This post is not about the band, though I have a soft spot in my heart for them as well. Instead, it’s about my friend Amber, whom I’ve known for a solid decade now and who remains one of my best and most trusted friends.
After graduating middle school, most of my friends went to what was generally known as the “rich” school. I was saddled on a boundary line and ended up at a school that wasn’t quite the most infamous for fights and general dickishness, but it was up there. I spent my freshman and sophomore years there and while I didn’t have many friends, the friends I made counted for something.
My junior year, a new high school opened. This one was higher up in the mountainous region we called “the hill”, and it fucked up the zoning system for schools. I ended up getting sent to the school most of my middle school friends went to just in time for those friends to move to the new school. I was angry, lonely and displaced. I was partying a lot then, too. I wasn’t very friendly and I didn’t want to be friendly. I had friends. Like I gave a flying fuck what anyone else thought.
I mean, I did. I was super sensitive about a lot of things. I just hid it behind a veneer of sarcasm and rage.
I met Amber that year. We shared Marine Biology later (this has some weird relevance). She was dating this kid at the time who was into some sketch shit and who I probably should have been more cautious of than I was, but I always had a problem with common sense. I liked her. A lot. But she wasn’t single, so I turned my eyes towards her friend, instead. That didn’t go well, either.
Romantically, shit just didn’t work out for me there. Truthfully, it didn’t work out for me in high school much at all. But where Amber and Amanda weren’t love interests, they were decent lab partners and really good friends. I remember saving their ass with some poster board project on sea life I drunkenly cobbled together and walked them through because I was a functioning alcoholic at 16. I was and remain a terrible sculptor, though, and our paper mache whale (it was supposed to be a bowhead, I think. Maybe a fin) somehow had no head. It just…tucked into its chicken wire rib cage. We got a shit grade, it got hung up on the ceiling anyway, and when the electricians crawled through the ceiling (that wing of the school was scheduled to be remodeled the next year) some wires got crossed and out of thirty or forty whales, ours was the only one that caught on fucking fire.
Amber and I talked on MSN messenger a lot. Do you remember that? It was a solid messaging system for many years. She spoke to me despite her boyfriend’s raging jealousy and even when he made her stop talking to me online, we would catch up in class. Amber is a beautiful girl. Gorgeous, even. She was a sophomore with friends in every class. I was a loud-mouthed loner asshole.
She never judged me. She never truly got mad at me. She never ignored me. She never betrayed my confidence. She was my friend.
At the time, I knew that I had been adopted on my father’s side. I hadn’t talked much about it outside of my closest group of friends,who I lived and worked with at the time. It was my junior year, though, that I opted to try and reach out to my mysterious biological father via an old address my mom had.
I wrote and sent a picture of myself and my date from junior prom. I said some shit about myself. School. Hobbies. That sort of thing. He sent a very basic letter back about how he liked golf and owned a bicycle shop in Sacramento. No picture. Asked for no further correspondence. He was a marine biologist at some point, which makes it weirdly hilarious because in Marine Biology class:
Amber was the first person I told when I sent my letter and she was the first person I told when I got that shit letter back and she gave me a long hug and made sure I was okay and never, as far as I know, breathed a word about it to anyone.
Our friendship branched out some from that class. We would run into each other at parties she got invited to that I would crash. We wrote emails to each other, long ones, in computer class, about our weeks. About our lives. She dated some shitty guys that I told her she was better than. I dated some shitty girls that she told me I was better than.
I graduated. She graduated and invited me to her graduation barbecue. I met and befriended her parents who I still deeply care about. She gave me an old t-shirt that I think used to belong to her brother.
After I graduated, I planned on going to Europe for a few weeks with a friend. I took several photos of Amber before I left and didn’t tell her why. When I got to Paris, France, I found the artist’s district with the most amazing landscape, portrait and caricature artists in the city and when I found the right one, I had him do two portraits (one of Amber and one of another close female friend) from photos. He used only black and white chalk and did an incredible job. It wasn’t cheap, nor should it have been.
My friend and I lost those portraits on the way from Paris to Amsterdam. Of course. So we went back, and I found the guy again and he was packing up his shit and getting ready to go and I begged him to stay and do it again. I offered to pay him double. He looked me in the eye, saw my desperation, did the portraits and only took maybe ten bucks more than he had the first time.
Amber liked it. Her mom loved it. I was happy I could give anything back to one of the few people that helped me get through high school.
College was rolling around. I initially hadn’t planned on going, but something struck the right nerve. I applied to the University of Nevada, Reno and got accepted. I scouted the campus out and fell in love. Before I realized I couldn’t afford it and withdrew, I implored Amber and her mom to check it out based on the fact that it was one of the few campuses that offered in-state tuition rates for Alaskan students. I did not end up moving to Reno. Amber did, and loves it.
Then my 21st birthday ended up rolling around. I had had some pretty hardcore birthday parties (my 20th is notable for many things, none of which were good decisions), and Amber and I got to talking. I didn’t have the money for Vegas. I didn’t have the energy to stay at home with local friends. I wanted to be around someone I loved and trusted who I knew wouldn’t pressure me to do anything.
So I flew down to Reno for a few days. Right off the bat, we got invited to a Risky Business party, so Amber, her roommate and I ended up at a house party in dress shirts and underwear. Beer pong was raging, I was drinking Jack Daniels from the bottle. At a certain point in the night, my eyes settled on a guy who had tried to play two of my female friends at the same time and had seemingly lost both. But both of those friends were at the party. And one of them leaped on him, in love all over again.
In my drunken stupor, I couldn’t handle it. Fuck this, fuck that guy. I took my bottle of Jack in one hand and steadied myself with the other and loudly proclaimed “You’re a piece of fucking shit.”
Ladies and gentlemen: do not ever pick a fight with someone in a state you’re not familiar with in a house you’ve never been to with a guy you barely know in the middle of a crowd of people who either like him or are indifferent to you, especially if you’re in your underwear.
I was in no position to fight that night, nor were the circumstances remotely survivable even if I were. Amber and her roommate dragged me out of the party into a car driven by…someone that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Amber and I got in a yelling match when we got back to her place. She broke down in tears and walked away, inside.
Honestly, I’ve rarely felt worse than I did that night.
I had always held myself up as the one person that would never make her cry, never make her feel shitty, and here I was in her state, with her friends, taking her away from a party she was invited to and being an entitled asshole after she invited me to spend my birthday at her place. I still hate it. I felt and feel awful.
She didn’t even mention it the next day. We carried on. We had a solid day, we got dinner at my favorite restaurant, Olive Garden (this was 5 years ago. Alaska didn’t have an Olive Garden,so this was an exotic treat for me) during which her mom and I split a bottle of wine. We played card games and drank margaritas and went on the town for my 21st and I have no idea how four people drank so fucking much but I almost went home with a stripper Amber convinced to pull me on stage (this was the nice strip club) and I lost an entire unopened bottle of vodka (this was in the very much not nice strip club) and I was hung over for like three days after that.
But it was worth it and that birthday ranks with my favorites.
I don’t get to see a lot of Amber anymore. We text when we can. We see each other in bursts when she visits. I know no matter how sad or angry or hurt I am, no matter how much I fucked up, I know she’s there for me. I know she won’t judge me. I’ve done my best to try and keep her knowing the same in reverse is true. That I’m always there.
She has kept some of my darkest and most personal secrets. She has been a support through my hardest times. She has been an inspiration for my art and to continue my art, and she has been present for some of my most incredible memories. I have a love for this woman that is deep and uncompromising and it means our friendship, at least on my side, is inarguable. When my own biological father blinked at the idea of writing letters, this popular girl made sure I knew I had value.
I’d say I’ve got maybe five people in my life I’d trust with anything. Two of them are women. One of them is her. Blondie. Amber. I don’t know what I’d do without her.