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Monday
Apr122010

« In Which We Was Girls Together »

The Opposite of Lonely

by ARIANNA STERN

When I came back from my San Francisco spring break trip, I tried to imagine what it was that made me feel so elated the whole time I was there. The exact feeling that I had — one of exuberance, powerfulness, and confidence, almost a feeling of invincibility — I hadn’t felt since I was 18.

Zoey, my host on the trip, was my brother’s onetime girlfriend of eight years. From early on, I intuited that we were the same in some way. Both of us grew up in the same wealthy suburb, grateful for our education but alienated by the homogeneity, segregation, and isolation of our hometown. In high school, she and I ate noodles together, and I learned to say “sex worker,” and Zoey would say sage things like “It’s just like, part of growing up in the suburbs, being bored and assuming that everyone else is having more fun than you’re having.” We put a great deal of thought into D.I.Y. haircuts and the trajectory of Claire Danes’ acting career.

We considered writing “Vote for Nixon” in the sand, but thought better of it.Explaining a friendship like ours to someone outside of it poses a challenge, because pop culture mostly tells stories about women and men. In Toni Morrison’s Sula Nel laments the end of her life’s most important friendship when she says “We was girls together,” and despite my dissimilarity to Morrison’s characters, I knew just what Nel meant. I mourned for her.

There’s something about a friendship in which the other person knows the intimate details of your life and the content of your dreams and still believes that you belong in the life that you imagine for yourself, in spite of everything. The two of us did a lot of imagining. Zoey saw the interior of my childhood home before my parents made much money. She knew that it was dirty, dark, and old. Other kids rarely came to visit, and so I spent a lot of time alone, hoping to leave but not being able. Instead of physically leaving, the two of us dreamed a lot: about the day when I would be a published writer and she would be a chemist living in sunny California. Those are the best kind of friendships, where each friend dreams on behalf of the other.

little silver bugs crawl around the wet sand. They look like beads of mercury.My brother and Zoey broke up when I had just turned 20 and it was wordlessly understood that I couldn’t talk to her for a while, out of loyalty, or out of sensitivity, or out of cowardice. She once promised my brother that she would call me, but she never did. “I was pretty sure your whole family hated me,” she told him. In October I sent Zoey a terrifying email asking her if she wanted to talk again, and we did. And then it just kept happening, each time less frightening than the last.

This city sometimes looks like an easy level of SuperMario.

At first I attributed my joyfulness on the trip to the series of happy accidents that occurred while I was there. To be fair, there were many. Zoey and I ate free falafel pieces and creamy gelato, and drank coffee that got a little thick at the bottom, like caffeinated caramel (please create this, universe). I unexpectedly saw the Gerhard Richter painting from the cover of Daydream Nation at the MoMA and choked up at the first Kahlo piece I’ve ever seen in person. The night of their show, I met most of Neon Indian on a bench outside of a museum. I said hello and wished them good luck, and thought to myself, What are the odds that I would meet this specific group of tourists, as a tourist myself, in a city with over one million people? But San Francisco just seemed to work that way, producing a series of fortunate coincidences that cumulatively seemed a little magical. Strangers introduced themselves, the races were integrated, and even the panhandlers seemed more convincing when they said you were pretty.

It took me a while to realize that I was happy because I was living on borrowed optimism — Zoey’s — because she was still doing what she always did. She imagined that things would be good for me, she planned for it, and they were. Our adolescent sadness seemed like an ugly, abandoned thing, like an empty junk food wrapper left roadside. I thought of it only when I remembered why the two of us live this way, what my life was like when being an independently mobile 21-year-old writer — or what her life was like when being a PhD candidate in Berkeley — seemed like a distant, romantic fantasy. We dreamed a lot, for each other.

Arianna Stern is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She tumbls here.

"No Aloha" - The Breeders  (mp3)

"Impossible Love" -  Gigi (mp3)

"Local Joke" - Neon Indian (mp3)

"Wellington's Wednesdays" - The Weakerthans (mp3)

References (3)

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Reader Comments (8)

Yea! This is awesome. Te pics are all sorts of gorgeous.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBritt

'Those are the best kind of friendships, where each friend dreams on behalf of the other.' Beautiful description of girlfriends in San Francisco. Was just there with two of my dearest friends from Texas, one of them found this and reposted on tumblr....enjoyed reading your words.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTJ

"she taught me to say sex worker" is my favorite part.

also : what is the story with the music samples at the end of each article? are they always chosen by the author of the post?

i like it. i'm just curious.

ps. ds lite, thanks for your insight .

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterk k

thanks Britt and TJ!

KK, I did choose the music samples at the end of this post. I'm pretty sure it usually works that way.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArianna

These are the kinds of stories that make me appreciate San Francisco more - how it can take an all these fantastical meanings for people as a place of fulfilling their dreams and desires, and how it's little eccentricities make seem all the more special to people who aren't used to them. I'm jealous that you got to experience it that way.

Thanks for sharing that, sounds like it was an amazing trip.

April 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSanchoPanda

funny that- I had a similar experience visiting Zoey, and strangely enough,Claire Danes was a heavily feature part of the conversation there.That girl crazy.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

easy level of mario brothers! brilliant. and so true. and the shot in ashbury terrace is the best piece of proof imaginable. Gavin Newsom lives 3 houses away from where that shot was taken.

Quick correction: SF just hit 800,000 people somewhat recently, not at 1 million.......yet. But maybe Neon Indian is one of those ensemble type bands like broken social scene with like 200,000 people in it, in which case, my b.

April 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenternixon4prez

Thanks SanchoPanda and nixon4prez.

My bad about the population thing. I guess I was thinking of the entire Bay Area and not just S.F. when I said "over one million," but rather than expecting people to read my mind, I should have made the sentence actually correct.

Neon Indian only has 4 band members as far as I know!

April 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterArianna

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