Oh, Susannah

May 9, 2009 § 8 Comments


     Sappho, Charles-August Mengin, 1877

Today I am seeing Sanna (Susannah), my high school friend, whom until recently I hadn’t seen in 14 years. Facebook reconnected us.

Her older sister was my best friend, so she came to me in the role of the little sister. Big-eyed, petite, pretty as a doll, very long wavy dark hair, she was just what a little sister should be: admiring and sweet. She told me her sister Abby was beautiful and fascinating. She was her staunchest defender. She was everything I wanted to be to my older sister but never could because there was too much rivalry between us, though I also thought my sister was beautiful and fascinating.

Sanna was my experiment in corruption. Most of it was make-believe: a lot of hot air from me, yearning from her. But I did get her drunk—or tipsy—a few times before she was 16. I think we smoked pot together. I told her stories about sex, since I had had a bit by then, a few nights here and there with Jerome and Jonathan and Ken: Ken in the woods, sticks biting my back, in my bedroom in the house on Bank Street while my mother and stepfather chatted in the kitchen 3 flights below, on my scary Aunt June’s water bed (she didn’t allow males in her apartment, but she wasn’t home).

It’s so easy, even now, to leave out the parts about loneliness and desperation. It was erotic; it was exciting. I wouldn’t give back those experiences. But with Sanna I jumped at the chance to practice my craft of cleaning up the stories so they were properly corrupting (in the best sense): only the worldliness, none of the shame.

Her older sister listened too, but more skeptically. She was well acquainted with her dark side, which was why we had become friends in the first place. Dark, smart, sarcastic and weird: that was Abby. Sanna was the little sunshine girl, the lambkin who took a few more years to find her own darkness and weirdness.

And now Abby’s happy. In her pictures (I haven’t seen her in decades) she looks radiant, while Sanna’s face is shadowed with all that hasn’t worked out. Middle-aged sorrow, that frame I am so accustomed to, though Sanna still looks pre-Raphaelite to me.

She’s writing a novel. When I close my eyes, I can see her handwriting on a story she wrote in high school, though I don’t recall the story. I remember thinking her handwriting was very soothing. And I remember the time I wanted to make an invocation to some goddess or another and Abby and I talked Sanna into lying naked on a table while we covered her with fruits and vegetables. It had to be her because she was the virgin.

She’s probably still embarrassed about this. Too bad. Most virgins in that position get fed to dragons. All Abby and I did was admire our own silliness and marvel at how obedient Sanna was.

In boarding school, 18 months earlier, I used a real centuries-old magic book, banded together with Ken, Amy Wallace and a few others, built a fire on a hillside and invoked a demon to kill a teacher. (It didn’t work, maybe because the others were too chicken to voice this wish. I was the only one.) With Sanna and Abby, all I remember doing is giggling.


The Dog of Art


That dog with daisies for eyes

who flashes forth

flame of his very self at every bark

is the Dog of Art.

Worked in wool, his blind eyes

look inward to caverns and jewels

which they see perfectly,

and his voice

measures forth the treasure

in music sharp and loud,

sharp and bright,

bright flaming barks,

and growling smoky soft, the Dog

of Art turns to the world

the quietness of his eyes.


 ~Denise Levertov

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