The first time we met was a challenge. Not a metaphorical challenge, or some kind of intellectual test with no ultimate meaning, it was an actual test. It was September 1994 and her downstairs neighbour and former roommate had had the temerity to return to Montreal with some kind of lover. To Ardessa, this was permitted – but would nevertheless require her approval.
So I was sitting in a strange apartment one street over from my new place wearing unfortunate khaki pants (which were never worn again) and a plaid button-down shirt (which was), sitting on a student-style futon that had been folded into its “couch” position. There was a big bottle of Chilean screwcap wine on the floor in front of me and I was holding a water tumbler full of the wine, looking up at this person standing before me, with blonde hair everywhere, and whose face alternated between nervous laughter and eyebrow-knitted interrogation as she tried to figure out who was this boy that N had brought home.
I passed the test, I suppose, and thus began a friendship with one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Whose friendship changed my life in ways that I didn’t understand then and never got the chance to tell her later. Who, I found out this morning at 6am, has passed away far too young.
We were never lovers – we never even made out (which is kind of surprising, if you knew Ardessa), and her friend N and I didn’t last very long as a couple (though we remained friends for a time). But for the next couple of years Ardessa became a great friend and, for a time, a constant companion. I was about 5 years older than everyone (at an age when 5 years was significant) so I was always a bit of an outsider with the group, but never with Ardessa.
Among the amazing group of artists and poets and singers who orbited her, Ardessa was always the brightest star. And she made sure that was the case, though not in an obnoxious way. Once she decided someone was a friend, that was that… at least until it wasn’t. Because when she broke with people, she broke with them completely – though to her credit she never (to my knowledge) used this as a weapon of manipulation.
She gave me a lot, this strange friend of mine. I look back and I was so naive and unsure of myself, just a young adult muddle of urges who was trying to succeed while slipping free of some of the expectations that had been placed upon him, with only a vague understanding of who I was or what I wanted. I carried myself with a lot more confidence than that – but that someone so completely given over to her art not only accepted me but liked me and sought me out… well, it gave me a confidence that I really needed.
Really, Ardessa had a kind of magic inside of her, and nurtured all of the magic around her – and if she couldn’t see the magic in a person, she either brought it out of them or… well there was no second option. I was always worried for her, this magical friend, because what happens to a person when there just isn’t any magic around? As far as I know, she never found that out. I hope she never did.
And so I have lived differently because Ardessa was in my life, because she helped me to see how awesome a life with a little magic could be. To a small extent I still measure up new experiences and people by asking “What would Ardessa think?” Not because I need her approval – it’s more subtle than that. It’s just that things just seem brighter and better when the Ardessas of the world (few as they are) are enthusiastic about them. And so if you’ve had the privilege of calling a woman named Ardessa “friend” that brightness and joy is something to be sought, or to feel guilty for not having sought when you lapse into the mundane or the typical.
So… be at peace, dear Ardessa. I’ll always miss you.