Today is my birthday, and this post will probably be depressing and rambling and unedited, as usual for the annual birthday post. I find writing can be very therapeutic, like acupuncture, with words as needles. A month ago, my friend, “Flora,” committed suicide. She was an eccentric writer with six dogs, two turtledoves, an iguana, a cat that once tried to kill me in my sleep, and a cutout of Captain Kirk that freaked me out in the darkness. We met at the Frustrated Aspiring Writers’ Club, and I rented out her basement for six months several years ago, and it proved to be a mistake. I thought she was nervous wreck who had serious issues that masked occasional glimpses of genius in poetry and prose. She thought I was a conniving, sarcastic, and unnecessarily acerbic, but a decent writer who was wasting his talents by being practical and trying to save the world. We both loved artichokes. Early in the morning, at 6am, Flora would wake up to play her saxophone, terribly, loudly, and her dogs screeched along, and at 1am, I would be up typing away, and she’d thump the floor, telling me to go to sleep. I got the hell out of there. We became friends.
These past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about Flora, trying to get past the guilt. She had called three days before she died, asking to hang out, to get lunch. “Sorry, Flora,” I said, “I have to work today.” It was a half-lie. I did have work, but I could have met her if I had really wanted to.
She had been trying to write a fantasy book. 700, maybe 800 pages, surviving on water and occasional lunches from friends. “I have to get published,” she said, “I can’t keep feeding the dogs oatmeal!” Life would get better when she got published. She would have money, and a husband, and a child. She scoffed at my suggestion that she find a part-time job. So she wrote. Then she couldn’t write any more. The words just wouldn’t come. She moved to Port Townsend to get a new perspective, and weeks later sent me an email: “It is breathtakingly lonely over [here]…Like entering the zone of cross hatched density, and being bogged down. Throw me a life line!”
I never did, except for treating her to lunch once a while. These visits were constant battles between reality and the illusions that Flora wove around herself. At 51, she still harbored dreams of having a biological child. And when I tried to gently inject doses of reality, she would shut down and counterattack, saying I should write more, should abandon my nonprofit, live on the edge, and get published. “Lift up the world, make it better, with your words, your humor,” she suggested. What would you know, I would think, somewhat resentful that a woman who grew up in an upper-class family, whose parent still paid her mortgage, had the audacity to tell me to live on the edge.
Still, we had good times, and once a while she sent me her short stories and poems. Most of the time they rambled for days, but occasionally they were brilliant. She was always fun to talk to when I left her illusions alone.
Today I am another year older, and the white hairs and furrowed brows show it. This week, a teenager at our after-school program guessed my age to be 40. On birthdays the existentialist in me start feeling the weight of time, wondering what I have accomplished in life. Flora hated birthdays also. “My last birthday is freaking me out all year,” she emailed, “It is an acute pain in my heart, this birthday. Shit.”
I think about my last day with her. The two lonely, unproductive months in Port Townsend seemed to have aged her several years. She had lost some of her animals. She was arrested for causing an accident while driving. She came back to Seattle, and it was sad seeing her so defeated, her eyes a little clearer, harder. I brought her a pizza. We went on a walk. “You were right all along,” she said, “practical. I should be practical. I should have been.” “Excellent,” I said, “you’re joining the dark side at last.” “No,” she said, “It’s not dark. It’s the middle light.” “That’s easy then,” I said, “you’re just having a…mid-light crisis.” She laughed. “God, it’s good to laugh with someone again.”
We stood on a bridge in Seattle’s Ravenna Park, looking down at the creak. I tossed down a piece of moss and it started floating down, hitting the water. Flora ran to the other side of the bridge to see where it went. “I just want to see if it makes it to the other side,” she said. I said, “Of course it will. It only has one way to go.” She smiled. “No more metaphors,” she said, “just help me be practical.” We came back to the house and brainstormed categories and lists, from making friends, to getting more sleep, to paying her parents back, to being happier. Her most pressing need was finding a job, and I helped her write her resume, a frustrating exercise, with her 30 jobs, from pony wrangling to tour guide, each one lasting no more than one or two months. I left. For a week I forwarded her any job posting I could find. Three days later she called, asking to hang out. At the end of her life, she had isolated almost everyone, and I was the last friend she had left. And I told her I was too busy.
It is ironic. Flora believed that we each carve our own path. She read every Jagged Noodles post, and rolled her eyes whenever I complained about Karma and Fate being unkind for all the misfortunes I’ve encountered. “Over and over you discuss fate and karma and retribution as if you stepped in the sticky mud puddle of religion and went down in a sudden swoophole of quicksand,” she wrote, “When I first met you, you were overflowing with positive and joyful energy. GET A GRIP on that, Huy.”
Maybe I will. Today I’ll take a day off from work. I’ll sleep in and eat a pint of soy ice cream and watch movies on Netflix and try to be grateful to be alive. I didn’t realize how much I missed Flora. Even when life chipped at her illusions, she still saw light and beauty in the world and believed in me. “I’m glad the red rocks of Sedona are beautiful,” she emailed during one of her penniless, soul-searching road trips, her art-car crammed with dogs and turtledoves, “I’m glad you’re alive, witty edgy manic sane serene jittery talented wise loving little brother. Be the rogue representative, the witty sharp natural you are, the caring compassionate evil genius.”