The thing about 40licious, as I’ve likely explained before, that with all the goodness of wisdom and the puzzle pieces taking shape (“oh! this piece finishes that bit of sky and connects the umbrella to her hand …”) is that there are people who finished this earth earlier than I have.
My friend Todd, for example, who was a raucous mess of a man, who called me “Van DeKamps” and outdrank my Irish visitors and did a Payless Shoe Store commerical with Star Jones, lived in Long Beach. The last great day I remember with him was taking my friend Alexandre, then a small boy, to visit and we walked for miles along the beach, laughing, remembering college, remembering New York craziness. Besides my mother, I do feel like nobody loved me more than Todd. After Todd was gaybashed by a crowd of thugs at the wrong train station — and then, later, by Long Beach Police when they were all hauled into the station together — he had a hard time holding everything in check. They broke the bone around his eye. Cops raped him with a billy club. His normal excessive tendencies became exaggerated. He died on Dec. 4, 2005, after an overdose of perscription drugs he’d brought with Christmas-shopping money he’d borrowed from his roommate. His neighbors had heard the pleas for help, the scrathing on the walls, the last gasps for life. They thought it was more of the same.
So that’s why it’s hard for me to go to Long Beach. I keep looking up to the tiny turret on top of a downtown hotel where he once lived. Whatever I’m doing that’s supposed to be fun — seeing a band, riding bikes, sipping coffee with friends — is always overshadowed by the ghost Todd.
Santa Barbara, where I am now for work, overflowing with charm and bouganvelia and Spanish architcture and funky artiness, is the same. Kim Wexler was my best friend during the last half of high school and into the beginning of college. We were club kids, up all night in our Betsey Johnson finery, bagels at 4 a.m., pretending to be European models with very vague and funny accents. Her dad, Lloyd, would take us out for matzoh ball soup in the middle of our Saturday evening carousing. He’d leave us again to our night, and then we’d make fun of his Capezio jazz shoes (three pair, “grey for work, black for night, red for dancing”). Kim, one of the most beautiful women I’d ever known, with long thick blonde hair to her waist, giant blue eyes, a smile as wide as a beach, always felt “less than,” fought a sligthly thick middle, fought expectations from her father as he paid her to lose weight.
The last time I saw Kim was here in Santa Barbara, as I sidled my way up the West Coast, moving from New Mexico in the early ’90s. She’d lived in a pink house (she’d wished for it and it showed up) on Bath Street with her boyfriend. She rode her bike everywhere. Her head and that big blonde hair looked disproportionate to me, on her newly skinny frame, shoulder bones popping out under her tank top. Letters went unanwered, and we faded away, like so many friends do.
The last I’d hear of her was in 2005. She’d gone back to school in New York to become a teacher. She was driving and the car in front of her hit a pole, which fell down, and the lines “tripped” her car and she died instantly.
So here in Santa Barbara, I think of Kim as I find myself in a lovely hotel (The Harbor House) on Bath Street. Lucy and I have taken long monster walks every free moment, and three blocks south, we pass Kimberly Street, which has made me well up every time.
And tonight, thinking of Todd and remembering Kim, I realize that any ghost is internal. In my head. And that’s okay, because I’d like to give them a place to rest for a while. I need them more than they need me.