I was waiting for a turkey burger at Congregation Ale House by myself on Friday night, a solo dinner date that’s becoming increasingly common, thinking about how much time I spend alone these days, and how easy it is as I get older and lives get busier to let close friendships go by the wayside, when I decided to read an essay one of those past cherished friends posted on Facebook several hours before.
Because Professor Jane Hseu, Ph.D., is an academic, I thought her essay would be over my plebeian head, which is why I hadn’t read it earlier in the day. What I didn’t expect was how touched I would be by her piece. Having been close friends in our youth, I’m ashamed to say I knew next to nothing about the stories she shared in this essay.
Here’s Jane’s beautiful intimate family portrait about the origin of her name: http://www.kartikareview.com/19/hseu.html.
I was friends with Jane in high school and during our undergraduate years and always considered her my most cutting-edge friend. Reading her essay, I was reminded of the drastic difference between our perceptions about ourselves and others’ perceptions of us.
Here’s what I remember about Jane:
Jane introduced me to Nirvana. We took a trip to Pier Records in Newport Beach, where she bought Bleach on cassette when it was new. Somehow she knew about this band when no one else did. She threw the tape into her tape deck, and we listened to it all the way home.
I remember thinking what the hell is this?
I immediately put her in the “cool” column.
In 1990 Jane took me to my first X concert at the Hollywood Palladium. She snuck a tape recorder into the venue in the front of her jeans back when pat-downs weren’t as thorough. We hung over the balcony and sweated the 100-plus-degree sticky-punk-kid temperatures and gawked at Kim Gordon, who stood spitting distance beneath us. Listening to the terrible recording of the show later, most of what’s audible is static and my dumb teenage voice making a comment about Exene’s recent weight gain. (Insensitive little brat. Ugh.)
At the end of the show, we ran into a couple of Jane’s older male friends, who didn’t attend our school and weren’t even in high school anymore.
I wondered how did she meet these guys?
I put another check in her “cool” column.We ended up at Canter’s drinking coffee with these boys until after 2:00 in the morning. I didn’t get home until 4:00. By then my parents assumed I was dead. Jane is one of the few people I knew besides me who could stay out until 4:00 AM and return home sober.
When Jane was a senior in high school, my boyfriend was a junior in high school, and I was a freshman in college, Jane threw a party my boyfriend and his best friend didn’t want to go to. They complained they wouldn’t know anyone there, and they reluctantly let me schlepp them and their heavy metal mullets to her house, hemming and hawing about how lame it was going to be.
When we pulled up to her house, the best heavy metal band at their school was unloading their gear in her driveway.
“Holy shit. No way. Yes!” they said.
I inadvertently took them to the most kick-ass party of their high school career, where my boyfriend decided to book guitar lessons with one of the band members.
Jane was responsible for the only night I ever spent in a college dorm room. We were both English majors, but she was at UCLA while I spent two years in junior college and almost three driving from my parents’ house to UCI every day. I never had the true “college experience,” but I got a glimpse of it the night I carried my pillow from the parking lot into her dorm and slept on the floor next to her bunk bed.
That night we painted the “loft” she and her roommate had built so their mattresses would hover over the limited floor space, giving them extra room. We got high on paint fumes and ogled the hot boy who stopped in her doorway to chat while draped in a towel after a shower down the hall.
Maybe living in a dorm wouldn’t be so bad after all, I thought.
I changed my mind later that night when Jane’s friend called her room in the middle of the night and left an abrasive voicemail on her answering machine, suggesting Jane didn’t answer the phone because she must still be “out,” not considering maybe Jane and her roommate and her dear friend Chelsey were fast asleep at 3:00 AM.
I lugged my pillow back to my parents’ house, resolute in my decision to never live in a noisy dorm, but I continued to be secretly jealous Jane was a student at UCLA, and I was a student at a “commuter school.”
When Jane moved out of her dorm into a house in Santa Monica with her best UCLA friends, I was again envious, even after the Northridge earthquake cracked their wall. One of the last memories I have of spending time with her was a night when they threw an epic party and one of my South Orange County neighbors showed up on the front doorstep while we were hanging on the porch. We decided it sure was a small world after all.
Nearly three decades after Jane and I first listened to Kurt Cobain repeat “you could do anything” over and over in her car on the way home from Pier Records, we live 2,000 miles apart and don’t know each other anymore, and yet we’re both working toward publishing memoirs, and we have a shared, treasured past.
On a night when I wished a familiar face sat across from me at dinnertime, her essay made me feel a little less alone and gave me insight into a childhood I thought I knew better than I did. For that I am thankful.
What have I been up to?
My poor blog has been neglected in recent months because I rewrote my whole manuscript during an intense four-month period. It was a 79,000-word essay collection. Now it’s a 60,000-word memoir with new material. No one ever said this process would be easy. Now I’m rewriting my book proposal, and I just placed a new craft essay in the January 2018 issue of Brevity, two years after my first Brevity craft essay appeared. Stay tuned.