When I was living in Los Angeles in the eighties and working in the Chemistry department, I was invited to a party by one of the post-docs, Stephen Rogers. I wasn't sure why I was invited. I knew him slightly, but he seemed so much more hip and downtown, but I went anyway, because then I lived in hope that my life was about to be magically transformed. I also thought the guy I liked might be there--he said he would be, but as eventually became clear to me, he was usually lying, or to be perhaps more fairly accurate, he always hoped to be telling the truth, but generally was not.
I got there--there being a downtown loft that screamed artist. Do I remember right, that there was his art on the walls, and the surprise of finding a chemist an artist, too? I was deeply envious of the space, having come from my little studio apartment. I didn't know many people when I walked in and I was ready to make a quick turn and walk out, but steeled myself for the always difficult social situation. They all seemed so much more chic, and I felt gigantic and awkward--as always--in my funky Hollywood tat. But I tried to feel as if I were enjoying myself, while I mainly edged toward corners and watched. The moment that really stands out is everyone (except, of course, me) dancing in tiny controlled movements to the Cure's "Close to You." People who do not mark their memories with music cannot understand how indelibly that moment is etched in that song; hearing it even now makes me wistful as I see the skinny girls in their black dresses dance, feet flashing.
But later, about the time I was thinking of going (so, not much later) he told me why he had invited me. Ironically, I guess he didn't expect an artist in the staff of the Chemistry department. And I remember always what he said, "I loved watching you watching the audience watch your play." It made me feel terribly self-conscious but it also pleased me--it always pleases me to be noticed in a good way (I'm still, after all these years, the Invisible Girl) but more than that, I suppose I felt like he got it. That writing, all art, is an attempt to have an impact, to change--if not the world--then the lives of a few people. It was one of those little moments to treasure. I kept it like a trinket, one that could be kept in my pocket and occasionally pulled out to observe, smile, and secret away again. Perhaps I harbored hopes that I would fit into this artsy crowd and belong, not feel terminally awkward. But a short time later, Rog killed himself.
I recall the chair of our department coming in, haggard--he had to call the parents back in Pennsylvania. We were all stunned. I felt a sense of loss disproportionate to my slight friendship because I had that little trinket tucked in my pocket, that memory of kindness and recognition. I named a character after him in the novel I wrote at the time; the character tries to save the main character from hurtling toward madness and dissolution. But he can't quite do it. It's not much--an unrepresentative character in an unpublished novel. Perhaps the little trinket is a more fitting legacy; how rare to be seen and understood. Such a rare treasure, this little trinket. Thank you, Rog. Requiescat in pace.
(written in Roanoke VA 6.37am after waking from a disturbing dream)