A Velvet Elvis hung on the wall. Next to a black velvet sunset. Beneath it sat a bright orange couch which I had fallen asleep on numerous times. This was my refuge, my safe place. It was public, so nothing could happen to me here. I was surrounded by those who loved me and would protect me at any cost. And once or twice a week, they would let me sing.
You walked into this place, and you felt a bustling sense of home. It didn’t seem to know its purpose, yet it seemed to be fulfilling it all the same. Tables out front had chairs filled with people, one hand casually drawing lit cigarettes to their mouths, ashtrays overflowing. The mugs steamed on the tabletop, decorated with drizzles of chocolate, swirls of whipped cream.
My chocolate drizzle was always the same. A treble clef. He said it was because I sang like an angel. No one ever really commented on my guitar-playing, but then again, I think the saying goes… “if you can’t say anything nice…”
And some nights, groups of us would laugh and dance. Or we would sit in the small pedestrian alleyway that led to the bathrooms. We would drum and we would sing, and our lives were rich and bohemian. Truth, Beauty, Freedom, Love. We had it all.
When it closed forever, it sold everything. Including the Velvet Elvis.
I bought the velvet sunset. It reminded me of safe places, love and beauty.
And when the doors closed for the very last time, I walked down Main Street completely at a loss. Knowing that the bohemian girl was going to go into hibernation, and I didn’t know if she would ever return.
It had been an incredibly long day. I had left Berkeley early that morning, a bit rough from the night before. I’m honestly not sure whether or not I had even slept. But I arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon. I hadn’t come for a specific purpose, but then again, in those days, I ran full gypsy, embracing the road like a drunken lover. I had left Berkeley in order to run from something – I was usually running from something – and arrived in Los Angeles in order to escape.
Dead tired, red-eyed from lack of sleep, I decided my next step. It didn’t matter that it was nearing midnight, or that I hadn’t even rested in days, I headed out to the Nuart. It was Saturday night, and Sins of the Flesh was on. I had never wanted to perform in the show, but normally it was enough to go and see the old crowd. Various people would come at various times. But this night was slightly different. Someone was joining the navy the next day.
I think many of us were still wondering why
I’m not sure how to describe this amazing woman in only 300 words. To put it simply, she saved my life. I first met her on a visit to one of my dearest friends in Portland, Oregon. They were roommates. I was in a not-so-healthy relationship. Well, by not-so-healthy I mean pretty downright awful. This visit was something of an escape for me. It was one of the first trips I had taken on my own since meeting him. We went for drinks and appetizers at Applebees and I sat talking to her. She was everything I wished that I could be: strong, confident, funny, and completely kick-ass. By kick-ass, I mean she knows enough martial arts to literally kick anyone’s ass. Absolutely brilliant, I tell you. We went to the Grand Prix for some racing, and I made the decision to move to Portland. Spur of the moment, but absolutely certain. Put a deposit on an apartment and promised to be up by the end of the month.
And I was. But I did not come alone. And then, I entered into the dark time. I had an excellent paying job, but we still couldn’t keep our heads above water. I didn’t know where my money was going every month. Credit cards racked up, and the household nastiness escalated. Every Sunday evening, we would go to a mutual friend’s house for steak and X-Files, and this woman became someone I could trust. Someone who could be honest with me.
One evening, she invited me out to a dinner. It was a celebration for a Rape Crisis Hotline. She and I had a long discussion that evening about her own experiences of powerlessness, and then she said something to me that I will never forget. She said, “Katie, we don’t like the way that he treats you. You deserve better. Do you realize that you aren’t happy? You may be content, but you used to be radiant, and now you’re just surviving. You don’t have to live like this. We will love and support you through this.” I spent the next long period of time justifying everything, trying to make excuses. But not much later, when the walls came crashing down, my world began to spin out of control, and my heart was in little pieces on the ground, her words came back to me. “You deserve better…you don’t have to live like this…you aren’t happy.” And I realized she was right.
I’ve never thanked her properly for being brave that way. For standing up for me, when I couldn’t stand up for myself.Read More
This post was part of the 300words experiment. Since I usually took one day off for ‘Sabbath’, there were times I would write 600 words about a particular person. This lovely woman has been in my life for over fifteen years, and plays an integral part in my story.
As you can tell by the date-stamp, this post is early on in my exploration of writing about myself. It’s campy, and a bit overly enthusiastic. But I learned about myself writing about her. I think in many ways that practice here is making my writing more perfectly me. Sure, this is all over the place, but it’s true. So I’ll freshen it up, and perhaps provide a few more details about this moment, then we’ll see what we can see.
The first time I saw her, I must admit, my perception was a bit skewed. Now, that probably had to do with the fact that I was in some of those ‘college experimental’ times, and the reality was that the whole world was very pretty, extraordinarily shiny, and hyper colourful. Take that as you will. I was sitting with a friend at the weekly Saturday party at the Woolsey House in Berkeley (known for its attraction of Goths, dosers, drinkers, Rocky fans, and various other non-traditional party people). I looked up and saw a woman emerge from the kitchen in a long flowing dress, and I thought two things. First, she looked like an angel. Second, she looked sad. I wasn’t sure if she was real, so I asked my friend, “Who’s that? She’s so pretty but she looks so sad!” He responded, “That’s Faith. She is a little sad.” So my instant response was, “Well, then we should fix that.” So we did. I never would have imagined that evening that fixing that would involve a sneaky undercover operation to break into her previous apartment in order to steal a cat, or a princess and the pea bed that would be halfway to the ceiling in a small apartment, or all the various other adventures that we went on, but it did.
As time went on, as it always does, we began to go separate ways. She got all responsible and I went a bit mad. We would bump into each other at various times with mutual friends, but I can still remember the first time I eversaw her fire-dance. Faith is an exquisitely and exceptionally beautiful woman, with a striking figure and some of the most long, amazing hair you’ve ever seen. When she lights those poi on fire, it’s a hypnotic thing. It was a friend’s wedding, and the evening was full of life and love and friendship. And then Faith – who had seemed very distant, started to dance. It was as if the fire had a life of its own. At times it would send little flickers of itself off into the night sky, to float up and away. At other times, she would be surrounded by a blazing halo of the retinal after-burn of the flames. But it reminded me of that beautiful, sad lady I first saw. It reminded me of how I knew the moment that I saw her that I loved her and wanted her to be happy.
When she came to Dublin, we had so many good adventures. It was like time had rewound and all those years had come racing back. And I remember sitting in Doolin, in McGann’s Pub, just laughing and enjoying each other. And having one too many pints. And having to saunter vaguely homewards with Wingnut the cat. And we looked up at the stars and the moon, and the world between us was right all over again.
I got an email.
Hey, I have a friend who needs a place to stay in Dublin. You got anything?
From this particular friend, barring death and dismemberment, the answer is almost always ‘yes.’
So we made plans. We had already scheduled something with some other good friends for the same evening, so it actually worked out quite well. We gave her the keys to the house, she drove us to our friend’s, and we haven’t ‘seen’ her since. She left us soymilk and various other products.
When I look back to this story, I realize how strange it sounds. After all, we let her into our house, sight unseen, and then actually learn that she is only passing friendly with our friend. But this is just how our friend works. He believes – and we do as well – that when the church is what it is supposed to be… The Church Works.
So the lovely guest arrıves a bit late, but to be fair, getting lost in Dublin is a given. I do it on a regular enough basis. First of all, most streets are not labeled, so you can’t follow maps perfectly – and map directions from websites are worthless. Directions from a local are more helpful…if they know the brightest possible landmark near the turns. Otherwise, the directions become a litany of missed pubs and bizarre petrol stations. So the directions that I tried to give were designed to identify landmarks, especially those (like pubs) that would not be easily recognized by a non-local. Unfortunately, she got trapped in the same mistake that I dıd… taking a slight turn instead of a full turn or a full turn instead of a slight turn. It’s really quite a normal thing, but since the roads here are most often paved cowpaths, it’s never easy to get turned back the right way round. It’s always a necessity to retrace your steps.
So, she arrıves and we deliver the keys, and she offers to drive us to our friends’ house, which is AWESOME because public transport there would have been the DART to the city and then a bus for 90 minutes to their neıghborhood – before our junker of joy. And…
we got lost.
First, I got us off on the wrong exit, then we wound up very confused and lost up Ticknock Hill. Eventually we found our way, she dropped us off, and off she went. When we arrıved home from church the next day, our house was clean and tidy, the key was in the mailbox, and all was well.
And it became a great lesson to trust friends and trust instincts. After all, we only had our friend’s word that this person was reliable, and for many people, that would not have been enough. Yet it becomes a simpler matter when you make the conscious decision to value people over property, to trust instead of fear.