The last time I'd seen Alison Chavez had been all the way back in 2004. Prior to that, I hadn't seen her since 1999. It's strange to think that I'd seen someone I considered my best friend only once in 15 years, but sometimes that's how life happens.
All through our senior year of high school, she'd been telling me about how she was moving out L.A.
I asked her if she'd been accepted to a school out there.
Did she have a job lined up?
Her plan, such as it was, consisted of moving out to one of the most expensive cities in North America with maybe a few hundred bucks in her pocket, and live the hostel lifestyle until she got her feet on the ground.
Alison wanted to be an artist. She loved to paint. She parlayed that artistic talent into freelance work as a makeup artist. She did the prom makeup for most of the girls in our class. She did makeup for weddings all over town. She figured that the Los Angeles area, being the entertainment capital of the world, would offer her many paying opportunities to ply her trade.
Maybe it would have, but when you take one look at Al, you tend to ask her when the makeup artist is coming. We're talking about a girl who loved to wear things like beanies and black t-shirts and camouflage cargo pants. Her hair was shorter than most men's. She was a butch in every sense of the word. But her makeup was impeccable. Eventually, she did string together enough paying gigs to move out of the hostel and into a real apartment. She supplemented her income by doing things like freelance graphic design and tattoo design. She was still dirt poor and lived hand-to-mouth, doing things like test driving a new Nissan because the dealership was offering free hotdogs with every test drive.
But, she was living where and how she wanted, doing what she liked,how could I fault her for that?
But back in 1999, every time she talked about moving out to L.A. I was like, uh huh"¦sure you are.
So it came as a total shock to me when she came up to me after graduation to tell me she'd be leaving in a few days.
"Leaving? Where you going?"
"I told you. Out to L.A."
"Wait! What? You were serious about that?"
"Al, you can't just,"
"I've already got the bus ticket, Katie. It's a done deal."
I stared at her wanting to say more, wanting to plead, but unable to do so. I didn't want her to go, not because I was particularly concerned with her carefree attitude getting her into trouble in the big bad city, but for more selfish reasons. I was jealous and I found myself getting more and more irritated with her. And I didn't like that.
Plus, I hated that she could throw caution to the wind and just live. I couldn't do that.
I was on my way up to Maine to live with my dad and study marine biology in college. That's right, I had a scholarship, a place to live, and a safety net in place before I even considered making a move. Alison just moved.
I can admit this now, though I've never shared this with Alison, but the truth is, I wanted her to fail. I wanted her to fall flat on her face and come home with her tail tucked between her legs. I wanted,no, needed,validation that playing it safe was the way to go through life.
It's like my first surfing teacher Tom used to say: You can go with the wave or you can fight the wave. Either way, you still end up at the beach. The only variable was, how much fun did you have on the ride?
Yeah, exactly like that. Play it safe and go with life, and my ride will be,no, that's not right. Playing it safe isn't going with life. It's fighting it. It's attempting to control it. I was a longboarder, damn it! Why couldn't I work with life like I worked with the wave?
Alison moved her head around, forcing me to make eye contact with her as I looked around. "You could come with me, if you want. Two heads are better than one. Even if they are our two heads."
"Nah." I shook my head. "I've already turned Bri's invitation to Phoenix down."
"Wait. So you two are breaking up?"
I nodded in that way that one nods when it's too exhausting to explain any intricacies and details.
I was glad it was summer. I needed to hit the waves and learn some life lessons.
But that was a long time ago, and things were different now.
It was a warm day in early February of 2015. I sat in a coffee shop in Hollywood, which was cool in and of itself, because,oh my God! Hollywood! I'd come from the East Coast to the West and my first impression of Hollywood was, it's just like anywhere else. I saw bars and gas stations and convenience stores and fast food restaurants and blue collar workers getting out of trucks with their work boots on. I guess I expected to see movie starts swinging from palm trees, but I didn't see any of that.
I'd flown out for a job interview that was, for all intents and purposes, little more than a formality. The job was as good as mine. I was in town for about a week, because I was naive enough to think that was sufficient time to find and secure an apartment. Thanks to Alison's help I eventually did find an apartment all the way out in Northridge. All I knew about Northridge was that there was an earthquake named after it.
But none of that mattered.
My interview was done, and I had a few days to catch up with my best friend.
I sat, frustrated, my iced latte filling with the water of melting ice cubes, staring down at my phone and muttering to myself, "She said she'd be here in 10 minutes; that was 15 minutes ago."
Then a voice bellowed from across the coffee shop. "What up"¦BITCH!!!???"
I looked up. Alison was coming toward me in a black Batman t-shirt, low rise jeans,her wallet chain swinging with the movement of her hips. Her perfectly made up face was framed behind a pair of Clark Kent-type glasses that complimented her pompadour well. She'd acquired a couple more piercings since the last time I'd seen her. I took quick stock of what I was wearing: black flats, khaki capri pants, a black sleeveless top and a string of pearls.
I must look like an asshole.
"You look good," she lied after we embraced a couple of times.
I detected no sarcasm nor irony in her voice, but I still felt the need to explain myself. "Yeah, I'm sorry. I didn't know how fancy this place was."
"Fancy? In Nastywood? Please." She gestured at the chair I'd just risen from. "Sit, sit, sit." She used her foot to push out the opposite chair and collapsed into it. "Besides. You know I'd never be caught dead in a fancy place."
I giggled. "Sorry. I thought maybe you'd," I stopped myself, but it was already too late.
"No." I backpedaled. "That's not what I said."
"Gotten some class?"
"So you don't expect me to be grown up classy broad in a fancy city like this?"
I thought for a moment. "No. Of course not."
Alison laughed. "Oh, thank God."
A waiter with a ponytail brought Alison her coffee. When he left, the conversation picked up again. "What's with you?" Alison gestured at me with her spoon. "You look like the millennium's answer to June Cleaver."
I shrugged. "I'm corporate hack."
"It's cute and all, don't get me wrong," she said, her eyes appraising my look. "Definitely fem. It's hot. But it's not you."
I tugged at my collar and fingered my long hair. "You don't think so?"
But the conversation was already off in a different direction. Alison slid her coffee cup across the table so she could lean forward. She lowered her voice, her face inches from mine, and continued gesturing with her spoon to give emphasis to her words. "Does this mean you're moving out here?"
"That's the plan."
"To be with me?"
"Well"¦sure," I stammered. I guess the fact that I was moving out here to reconnect with Bri had eluded Alison. "Among other reasons."
"Ah," said Alison, leaning back in her chair. "The Good Doctor."
"Yeah, well, I miss the Good Doctor."
Alison sipped her coffee. "Why didn't you move out here five years ago? Four years ago, whenever it was?"
"Brianna was offered her dream job out here and I already had my dream job back in New England. Neither of us wanted to budge,"
"Wait, wait, wait! You sacrificed love for work?" She knew this. She knew the whole story. From both sides. But making me repeat it was her way of reiterating how stupid I'd been. "I always knew you were uptight, but,"
"Whoa, I am not uptight."
"Katie, when you fart only dogs can hear it."
"See what I mean?"
I sighed. "Anyway, that's the old me."
"Oh. Okay. What changed?"
I smiled, the sly grin of someone with a secret,a secret that even if divulged, would still confuse other people. I had the greatest secret, a true life hack, and I had no idea how to explain it. So, I settled for, "I asked my board."
I stood up, checking my top for crumbs from the croissant I had earlier. "I asked my board what to do."
"I don't even know what that means, Katie."
I pointed past the front door. "Are the restrooms down that way?"
"Huh? Yeah. What,"
"Great. Thanks." I used my feet to remove my shoes and walked, barefoot, down the cool tile floor, leaving Alison searching for the meaning and wisdom in the seemingly random collection of words I'd given her.
That's right. I was heading west like any other prospector looking for riches. Because my board told me to.
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