Of Lost Friends and Abandoned Places

Craig and I enjoy a good movie experience. We’re trying out various Dallas movie houses to see which one we like best.  They’ve ranged from the pricey Northpark Mall ($17 a ticket) to the one we went to this Sunday ($4 a ticket, first run movies).  Sunday’s theater is creepily located in an abandoned mall.  The theatre itself was busy, the screen and sound and seating all fabulous.  Kind of messy, a lot of popcorn on the floor, but nothing sticky or gag-inducing.  Definitely better than going to the old Egyptian in Hollywood back before it was saved and renovated in the early 90’s.  At that one, I would wear long pants, thick socks and long sleeves and tuck my feet up underneath me on the chair, as giant rats would wander around in the dark, hoping you’d freak and drop your popcorn.  This weekend, walking through the abandoned mall the theatre was in caused us to speak in hushed tones. It felt funerial walking past multiple shuttered stores with dead plants in the foyer. The final remaining anchor store is closing soon, a Sears.  How far the mighty have fallen. What was once the bastion of American growth with its catalogs full of everything you could need from kit houses and cars to overalls and seed corn is now on its last hurrah.  We walked through the Sears on the way out, but didn’t buy anything despite the 80% off signs.  We felt that anything bought there would have a taint of sadness to it. 

I’m not sure why that walk through an abandoned mall triggered thoughts of my friend who passed away a couple of years ago.  Maybe it was that visual representation of what was once a vibrant, alive place now silent and just waiting to be bulldozed.  Maybe it’s her birthday that is coming up. Maybe it’s the thing I keep coming back to after walking away unscathed by The Fire – this persistent thought that I need to be more, do more, validate my survival.  It’s only been two years since I lost my friend Dawn. It feels a lot longer ago than that and the missing her still has a sharp edge.  Funny how we say we “lost” a friend when they die. Maybe it’s our hope that we will find them again.  

Dawn was my roommate along with her boyfriend in Los Angeles in the mid 90’s.  She’s the friend who taught me how to be hip after a lifetime of my being the opposite.  She did things like take me to see this new rock band in a grungy bar because she knew the lead singer Eddie. It was Pearl Jam, right before they signed with Epic.  Dawn knew and was friends with more celebrities, should-be celebrities, and used-to-be celebrities than anyone I have known who is not in the business themselves.  We would be at coffee, she smoking, me wishing I hadn’t quit, and a random Famous Person would come up and say ‘Hey”.  Dawn would flip her long dark hair to the side, give them a chin up and drawl, “Hey, how you do’n” back. Then they would have a conversation that was interesting and forthright.  She’d introduce me and often I got to become friends with them too. 

When I first met Dawn, she was very pregnant and eating ice cream all the time.  She had made the decision once the baby was born to give him up for adoption.  It was hard for her, but her circumstances were not good and she wanted a better life for him.  Dawn was tiny and snarky and edgy and incredibly strong in the face of what had been a tough life.  She found beauty in what others would consider merely dark. She was the first person I knew who wanted to be a Coroner.  Dawn was dirt poor back then, and made side money cleaning houses.  I don’t know why I volunteered to help her on a job soon after meeting her – if it was genuine sympathy for her pregnant state or prurient curiosity about the celebrity who owned it.  Probably a mix of the two.  Over the course of 4 hours of scrubbing, polishing, and vacuuming we bonded, and became the best of friends.  Dawn had a sweetness and sincerity and deep loyalty under her ripped black stockings, black cowboy boots, and big silver jewelry. She was an awesome friend.  Not long after we met, I needed a roommate, and she needed a place and it worked out.  I really liked her boyfriend as well, a mercurial man who had been a child actor.  He still worked occasionally but was focused on being a musician.  His band was forever nearly being signed by a big label.  By default of living in the same space, I helped produce some of their music videos. I think I was in one, not sure, I just remember Dawn talking me into wearing tall boots and wandering around in the background with a riding crop looking fierce.  Under Dawn’s tutelage I wore all black all the time and two watches and had a scruffy haircut that would look good even after a long night.  We drank a lot of club soda in bars watching everyone else get drunk and stupid, fending off advances from men and women alike. That kind of behavior was very far away from how I had been raised and I loved the dark adventure of it. We were regulars at the Rainbow Room and Whiskey A Go-Go, and my favorite, the Central, later renamed by Johnny Depp as the Viper Room. We would stay up and meet with Chuck E. Weiss and other rockers at Cantors Deli after their sets, having bagels and coffee at 3 in the morning.  I learned how to drawl my sentences and say off-the-cuff things and behave as if I were interesting and perhaps had secrets.  Like I said, she taught me how to be hip.

Both Dawn and her boyfriend were there for me when I took a bad fall from a horse and broke my right hip.  He’d carry me to the bathroom, and she would prop me up in the shower and have conversations with me to distract me from the pain.  They got me videos and brought me Trader Joe’s burritos to eat and helped me learn how to walk again. They talked me off the ledge when my boyfriends left, and cheered my nascent writing career on with wonderful notes and praise as I transitioned from actor to a writer in Hollywood.  Eventually Dawn moved out with him into their own place. I was a frequent visitor there in an old Victorian carriage house overlooking downtown LA.  It was right on the edge of the ghetto, but somehow it was right for them.

Dawn had an odd habit when she opened a new pack of cigarettes.  She would take one out, and turn it around so it was tobacco up in the pack.  “That’s the one that’s going to kill me”, she’d say ironically.  I never did find out where that came from or what it meant.  It isn’t what killed her though. I was the one they called late one night when Dawn got sick. I drove like a mad thing with my dying friend in the back seat to a now-closed hospital near downtown.  She was diagnosed as being in acidic ketoacidosis, and they barely saved her life.  In the days after that near-death experience we all learned about managing Type 2 Diabetes.  Sugar really is in everything, and it was maddening for me to realize how much of our food is contaminated with it. I kept orange juice in my fridge for her emergencies, and learned how to find cheap needles and insulin and how to give a shot. 

Our paths took us in different directions. I got married, and had kids and moved to the suburbs.  Dawn and her fella moved to New York to pursue art and music and we lost touch.  I found her again via Facebook a few years ago, alone now, and living out in California.  We got to talk on the phone and had a few great conversations. She was in touch with her son, though the grace of the adopting parents. It was great to hear that – I know that decision had given her a lot of pain.  It was all that sugar that she had ingested back while pregnant that had started her road to diabetes. She still had the knack of meeting famous people.  She had segued from musicians and actors to comedians at that point.  She still looked great in black.  Dawn died a couple of years ago, from complications of Diabetes. She was just shy of 50 when she passed, but in my mind Dawn is forever in her late 20’s, grinning at me in a dark loud bar over a cigarette, tipping her head back and saying “Hey” in her raspy cool voice with a hint of secrets never revealed. 

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