It’s funny how people can gild the edges of a period of their life with such diffused golden light that it takes on an elevated, near perfect status. The times about which people say, “Those were the best years of my life.” High school, maybe, or college.
For me, it was the seven months I lived in Los Angeles with my best friend (I shall call him Billy. He should know why) after graduating from Notre Dame.
I’m one of “those” girls. I moved across the country for a boy. Of course, this boy was gay. Billy was the Will to my Grace, and I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him from my daily life after college.
I didn’t ask him if he wanted a roommate. Near the end of senior year I just started repeating the question: “Where are we going? New York or LA?” He wanted to pursue acting, and these were his (our) options. I wonder if I merely steamrolled him into living together. He was the gay best friend of every girl in our tiny theatre department, and I was determined to have him to myself. I didn’t give him a choice, and god bless him, he let me tag along on his dream, though I had no direction or plans myself.
We shared a one bedroom apartment in North Hollywood, two twin beds separated by a night stand in full Lucy/Desi glory. Billy cooked (chicken in a can was our staple) and cleaned. I made him drive everywhere we went together. When there was a cockroach living in our microwave digital clock, we both set about screaming like little girls, but I made him get it out.
I don’t know what I contributed. Ideally, I was supportive company as he adjusted to life far from his Midwest upbringing, still pretty newly out, pursuing acting in a Notre Dame Type-A way while slowly realizing there is no control to be had in show business. Realistically, I was moody and I don’t know why he put up with me.
Those were my golden months, but really, we didn’t do anything. We were obsessed with movies. We ate out once a week. We watched TV. Billy created interpretive dances for whatever crappy songs were popular. We cooked our first Thanksgiving away from home.
We never had a fight. We laughed. God, did we laugh.
Those months are a collection of intricately woven inside jokes and silliness that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone except us. But I remember every single minute of it. It was a moment that belonged to us and us alone.
What’s funny is, that was the time before my life really started. I had no career direction out there. At 22, I had barely kissed a boy, let alone dated one. My professional and personal life did not begin until I left California.
The decision to leave Los Angeles was easy. I hated the perpetually perfect weather, the interminable traffic, the unshrinking distance between myself and my family.
But the decision to leave Billy was hard.
There is the paradox. I know I was unhappy out there. I ran away after barely more than half a year. And yet still, I look back to those months as “THE TIME.” The “those were the days.” There is a shine to that time.
I know it is the reflected gleam of the love I had for the boy I shared it with.
One of those movies we saw while we lived together was The Hours (Billy, being well and properly gay, adores Meryl Streep). At the time I was not a fan, but I later read the book by Michael Cunningham, and it resonated much more deeply with me. I’m struck by this passage:
“It had seemed like the beginning of happiness, and Clarissa is still sometimes shocked, more than thirty years later, to realize that it was happiness; that the entire experience lay in a kiss and a walk, the anticipation of dinner and a book…There is still that singular perfection, and it’s perfect in part because it seemed, at the time, so clearly to promise more. Now she knows: That was the moment, right then. There has been no other.”
No matter if I was unhappy and it was the right decision to leave Los Angeles, no matter if I’ve met so many amazing people and done so many things to be proud of in the years since I retreated to the East Coast, no matter that much of my adult life BEGAN after that idyllic sunshiny interlude, I still think of those months, maybe not as “THE” moment, but as “A” moment, a beautiful, important one. In its own silly, imperfect way, it was most definitely happiness.
Billy and I actually don’t talk much these days. But I just saw him for the first time in four years and it felt like we’ve never been apart. Our mutual memories and struggles keep our connection joyfully close to the surface.
So thank you, friend, for a gift I didn’t appreciate at the time, the gift of creating an “us” that time can never destroy. Thank you for still making me laugh so hard I can’t breathe, a full decade later. Thank you for taking care of me when I was young and stupid, and for still taking care of me when I’m older but not too much wiser.
I hope each of you has a friend like this, a time like this. There is nothing for which I am more grateful.