Sunday, July 26, 2015

Comfortably Numb

Katherine and I both share the memory of the first time we laid eyes on one another, with our parents and a number of other grade eight students, in Mr. Kirkwood's English classroom at Martingrove Collegiate. Some months later, in grade nine, and actually students in his English class, we discussed that day, and how we had been drawn to one another. In typical Amelia fashion, my thoughts had been, "She looks so cool. She'll never want to be my friend." In fact, she did want to be my friend, and in fact, she was not particulary "cool," despite what I and several of her young suitors initially believed.

Katherine was and is unusual, smart, wise about people in a way few people are, and unwise about certain social conventions in a way few people are, a dreamer, a writer, a loyal friend, and a truly remarkable human being. But "cool" is not even in Katherine's vocabulary.

Katherine-isms include an unbelievably poor sense of direction, especially when one lives in a city as sensibly laid out as Toronto (Had we grown up in Halifax, I am sure she would still be trying to find her way home),  long-winded voicemail messages, and, still astonishing to me is this last one - the bizzaro, opposite world ability to come across as a snob.

There is not a snobby bone in Katherine's body, which is no small feat for someone with such refined taste in literature. She is one of the least judgemental people I have ever met in my life. Yet throughout highschool, I repeatedly heard her referred to as a snob. Friends and I would sometimes refer to her as a "little grown-up," because she was uncommonly articulate and used multi-sylabic words and, having grown up without cable television and with a steady diet of classical music, was completely unaware of the popular culture touchstones that united our peers. I made fun of her a lot, about all of that stuff, and, I presume, because we are still best friends 25 years later, that she took it all in jest or, just as often, completely missed it. She talked smart and she was often lost in her own thoughts, seemingly distant, and these things, I guess, made her appear snobby. But really, I never saw how people saw that; I only knew that they did because they told me.

Katherine was also very cute and small and all of the boys were in love with her. I mean, it was crazy the boys that were in love with her - the jock boys, the nerd boys, the weird boys, even the right-wing conservative boys. Several of my crushes developed crushes on her. Perpetually single in high school, I often felt like a third wheel, and I sometimes resented it, but my resentment felt less like "Why do they like her?" and more like, "They don't even like her." Because, for the most part, Katherine dated nice, unremarkable boys. I do think they saw something special in her but I don't think they had any idea what it was.

Katherine's favourite song for a very long time, when we were in high school, was Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb." While it was I who introdued Katherine to many cultural touchstones, it was Katherine who introduced me to Pink Floyd, by way, I presume, of her older brother Tony (who also introduced her, and then I, to Billy Bragg!)

Because it was her favourite song, she carried it into her earliest relationships, and for two consecutive ones, it became "their" song. Two! Consecutive relationships! "Comfortably Numb"! As inappropriate as that might seem, it isn't hard to see how that song could have resonated with someone who felt so outside of the whole high school experience that her peers - myself and her boyfriends included - were such active participants in: "You are only coming through in waves / Your lips move but I can't hear what you're saying."

It is hard to paint a picture of Katherine because she isn't a type. I have never met anyone who reminded me of Katherine. And that's part of the pleasure of knowing Katherine.

Most of the pleasure of knowing Katherine involves words. It has been getting to read her writing throughout the years - she is one of the best writers I know. And it has been lengthy discussions about people - their behaviours and oddities and particular reactions to particular situations. And when I talk to her about myself and my life, I am always reminded of how she really knows me and how I am in the world, better than almost anyone.

When I have teased Katherine about certain aspects of her behaviour, she has retorted that some of these traits are Amelia traits as well, and I do see a small amount of Katherine lite in some of my behaviour. Something I like and believe about myself is that I am someone who is difficult to pigeon-hole; that I am full of contradictions. And she was and is certainly like that in the very biggest way - so concurrently wise and unwise.

Katherine has been married for several years now to a man, Andrew, who makes sense for her, and who I'm enormously happy to see her with and to get to have in my life as well. He is strange and thoughtful and smart and kind in ways that are not quite like Katherine's ways but that are complimentary. And he really sees her, which is what I have always hoped for for Katherine.

A couple of weeks ago I attended Katherine's son's 16th birthday party with Katherine and Andrew. It had been years since I had seen him and he has become, so seemingly suddenly, a teenager, with friends and enthusiasm and a passion for weird art projects. He looks like her, and I could not help recalling Katherine and I at that age. How difficult and devastating and exciting and new everything is when you're 16, and how lucky Katherine and I were to have had one another.

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