I’ve been thinking a bit about the recent suicide of fashion designer L’Wren Scott, which has been in the news a lot lately. I wasn’t super-knowledgeable about her designs — though I heard her dresses were immaculately cut — and while I remembered she was a stylist at a time when being a stylist was a “thing,” I didn’t know much about her outside of her work and her famous Rolling Stone boyfriend. She was one of those “fashion sphinxes” in my mind immaculate, glamorous in a very intimidating, dramatic way, a bit rarefied and remote. Though by all media accounts she was a lovely person, she had a smooth, shiny surface. The surface, obviously, covered a lot of pain and suffering, and though I didn’t know her, my heart goes out to her loved ones and family.
Suicide has not often touched my life on a personal level. When I have heard about it in my life, it has usually been a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, that kind of thing. Except for once. It was someone that I knew very briefly, one of those early 20s/NYC friendships where someone might orbit within your circle for an enchanted half-season and then drift out of it, lost to a thicket of projects, relationships, dates, road trips, career changes and just life. I will call her Emily, though that isn’t her real name. She was the ex-girlfriend of my roommate. They were still friends, and one day she stopped by to see him at the duplex apartment where I lived.
I remember when I met Emily, she turned to me and gave me such a huge, genuine smile, one that lit up her huge blue eyes. It was 1997 or so, and I was new to NYC and getting used to the fake smiles, the way people scan you up and down discreetly or sort of just half-grin and stare over your head, looking for someone else more important to talk to. But Emily’s smile was warm and welcoming, and she looked you straight in the eye. She wore all black, kind of early 90s Daria-tomboy, and a baseball cap worn backwards, which on her looked very, very cool. She was pale and blond — a white-blonde, her hair long and straight and fine. She looked like she could be the slightly sporty-Goth tomboy member of the Breeders. You could tell immediately she was intelligent from the way she listened and spoke; you could tell she was kind because she immediately offered you whatever drink or gum or food she had in her hands. We got along instantly.
I was just 21, 22, and I was looking for mentors, or at least big-sister types that could give me a model of how to get through my new city with a certain verve and aplomb. I had a career mentor, a dark, exotic, beautiful woman who hired me on my first film jobs. But Emily was my fun, creative big sister, someone to play and have fun with, at least for a little while.
Though we met initially in the foyer of my apartment, our friendship really developed over the phone. She would call to talk to her ex, getting his advice and counsel, and I would answer the phone — this was the age well before cell phones, an era of answering machines and landlines and cordless phones. We would always end up talking for 15-20 minutes before she asked for my roommate. She would always ask how I was doing, what I was up to: she was genuinely interested, and had a friendly, easy way of offering advice without being busy or a know-it-all.
And she told me what she was up to: she worked as a film programmer, but her dream was to play music. She had gone through some difficult breakups, I think. I loved talking to her, so of course I was excited when she finally said, “We should hang out! Let’s go to the East Village and get dinner next week!” Honestly, I was so excited, more excited to hang out with Emily than I was to go out with any of the guys I was dating at the time.