When I told my new friend, Arden, that I had just sold my refrigerator to buy a pair of earrings at my favorite store, Fizz on Market Square, she looked at me solemnly and said, "Anybody who would do that deserves to be really happy." She looked out at me from eyes the same indigo color as her BMW sports convertible. "And I'm sure it was worth it," she continued, looking at the sparkling silver earrings that dangled almost to my shoulders.
"It definitely was," I said, relieved to have approval for my stupidity, which is pretty much ongoing when it comes to shopping.
Arden adores Fizz, too, the only difference being that she can afford it while I definitely cannot. It's unfortunate, for everything in Fizz is beautiful—it shimmers and shines, is soft to the touch, and makes you feel like a goddess as soon as you put it on. It's almost—but not quite—worth getting evicted for.
Arden and I sauntered past Fizz to my second-favorite store, Earth to Old City, where I have also spent my rent more times than I care to admit. I made a sign of the cross, as if to ward off vampires, and we moved on toward the Bistro at the Bijou, arm in arm, as though we had been comrades for many lifetimes instead of acquaintances of only a few weeks.
Inside the Bistro, Arden headed straight for the bar. "I always prefer to sit at the bar," Arden said. "It's more real, the reflection of ourselves in the mirror."
"Me, too," I said enthusiastically. I was proud to be Arden's friend. She had everything I lacked—self-confidence, money, an expensive haircut, and red-painted toenails that were superb. Further, she had a joie de vivre that bubbled out and lifted the spirits of everyone she met. And at age 65, she was still something to look at it. She had style, she had money, she had humor, and she was the most generous, kind-hearted person I ever knew.
We plopped down on bar seats. "I'll have a spicy Bloody Mary with two shots of vodka on the side," Arden said, smiling radiantly at the bartender.
"Me, too," said I. When the drinks arrived, we click glasses and Arden downed both shots immediately. She began filing her nails. About 20 bracelets lined her arms and made a tinkling noise as she moved her hands.
Not one to be left behind, I followed suit, feeling suddenly that I existed only to be a reflection of Arden. I stared at our wavering images in the mirror. It was hard to tell who was who in the dim light of the bar. Both of us had short blonde hair; both of us were fashionably thin, both of us had blue eyes, and we were both wearing blue-jean jackets, only Arden bought hers at Mast General Store while I purchased mine at the Community Chest. Who knows, maybe I bought the jacket Arden had just donated?
I watched Arden in the mirror as she chatted with this person and that, completely unaware of her own charm, and I recalled how we met. I was crossing Gay Street when I heard a crunch. This attractive, fierce little woman was trying to park her sports car in between two Audis and she moved the tiny car back and forth with unrelenting determination until finally she found her place about a foot from the curb—but not before she banged the red Audi in front several times, creating a scratch as long as my arm.
A group of women in dark suits watched in horror, as did I.
By this time I had crossed the street and could hear the conversation.
"What do you think you are doing?" one of the suited women asked.
"I think it's perfectly obvious what I'm doing," said this woman, unperturbed.
"You just scratched my car," the woman said angrily, but also baffled, as was I, by this woman's imperious attitude when clearly she was in the wrong.
The woman in the dark suit scratched her head. "I don't think you want to argue with me," she said. "We're all lawyers."
Arden put her hands on her hips. "Big deal. I'm beautiful and I'm rich," at which point I applauded.
At which point she invited me for a drink. We became friends immediately, as serious drinkers often do, sensing the kindred spirit that lies behind the hilarity of immediate gratification, and also knowing the dark thoughts that underlie the seeming frivolity. Not to mention the serious consequences of too many drinks drunk too fast.
Arden ordered glass after glass of wine, white for her, red for me. Not the cheap kind either, but the best they had. When I commented that I really couldn't afford all those drinks, she responded, as she always did. "Don't worry about it, I'll take care of it."
In return I gave her my paintings of women—painting after painting of sad, morose women, which were, admittedly, not very good. But Arden thanked me as though they were Renoirs and without fail said: "I love your paintings." And she immediately hung them on the living room wall of her beautiful, enormous Sequoyah Hills home.
The last time we drank together, on the roof of Preservation Pub, the sun was just going down as we downed yet another shot of vodka. "Where'd you get a name like ‘Arden?' I asked her. "It sounds more like a perfume than a woman's name."
"Oh, I invented my own name. My birth name was Linda." Arden shook out her new haircut, newly streaked and cut by Salon Visage.
"Me, too," I said, as though I had just arrived from another country and those were the only words I knew.
Though Arden and I had a remarkable friendship, albeit enhanced by alcohol, it was destined to be short-lived, for eventually Arden ended up in treatment and I lost her to AA. It was a great thing for her, but I missed my friend. I still miss her.
For she was always delightful, always loving, and the most charming person I have ever known. And although Arden was rich and I was poor, she never, ever let it make a difference. Her generosity was beyond compare, as was her kindness. She walked though the horrendous clutter that was my apartment as though it were a castle and even offered to help me clean it up. That's the way she was. And still is, I hope. She lit up everything she touched and was utterly extraordinary.
I have only seen Arden once since she got into recovery, when our eyes locked for an instant, and then we hastily looked away, as though we had never met. I understood. Being in recovery forces you to weed out the bad seeds, those who are still drinking, in order to protect your own recovery.
If you happen to read this, dear Arden, know that I will always remember your spontaneity, your dazzling personality, and your unrelenting generosity that never expected anything in return. And the way you crinkled your blue eyes up at the sun the last time we met and you handed me a crisp $20 bill. "I can't have you going around with no money," you said, as you drove off into the sunset in your tiny, blue sports car with the top down, your hair ruffled by the wind.