My Summer of Laura
I titled the message "Why I Can't Hang Out With You Anymore."
Laura was a dazzling, clattering spectacle of a girl, the kind of person who created a glorious racket wherever she went. That throaty laugh could boom out over the most crowded of nightclubs or city streets, and her aggressive allure made me dizzy. Close-cropped platinum hair paired with improbably black eyebrows; bony shoulders drawn up defiantly under the men’s shirts she favored; delicate features contorted as she sucked the bejeezus out of a cigarette. She was an androgynous, punk-rock Little Lord Fauntleroy.
We were both recent NYU graduates when our mutual friend Edward introduced us: the plain Jane and the Warhol superstar. He must have done most of the talking, because I can’t imagine how I would have mustered the courage.
The night we met, Laura was locked in the adoring embrace of her fiancé, a fellow student in her acting class. I watched them with fascination, madly jealous (of him, mostly) when they left together. Everything about Laura’s life seemed impossibly glamorous and slightly illicit. Not even my closest friends frequented my dingy apartment, let alone a live-in lover.
Except there she was, just a week later, sprawled out on my old brown sofa as if she’d been there a hundred times before. I wasn’t even sure how she got my address. She had shown up at my door with a joint, which we shared while she told me blithely that she and Aubrey were finished. “Finished,” she bellowed, blowing out a cloud of smoke for emphasis.
I listened intently, flushed with pleasure that Laura had chosen me as a confidante. I had other friends, of course, intelligent, supportive friends who never neglected to admire my own style and wit. But their admiration for me seemed suddenly inauthentic in the presence of what I knew instinctively to be the real thing.
“Wanna go out tonight?” She leaned in, a grin widening on that strange and beautiful face.
So began my Summer of Laura, my days spent waitressing and waiting for her calls. Laura’s job, as far as I could tell, was scheming how to score invitations to the kind of downtown parties that offered free top-shelf liquor and a good selection of lanky rock musicians. Determined to make up for the time she had spent with her “hideously boring” ex, she told me, she was in the midst of making her Big Comeback. I was more than happy to tag along as her straight man.
Those sticky summer nights, we’d circle the Lower East Side in search of prey – men, drugs, or whatever else Laura was in the mood for. Her whippet-thin figure clad in the tightest of jeans, braless under a plain white undershirt, she led me down dark stairwells into clubs with no signs. While I went to the bar, she’d survey the crowd critically and give me a full report when I returned. Other times, I’d find myself standing alone with two drinks, Laura already having slithered away with a conquest.
Our protocol was that I’d get an early morning call from Laura as she walked to the subway from wherever she’d slept the night before. “Dude, I got l-aaaa-id,” she’d say, stretching the word out to several syllables. Or, alternatively, “Dude, these kids had the best coke. You shoulda been there!”
And on some lucky nights, I was there, making out with the less-attractive band mate while she screwed the lead singer in the next room. We’d leave at daybreak to go out for breakfast, where I’d slump in a booth, stoned and exhausted, struggling to nod along to her eager chatter about the night’s adventures.
Laura could be bossy, condescending, and downright mean. Still, I never challenged her. To do so would have been to question her motives behind our friendship – a mystery with which I never dared torture myself.
In some ways, it was worse than falling in love. I was Laura’s sycophant, unfettered by the evidence that I was subverting my own identity in hopes of replicating hers. When she announced she wanted to be “bones” – her euphemism for pre-pubescently skinny – I starved myself in earnest. When she mused about starting a band, I bought a secondhand synthesizer and transcribed her bawdy lyrics onto cocktail napkins. She even cajoled me into cutting my hair in the style of Edie Sedgwick, the infamous 60’s party girl whose antics she had vowed to emulate.
But as the summer grew to a close and my parents threatened to stop subsidizing my bohemian lifestyle, I reluctantly got a “real job,” which meant taking messages and writing memos for a bad-tempered lawyer in the Empire State Building. The 9-to-5 schedule abruptly curtailed my rock-n-roll nights, and in the absence of her favorite accessory, Laura taunted me relentlessly about my “stupid bougie job” (short for the derisive bourgeoisie). Often, when I begged off going to a late-night concert for fear of sleeping through my alarm the next day, she would simply end the conversation with “You suck.” Click.
Our inevitable breakup happened over email, so disconnected were we by late fall. I titled the message, “Why I Can’t Hang Out With You Anymore.” The act of writing it wasn’t difficult, nor did it leave me feeling empowered – it was just a statement of the facts. Absent the visceral thrill of her presence, Laura had become just another angry voice on the phone, of which I heard plenty in my day job. As quickly as I had fallen for her, I had gotten up, rubbed the fairy dust from my eyes, and moved on.
Laura never answered the email. In fact, I never heard from or saw her again. I’m sure she moved on. After all, we’re really more alike than I had thought – when we’re finished, we’re finished. Cue the smoke.
Though Laura isn't an ex in the strictest sense, the narrative trajectory of our early friendship (infatuation, obsession, the deferment of my needs to hers, jealousy, frustration, and eventual "breakup") did follow that of many ill-fated romantic relationships. And unlike most of my exes, she was the one person I did wonder about, and regret how badly I had treated, long after the end.
A little update, though: we're now friends on Facebook, after I wrote her a long-overdue apology.