We met my Junior year in high school. She was my boyfriend's mother. He was out of the country, so I guess she felt comfort in being near me while he was away. The feeling was mutual. I spent many weekends escaping my boarding school with her. She lived in Berkley so it was easy for her to whisk me away. I remember driving up highway 17, through the trees, breathing in the temporary freedom.
Susan was genuinely content living simply. She occupied several dwellings while I knew her. All of them small, unique and comforting. My favorite was her "basement" apartment in Berkley Hills. It was the lower portion of a home on a steep hill, so, though it was a basement unit, it wasn't really underground. It was one large room with a closet for a kitchen and a large fireplace. The best feature was the window which spanned the entire front wall. The view was breathtaking. Berkley, SF, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges; felt like you could reach out and touch them.
Her bedding and her dishes were white. She loved her upright piano,
which she was just learning to play. She always made me potato soup because she knew it was my favorite. She would make up songs about anything and sing them in a mousy hush while we were driving. She was a poet to the core. Everything she saw, or did, had poetry in it. And she wrote it down on whatever medium was available to her in that moment.
She opened my eyes to variety and culture. We wore out our soles walking the eccentric streets of Berkley and the menagerie of SF; going to an organ concert that she read about in the paper, strolling through Golden Gate Park, and those pastries at that bakery on that side street which I never would have found without her.
After brunch we meandered around and landed at a theater. Huge banners advertised that Le Miserables was showing. We somehow managed to buy the last two tickets, on the front row. The musical so deeply moved us that, at intermission, I remember, we bought some bread and walked it across the street to give to a few of the homeless characters sitting there. When the production was over I clapped so hard that my hands ached. This is still one of my very most treasured memories.
In 1991, a massive fire took much of the Berkley hills, her home, her piano, my guitar, and all of her poetry included. She was devastated. Such an enormous blow to such a fragile, sensitive, soul.
Our bond was uncommon. Losing her constancy in my life was heartbreaking.
We spoke for at least an hour the other night. Tears streamed. She filled me in on bits of her life's story. After the fire, she was unable to write; too much pain. But, eventually, she grew the courage to begin again, and has since written over 1500 verses. She just recently submitted a book for publishing and wanted me to know. Gives me tears even as I write this; to know she has carried me in her heart all these years, as I have her.
It's a curious thing how people grow into each other...