I longed for Leela to be my friend. She said she was and all the discomfort that surfaced when I was with her I stuffed like newspapers into the cracks to keep the cold air out.
Leela had to do with being an artist in the city. That’s what I wanted to be. I had brought myself to the city, had watched as the sidewalk did not sprout friendships and typed pages like mushrooms, but there was Leela.
She had become beautiful since college. Her resume was so much better than mine. She’d become a model of all things, flying to St. Bart’s and Japan, showing up in Vogue.
I had tried it out in L.A. for about five minutes, had gone to a photo booth, taken four pictures and sent them to an ad. The man on the phone suggested I send him a photo with my hair down instead of tied back tight and somehow it just felt silly and empty and I wouldn’t win anyway.
But Leela had all that and a studio apartment in the Village and a job at an art gallery. She spoke of grown-up friends, like Jonathan who wrote for Rolling Stone and gave her ideas for what to read next. Paul Bowles.
She’d speak of these people casually, with a little laugh of amusement, and we read Oriana Fallaci’s autobiography and both wanted to be her: daredevil writer.
Leela had a large loom in her dark studio almost-unfurnished apartment. I loved the loom and that she knew how to use it, but when she and I went out to dinner she talked of how she wasn’t weaving.
We both spoke of becoming writers.
She talked of Milo, her boyfriend, and I imagined him dark, tall, sophisticated, sleek. And she had dinner with Salvador Dali who wanted to paint her.
Milo, the gallery, her model friends were in one world, and she kept me in a separate one. I wanted my life to flower. I wanted to be rushing to parties, and I was not. At all. She was, but on the other side of the partition, and I couldn’t quite figure it out – why I was not invited -- and answered those questions by not asking them.
She gave me a pair of earrings made of lapis lazuli. She named the stone as if it were magic as she handed me the small box in the tiny restaurant. I treasured the small blue stones. I treasured too the cast-off dress she gave me – not because it had been hers but because it really was a wonderful dress – blue and loose and long and flowing.
I was mad at her the afternoon we walked through Soho, her actually walking into the clothing stores that looked like art galleries, trying on cowboy boots that cost 100s of dollars while I wondered how to make $10 last the weekend.
I loved her face – the high wide cheekbones, the narrow blue eyes that became slits when she smiled. And I wanted my camera to capture what I saw. She stood for me once, dressed in black leather jacket, by the window of Jeffrey’s empty apartment where I was camping out. She stood by the window as I held up my mother’s 35mm Exakta, the one she had passed on to me, and I hoped for a rich black and white portrait of this face I loved to look at, and I printed two shots on 8x10 paper – one where she is looking at the camera like a model, and the other where she is laughing and blurry. Neither was what I wanted exactly.
She wrote to me two years ago, an email. There it was, her name in my inbox, as if I had always known it one day would be.
We spoke on the phone. When we hung up I knew I would not call or write again. What was it? A cold cold wind on a barren wasteland – somewhere between the words and what she said, the allusions to things that again cost more money than I had ever seen, her presence a place I knew could not give warmth or nurturance of any kind.