Last weekend I got myself a copy of Patti Smith‘s newest book, “Just Kids“. It documents her formative years as an artist and how she met her kindred spirit, Robert Mapplethorpe during a time when she needed a friend the most. The way Patti speaks of Robert makes it hard to discern whether she is speaking of a friend, a lover or a brother and the truth seems to be that he was all that and more. Their intense relationship exceeded that of societal norms and even Robert’s tragic passing at the age of 42.
I’m only a fraction of the way through the book but already I’m having a hard time putting it down. One reason is that Patti Smith is an absolute chanteuse in my mind. Brilliant and beautiful and a fearless renegade. She is at least partly responsible for changing the way art and music is ingested in our culture. The other, bigger reason, is that the love story that unfurls in this book reminds me ever so much of the first, and ultimately chance, meeting I had with my favorite cohort and partner in life.
You might know him as The Bee.
Her book is encapsulated in these words: “It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation”. For (me) and The Bee, it was the summer before 9/11 and in many ways, the last days of an innocence. It was our first taste of real freedom, and our whirlwind love affair with Philadelphia and each other would change me from basically bitter to mostly sweet.
The weekend before my high school graduation I was scheduled to attend a freshman orientation at Temple University. It was a rite of passage for all new matriculates but I couldn’t have been less interested or excited at the prospect of acclimating myself to my new home away from home for the next 4 years or so (because really? it took me closer to 5). The weekend before graduation had always been heralded as Senior Week and because of this god forsaken orientation, I was standing at the edge of a questionable neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia instead of playing beer pong for 48 consecutive hours in a condo in Brigantine with the rest of my compatriots.
Suffice to say, I was pissed.
I quickly found a friend, one of the few high school alums who would be attending Temple along with me (everyone else must have gotten the memo about the senior week/freshman orientation scheduling conflict) and we settled into our familiar time-filling conversations. It was then, standing on the sidewalk outside of my would-be dorm on a warm June day, that I saw a boy that made my heart STRAIGHT-UP skip a beat.
He was alluring in that “I’m not even trying to look this hot” way that had me drawing an immediate comparison to Brandon Boyd (It was 2001 and Incubus was relevant, I swear.) He stood on the steps to the dorm with a girl I assumed was his girlfriend, chatting amongst a group of some other fresh meat. Perhaps the glance we shared was more than fleeting because our next call of duty was to queue up and receive our room assignments for that night and guess who ended up in line behind me?
Our first words exchanged were in the moments after signing the roster where he commented on the spelling of my name. I later found out he was so observant due to the fact that his girlfriend (fyi – not the girl from the steps, bee is just a lady killa) and I shared a name phonetically, if not in print. I thought this was strangely coincidental if only as a means to have something to fall back on in our future conversations. I would soon find out there would be no lapse in things to talk about between us.
Our bond was instantaneous. We walked around together within a small group of other newbies but I honestly can’t remember being all that interested in what anyone else was doing beside the two of us. I was pretty sure he felt the same way but our words wore the veil that masked our intent from our action. We showed each other the scars we had accrued over the span of our short lives, talked about our families and found we had a shared love for American McGee’s Alice and Parliament Lights.
After the scheduled events for our first day were over we were left to our own devices, free to seek out entertainment (or trouble) independently and (me) and The Bee stole away together to pour over a list of classes to choose from for the upcoming semester. I had always been bright but since the beginning of Junior High, I was never what one would call a star student. I did my homework infrequently and studied even less (that means never) and I was lucky that I squeaked by in my competitive high school without getting booted. The only area I could always be counted upon to excel was standardized testing (which I attribute as my ONLY savior for college admittance), I just cared very little to actually apply myself.
When it came to choosing courses or a major (what now?) my being clueless would be an understatement. The only class I had really enjoyed during high school was film. And I know, I. KNOW. That’s almost as bad as saying my favorite class was lunch or recess but I really loved movies and what they conveyed, that when The Bee mentioned that he was selecting Film as his main focus of study, I couldn’t have been more on board with that plan.
We spent that evening talking and smoking cigarettes in the courtyard that a few months later we would be able to look down upon from The Bee’s dorm room. Too little time was spent sleeping and the next morning we awoke to find that the first thing on our agenda was to have our ID photos taken. Not having time to put on any make-up or fix my hair, I looked the worse for wear but my new buddy was in good spirits despite having slept on a bench in one of the communal lounges. It turned out that his designated roomie for that evening was *AHEM* engaged with a lady friend and since the beds had been (quite rudely, I might add) pushed together by the love bugs, there was literally no room for sleeping in that scenario.
We waited amongst an OBSCENELY huge group of frosh newbs to get our picture taken that day but I can’t recall being all that perturbed as I had a jovial companion who seemed to enjoy my presence as much as I did his, despite my haggard appearance.
Here’s the part where I throw my all-in-one fax/scanner/copier/printer through a window because it conveniently chose to just stop working and now I can’t scan the ID photos taken that day to aptly tie this post into a neat little bow and present the beautiful dichotomy between mine and Patti’s stories. That, and The Bee can’t find his ID. Soooooooo, I guess he’s going through the window instead…
Anyway, I always hated how I looked in my ID photo (picture chubby cheeks and disheveled pixie hair accented with a hot-pink bandana) but the smile on my face is 100% genuine. The Bee had said something to make me crack up. What exactly, I can’t remember, but less than 24 hours after meeting each other, I was beginning to realize that I had finally found the missing piece to my puzzle.
At the end of that day, we parted ways, not to speak again for a few months when we spotted each other online and realized that we had both been assigned to the same floor of the same dorm. It didn’t really occur to me then the potential fated nature of that fact, I just knew I was excited to have such an amazing friend just down the hall.
Our time together at Temple was limited. The Bee left after the first semester and so did the magic that I had begun to associate with my time spent there. Although we were not romantically linked during our time at school, our relationship was often interpreted as such, since we were rarely without the other. My boyfriend at the time regularly voiced his overwhelming distaste for my close friendship with this boy that I obviously thought so highly of and although his jealousies were technically unfounded, I soon realized my emotions were undeniably guilty of a betrayal.
After The Bee left school, I spent more and more time at home versus campus and pretty soon the appeal of dorm life had waned completely. Over the next 4 years we remained good, however distant, friends; the space between us caused by locale and logistical complications. Yet, whenever we saw each other during that time the overwhelming rush of blissful excitement would run through me and we would fall in line again, like we’d never missed a step.
Tomorrow will mark our 5th official anniversary together. In many ways it feels like it’s been ages longer than that and somehow impossible to think that we’ve shared so many years with each other already. I feel really lucky in that way. He’s my partner & my best friend.