Mr. Big

MrBigHe was the only man in my life who had a vocabulary better than mine. He was also the only one who was ever content to just lie in bed with his yap shut and read his own book while I read mine, an endearing quality I still yearn for yet have found elusive in the slew of cute but spottily-read immigrants that have peopled my Booty Roster for the last few years.

He was 13 years my senior and suddenly I was the ‘younger woman,’ feeling like a stereotypical bimbo when the valet would hold the door of his 525i open for me. But it just wasn’t *like that*, damn it! It was a true intellectual soul connection! Even as I smoothed down my polyester miniskirt and teetered down Sunset Boulevard in platform slides, I was secure in the knowledge that Mr. Big knew the Real Me – I might look like a Hollywood ho on Saturday night in LA, but come Monday morning in the Bay Area I was back cracking the books at Mills College with my horn-rims on, even if half the time I was penning him steamy missives instead of taking notes.

A few short years later, I was suddenly the ‘older woman,’ playing Mama to an adorable but infantile puppy of a man, forced to grow up fast by circumstance and just, time. Now I’m careening towards middle age (but 40 is the new 30, right?) and in a few short years I’ll be the same age as he was when we were dating. His girls are both in college. I have a retirement account (paltry though it is) and dogs. The age of post-grunge power pop and heroin overdoses seems quaint and nostalgic.

It all started one sticky summer night (doesn’t it always?) at one of those music showcase weeks so popular in the 90s. There was another woman, several shots of Southern Comfort, some straight mackin’ in the back of a cab, an Alice-In-Wonderland hotel room, a cigar (this was long before Monica), and all of a sudden I was hooking up with Mr. Big.

Big was a Man. Man with a capital M. He had an ex-wife, kids, a high-pressure job, a cute ride, a frightening amount of frequent flyer miles, and a shitload of charisma that had, and still has, chicks shimmying out of their knickers at the merest hint of his Mona Lisa smile and understated laugh. That and his crazy patchwork hazel eyes had my 26-year-old knees weak (and frequently in contact with a solid surface) and my heart thumping.

At the time he worked in LA and flew up to the Bay every other weekend to see his two daughters; tawny, dappled pre-teens so haloed by gold light that they fairly floated. Those girls made me want to be a stepmom, which I still consider one my life’s ambitions. We spent time at his modernist bachelor pad in West Hollywood, my shabby-chic low-rent flat in the Lower Haight, and his ex-wife’s spread with the pool in Marin (she was in India on yoga retreat and was real cool about these things).

He talked me out of going to law school. He gave me one of the most valuable pieces of advice I’ve ever received, “Sometimes the best thing you can do is just keep your mouth shut and listen,” although I have a harder time applying that advice than I do treasuring it. He had a fantastic bathroom in LA, with a full length window in the shower and a painting of the ocean that I *still* want, all these years later. He made me gross Echinacea-laced smoothies when I was sick. I fell asleep on a dirty couch in a rehearsal studio while he jammed with his friends as the rain pounded down on LA (rain! LA! I know!). I hated the way he drove – typical BMW driver – accelerate & brake, accelerate & brake.

We ate steaks at Morton’s, romped through the pumpkin patch with his daughters at Halloween, had Thanksgiving with his parents, and spotted otters in Monterey Bay on a very wet New Year’s Day. We barbecued, went to see The Who, The Stones, and Medeski Martin & Wood. We watched The X-Files while his daughters squealed with delight and fear, and we argued with his youngest about how, yes, she did have to wear socks with those pleather sandals. He took me to yoga somewhere in west LA, and laughed at how the Ashtanga made me sweat, and taught me that it was OK come out of pose if it hurt too much. We also got it on everywhere, from his ex’s hot tub to the back of her SUV to the viewing platform of his friend’s yacht to right between his expensive sheets.

I loved his Manness – his ‘established’-ness, his endless stories (like going into his frat house’s sauna with an 8-ball and a 6-pack the night before a big paper was due, or nailing his au pair), his solidity and intelligence, the effortless, alpha-male machismo that exuded from him like pheromones. He loved my ass, I’m sure, my mind, I know, and that my life, from his eyes, was so free, open, as-yet-unwritten.

I have a picture of Big that represents his quintessential je ne sais quoi – that afternoon on the yacht, in the candy-floss pink sunset light, kicking back in the deck chair like a king on the throne, Scotch in one hand, cigar in the other, with a smug, cat-that-ate-the-canary postcoital glow illuminating his expression. King of the Hill. Top of the Food Chain. Alpha Male. My Hero.

I got so much joy from Big. He made me really happy. For six months I was over the moon, and my writing output was phenomenal – he still has a hatbox with about 90 letters and cards I wrote in those six months, and he says every once in a while, he pulls one out and enjoys that moment in time and space. I remember it as a golden age, a brief period when everything fell into place and all the planets lined up and the angels sang Ave Maria or some shit – that is, before things do what they always do, which is shift under your feet and list like the Titanic and you grab onto the railing and hang on and wonder when the lifeboat’s arriving to carry you back to shore, where you shake the water out of your hair and look around, stunned, wondering if it was all in your imagination.

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Make You Feel Like June When It’s December

A few Thursdays ago was the kind of evening that brings tears to your eyes – positively balmy, warm and tropical; all the windows in the house open, curtains swaying playfully in the breeze, people on the sidewalks headed in one direction – west, towards the beach. But not me, oh no. Since an object in motion tends to stay in motion, I was trying to get some things done, among them putting away the multiple loads of laundry I’d just washed. There are few pleasures in life finer to me than the smell of cotton sheets washed in Tide and Downy and bleached from here to Kingdom Come, so it was with a particular joy that I snapped the fitteds and the flats up in the breeze and tucked them in, just so.

Deciding to put on some music for motivation, I plucked LTJ Bukem’s Progression Sessions out of my CD rack, since I hadn’t listened to any atmospheric drum ‘n bass in a long time and figured it was just the ticket for a warm spring evening. I put the disc in, hit play, and with the first few bars and his lyric ‘make you feel like June when it’s December,’ was immediately transported back into a time and a place I now think of as bathed in tawny, gold light – a few years spent nearly joined at the hip with my homegirl, Suzen, who now lives – restlessly so – on the east coast.

And oh, how I miss my girl.

Here are some things I can tell you about her: I never thought of anyone as having ‘chestnut’ hair until I met her. She got into Georgetown because her Grandpa gave the school a million bucks, but she worked extra hard to get A’s so that she wouldn’t be just some rich kid sliding by on family money. She was the only chick I knew with a vocabulary better than mine. She taught high school English in the hood and read each and every page of her student’s journals. She was a vegetarian from the age of 8. She liked to drink. A lot. She was a knee-jerk liberal and devoted protester, staying up to party all night and showing up to march first thing in the morning. She often gave me candles as gifts, and she liked woody, spicy-smelling scents. She turned me on to Kruder & Dorfmeister’s Remix of Lamb’s Transfatty Acid (still just about my favorite song ever) and to LTJ.

And here’s what I can tell you about us: We were the two brunette Intellectual Party Girls on the largely Irish scene in Lower Haight, stepping out down the hill to see what we could see every Friday and Saturday night and spouting off with fifty-cent words between shots. She was skinnier and had bigger tits but had no ass and I pack ghetto booty. She lived around the corner from me. She taught school and I wrote for a website downtown. We bonded over colored pens and spiffy office supplies. Whereas generally I was the sensible one, getting to sleep before the sun came up, she was always the Last Man Standing at any given party, and guys liked her not just because she was hot, but because she was just a guy’s girl. In fact, I was one of her rare female friends, which made our bond all that more special. I remember staying up over white wine and party favors until 11am arguing about whether a friend of her sister’s, who had gotten a J.D. from a prominent law school and then promptly quit to stay home and raise children, was wasting her education. We never said it, but we loved each other.

And then it all went bad.

First I married a boy I had no business even dating beyond six months. Then the summer I went to Ireland for a month to clean up that mess, her boyfriend broke up with her while I was gone. She was devastated and fell in with a guy who had a penchant for smoking speed. It took about three years for her to hit bottom, during which time she moved across the Bay and became further isolated. In 2004, I saw her once. Once. This was a girl I’d spent every weekend with for years. I called her persistently; let her know I didn’t care how bad it was, that I loved her just the same.

She left about two years ago. Gave me her favorite magazine rack and my God Box. I cried all the way home from Oakland, listening to 2Pac on the freeway and thinking, west, west, as I sped over the Bay Bridge, away from the horror of the squalor that is an addict’s apartment. She went to rehab for two months, where I sent her colored pens and a cute striped diary in an anemic attempt to ameliorate her misery. After rehab, she moved back to the east coast. For nearly the first entire year of her sobriety, I heard almost nothing from her, just a few very brief emails. I was crushed and confused, but with the loyalty of any dog, I was also unfailingly patient. And a year ago today, I came home from work on the day before my birthday and found a package from Amazon.com on my doorstep, containing Sinead O’Connor’s CD of reggae covers. Sent by Suzen. And I sat in my empty room (I was waiting for Crow to show up with a new bed for me) and cried and cried. With relief, with joy, and with sorrow, as Sinead’s big voice boomed out of my stereo and echoed through the bedless room.

A bit later, she and I had a long phone conversation.

“Suz,” I said, “Remember that one summer? It’s like, it was all so gold, and we didn’t even know it. You were teaching, I was writing, we were both paying $500 rent, tons of boys and parties and life was just so……simple. So light. You know?”

She concurred, and we shared a quiet moment of communion and memory.

Now things are so much heavier, more serious. She struggles every day with addiction, the hard work of recovery, and the post-meth difficulty in experiencing pleasure. I have a ‘real’ job, a hefty nut to cover every month, dogs that depend on me, a future to think about. There are no more drunken dawns for the two of us.

But still. Though we talk very rarely (both of us are notoriously phone-phobic), we do exchange emails that vibrate with pure emotion. We tell each other how deeply we miss one another. How much we love one another. Then and now. And she still makes me feel like June.

Deep, with Shallow Moments