June 14th, 1990: Thursday evening in the front room, alone. Where does one begin to tell of the end of a journey? Janet Ryan, my friend Janet Ryan (I still can’t believe it) died early Saturday morning. It’s Thursday now, hardly bother with tissues anymore. Janet was an instigator. So am I. The East and the West Wind, we partied like there was no tomorrow. We scared my future husband whenever we went out together. I loved Janet Ryan – she lived life full out, really FULL OUT. When she died, we were thirty-three years old and still thick as thieves.
We were hanging out in the spring of 1982 when we decided we’d had enough of searching for “company” in dive bars and workplaces. We were scraping by at that time, twenty somethings with average salaries, and I remember she brought an entire clam and garlic pizza into a movie theater under her coat so we would have something awesome to eat. Man, I hope she burned that coat.
During that summer, we pooled our resources and wrote a personals ad. Gosh we were so broke, we didn’t even run two of them in the newspaper. Janet was a green-eyed brunette of petite and athletic build. I was a 5’ 5” blonde with hazel eyes, and a bodacious figure. We rented a P. O. box and planned to pick up the letters, read them together, and split those boys 50/50. I had just finished reading “A Woman of Substance” by Barbara Taylor Bradford, so we played off of that theme. It ran for a week in July 1982 in San Francisco’s local free paper, the Bay Guardian:
All You Young Men of Substance
I am a young woman of 23 years, average height, nice build, and pleasing to look at. I am presently preparing to descend upon graduate school with self-assuredness and ambition. I am an optimist, affectionate, and have an unrelenting zest for life. I enjoy people, travel, music of all kinds, dancing, passion and especially laughing. I seek a substantive confirmed heterosexual male with similar outlook to enhance my life. Picture appreciated, money and good looks exalted.
Several letters arrived, I dated three guys named Jeff and one named Aaron. One of the three Jeffs hung in there, and in November of 1984, I married him. Janet had the ad done up in calligraphy as our wedding present, and without rancor, pointed out that from this ad, I found a mate, and she got chopped liver. One of her “young men of substance” came for his blind date to Liverpool Lil’s, where Janet worked as a cocktail waitress. After her shift, we all four hung out in his “love van”. Amused by the mirrored ceiling of the van, the carpeted floors, the platform bed – Jeff and I suggested a caption for the mirror: “Caution: objects in this mirror are larger than they appear”. Janet told us to cut it out, but it was too late. Mr. Love Van did not call her back.
Janet Ryan inherited my job as apartment manager and transformed the complimentary studio apartment into a Love Den of her own with Christmas lights that blinked like an airport landing strip around the edges of the waterbed. I think it was after she moved in 1986 that she proclaimed a new sexual orientation, pointing out that bisexuality opened up the other half of humanity for ficking, and I was stuck in Hetero Land. Mathematically unassailable.
Sunday June 15th, 1990, 5 o’clock: The “gathering” at Janet’s apartment where Clan Ryan was staying. Norah Ryan had four sons and a daughter. Michael, Patrick, Robert, John, and Janet. It is a seldom mentioned thing that brushes with mortality make mourners horny. Western civilization is so fucked up with their fear of death, their fear of raw sexuality, and their refusal to acknowledge the dual intensity of both. I remember being puzzled by a strange lust in my heart for one of her brothers, I mean he looked SO much like her. Patrick and I both wished that Janet was here to laugh at us both, got drunk with the family and missed her together. An Irish wake with cremains in a box. We told Janet stories to peals of raucous laughter punctuated with silences. We found out that night that Janet had scaled the tower of the Golden Gate bridge with a climber friend not once, not twice, but three times, all after midnight, so they wouldn’t be seen by the cops, and subsequently arrested. Honestly, I had no idea she had done that, apparently, neither did her mom. Makes you wonder, golly – if she survived that, how could she die in a fall from the fire escape? Steve, the climber, went back up a few weeks later, and scattered her ashes over the Bay.
There was very little left unresolved when Janet died. I’m not so sure that was due to her being “ready to move on” and tying up loose ends. It is just as likely due to Janet’s openness. She didn’t keep things inside, and she always kept in touch. Laura, her girlfriend at the time, and I had found Janet’s stash of one-hit-shit in her apartment and we smoked it in the backyard of this sprawling home in Lafayette where her Celebration of Life was held the following week. I had no idea how strong that dope was, laid down because I could not move my limbs, watched the clouds, and heard, I HEARD Janet laughing – the skies honoring her blithe spirit.
One thought on “We were the East and West Wind”
Catherine, I loved this short story and the photo of you and Janet is wonderful! You both look gorgeous and full of laughter, happiness, and mischief!
About a month ago I saw something that made me think of you and sent you a text which was returned. I imagine you have a new phone number now. I can’t remember what I was trying to send you. I forgot. But I think of you, off an on, and of the good time we had together last May. I think it was May. I have been taking care of my two grandchildren several days a week and I am loving it, but also getting really tired. Life is good.
It was nice to hear how you and Jeff met. Say hi to him from me.