggles and sleepy eyes.
One of my favorite all-time memories involves the Mediterranean Sea, the full moon, and Jenny D. It was that same summer in Europe, and my friend Jane, my sister Brigitte, Jen, and I all went to Italy together. We stayed in a little town on the coast, and, surprise, surprise, drank with glorious abandon every night. Jane and Brigitte would go down to the pub and drink Heinekens, while Jenny and I bought Magnum bottles of red wine and polished them off with frightening speed in our little apartment above the strada.
One night, the four of us tumbled down to the sea, shedding clothes and laughing hysterically as we went. When we reached the water, we dove in head first, as the light from the full moon twinkled on the black, rippling surface. Brigitte and I were trying to outswim a greasy Italian who had managed to follow us from town, and who was now paddling eagerly behind us like a seal. Somehow, we lost him, and the next thing I knew I was floating on my back next to Jen as we sang to the moon in the sky. “La lun! La lun!” we called out, delirious with alcohol and happiness.
“Let’s dive to the bottom,” Jen suddenly said, flipping upright and treading water. I instantly agreed. This was remarkable, given my fear of open water, and even more so because it was the middle of the night, and the bottom was probably twenty feet down. But in that moment, everything felt right, so I took Jen’s hand, and we dove down head first, kicking like fish until our hands touched the sand, and then shooting to the surface like fireworks. We did that again and again, and I remember thinking how enchanted the sea felt that night, like a fairy-tale where happy turtles swam by us underwater, winking and blowing bubbles.
If Jenny is anything, she’s fun. If she’s anything else, she’s solid. One year, she came out to visit, and stayed at my apartment for a week. I was going through a tough time, and despite my best attempts, I just couldn’t have fun. I remember sitting on my living room floor one night, telling Jen what was going on. When I started crying, she wiped the tears from my face, and rocked me like a baby. That night, I curled up next to her in my bed and we slept like spoons, wrapped up together, breathing deeply. She has a grounding, Mother Earth quality that makes me feel like anything I do is alright, even if that’s falling apart completely and crying in her lap. It’s good to have friends like that.
Luckily, I was able to begin to return the favor several years ago in San Francisco, when she was suffering from the break-up blues. I woke up one morning to hear muffled sobs coming from her bed, and I sat straight up in my sleeping bag on the couch. “Jenny!” I said. It was early in the morning. “How long have you been crying?!” She looked at me mournfully and wiped the corner of her eye. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said, hiccuping. “About four hours, probably.” My heart broke for her, but I had to laugh a little bit, too. She was so stoic in her suffering, she refused to wake me from my sleep. I climbed up on the bed beside her and commiserated until we both decided we were ravenously hungry.
Another time, in downtown Seattle, Jenny and I decided to hit the town. We went to a swanky bar and got far too drunk on the bartender’s sneaky “sample” shots, and the endless supply of booze that always seemed to be left over after he mixed a round of martinis. When we stumbled out of the bar, we were saucy and looking for trouble. We got in the car and pointed it west, towards Capitol Hill. I don’t remember who was driving, but neither of us should have been. I believe it was Jenny that suggested that we “take off our shirts and drive topless!!” We did. We roared down the street, laughing and shouting out the windows, but within moments, there were swirling police lights in our rearview mirror. We didn’t have time to pull our shirts back on before the cop was at the window, so we quickly grabbed whatever we could find. Jenny pressed a backpack to her chest, and I held a notebook up to mine.
The look on the cop’s face was priceless. He immediately began fidgeting and took an intense interest in his clipboard, tapping his pencil and mumbling awkwardly. He could hardly look at us. He cited us for driving the wrong way down a one-way street, well over the speed limit, without our headlights on. He didn’t mention that we were stinking drunk and topless. He just let us off with a warning, and told us to drive straight home. Then he tipped his hat and with his eyes held firmly to the ground, walked quickly back to his car.
When I first began writing seriously about four years ago, Jenny was my most enthusiastic supporter. She asked me about it all the time. She didn’t have to tell me she had faith in me- I could feel it. She wanted to read what I had written, and she wanted to know the ideas I had for books. She talked me through plot lines, and gave me her input on what she thought would make the best, most relevant story. She would call me up, say hello, and immediately ask me how the writing was going.
I remember her calling me one time, and saying in an excited tone, “I think I have the perfect cover for your book!!!” She described a picture she had taken of my sister and I in the Gulf of Thailand. It is a lovely photo of us wading out to sea, our backs to the camera, our bodies at opposing angles. We are clad in yellow and red bikinis, I think, and we are the only spots of warm color against the endless blue of the sea. That photograph still sits in my parent’s living room on the old, well-loved coffee table. Jenny was convinced that the shot would make the perfect book cover, and to this day, when I think about publishing a book, I wonder if she might be right. It is a beautiful shot. Jenny also happens to be a wonderful photographer 😉
Jenny is now a grad student at Stanford, a first-place winner of collegiate bike races, and one of my dearest friends. There are certain people whose eyes you can look into and instantly feel a connection. This is the case with my dear Jenny D. It was that way the moment she sat down in a chair across from me during rush, and it is the same way every time I see her today. Whether she’s picking me up at the airport, pushing me off a raft into ice-cold river water, taking naughty pictures of us in wet, white sheets, or engaging me in some ludicrous, often illegal behavior… Jenny is a soul sister, and I am so glad to know her.