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It's Nelly's World


alec vanderboom

As the years wind on--given the fact that this summer is going by in about three minutes, I predict I'll be checking in to the assisted living center sometime late fall--I try to stay healthy. I'm not real good at that, though, because evil temptations unveil themselves before my inability to resist like buff young men, winking their dark brown eyes from under locks of curling hair. So my longevity plan consists largely of friends.

Being connected to others socially and familially is one of the best predictors of a healthy longer life. Besides the fact that a life without friends isn't really worth living.

But there is a special type of friend: the girlfriend. It may come as a surprise to some (and it's possible that I'm aberrant in this, being aberrant in so much else), but there is a point in a young girl's life when she desires a girlfriend more than she desires any boy ever made, or even conceived of by Hollywood's fabulist machine or author of transporting fiction. There's an intensity and excitement to the friendship that is all-consuming, like a four-story fire.

The first girl I ever fell in love with (for it was that, love: blinding, filled with craving for her presence) was Beth. It was high school. She was a fabric artist, dark and yearning, moody and fun. She took me horseback riding on her family's farm. She was the Older Girl (one year) and I was breathless with the news that she apparently considered me a friend. One night we put Joni Mitchell's Blue on the record player in her room. In the morning, it was still turning round and round. Nine hours, and every song on the A side is now permanently burned into my soul.

Several years ago I heard that Beth had died. The thought that a chunk of life--time, energy, blood, discovery, everything that is ever is or will be--had been cut out and then pushed through the side of the universe to leave such a hole (the way an eye is cut out of a pumpkin, leaving only absence) was impossible to hold in the brain. It actually hurt the neurons.

In college, freshman year, I met Beatrice. Corner room across from mine. Abstract painter, beauty. We sometimes walked the campus hand in hand. I posed for a life-size portrait. She posed for my Yashica and its Plus-X film. The next three years we joined forces with other girls, other tight friends, to live in on-campus housing. After that, she found us an apartment together in Hoboken, and we launched ourselves, together, though also increasingly separately, toward bigger life. She showed me her New York, the one she had grown up in, all the places that became my own.

Nearly thirty years later, today, her voice on the phone, buoying me. She knows me, and loves me, I think, and cares for me. And I her.

Someday, maybe, we will shop for our canes together. I hope so. They will be stylish, unusual, and she will make a joke and laugh with that quick knowing laugh of hers. I think we will always be friends, until the bitter end, which will be sweet therefore. Because she's mine.