If I had to select a theme for my friendship with Suzanne, it would be honesty.
Very rarely have I met a human who so boldly goes face first into honesty, wherever it may lead her. When we have grown up rebellious, it is easier to be honest. In fact, it is so far in that direction that it becomes difficult to admit enjoying the mainstream, to being comfortable with an element of the status quo. I have always been drawn to the rebellious, which didn’t explain the initial phases of my friendship with Suzanne.
She tells me now that she fell in love with me, and in hindsight it all makes sense. You see, we needed each other, though neither of us could’ve known at the time.
I met Suzanne in 2008, during a production of H.M.S. Pinafore with Lyric Theatre of San Jose. I was understudying the role of Josephine, and, as luck would have it, the Josephine was in another production and ended up missing many rehearsals, the first one included. I, of course, had no warning of this, and ended up sight-singing Josephine in front of 30 people. Anyone who’s told you that singers have big egos hasn’t witnessed this particular version of a three hour shaming. Suzanne was disgusted with me. A masters student in voice at the time, there is no way she would’ve come for rehearsal as an understudy without having the entire role memorized. She sat one row behind me, perfectly put together. I suffered through those three hours, feeling the judgment of all of the Sopranos behind me, red-faced, mispronouncing the British version of “Ralph”, and wanting to sink into the floor. I survived, but not without incurring the wrath of the other singers in the room.
My self-effacing brutal honesty is like a beacon in the dark to the right people. It is never wont to attract the wrong people to me, and this was no exception. Learning that, left to my own devices, I would not feed myself, Suzanne began bringing me portions of home-cooked meals. It is an instinct she can’t turn off. She later confessed she had wanted to hate me for not being prepared but getting the cover anyway. I didn’t know then that, within that kernel of honesty, lay the birth of a tentative friendship.
Suzanne was kind, Christian, appearance-conscious, and I couldn’t quite understand why she sought me out. But she did, repeatedly. The beginning of our friendship was formed with small challenges; a question thrown over the wall, a response batted back. I always wondered when it would reach the end; when a response of mine would finally crack the veneer, and judgment would come raining down.
It never happened.
The wall came down instead. I don’t know when we went from casually mentioning auditions we’d done the next day to telling each other about auditions in advance, or feigning life perfection to confessing unpleasant truths. But it happened, and continues to happen. And so, a few years ago, when Suzanne faced a personal archaeological expedition that would mean forever changing her life, we talked about it. I told her that, for good or ill, her life would never be the same.
When you have nothing, and nothing to lose, the cost of embarking on a journey of truth is minimal. When your life is established, the journey takes far more courage, and far fewer people do it. This is why it is so rare to see someone who is both spiritually and financially wealthy. Not to say it doesn’t happen, but it is rare.
I watched Suzanne make a conscious decision to go face first into this fire. This sweet woman would not live another day in an unexamined life. She risked everything to do it, and I watched with a few proud members of her cheering section as she completely altered her world. It has not been easy, but she has faced every challenge with love combined with kindness, allowing preconceptions and judgment to fall away.
The friend she has been to me during this time has been unwavering, kind, compassionate, and hilarious.
Yesterday, when she called, I answered the phone simply saying “we both sleep with Juan Diego Florez, right?” Yes, she said. “And Jonas Kaufmann. But not that other guy…” “No, neither of us is sleeping with Dimitri Hvorostovsky”.
That exchange, that exemplification of how close we have become in the relatively short time we’ve known each other, is what prompted this writing. My friendship with Suzanne is uncommon and rare. I learn by watching her openness, not because she has told me to be open. I value her self-awareness and exploration, not because she has told me to, but because of how she examined every part of her life and her world. I have watched her grow as an artist like watching someone climb a sheer cliff face, determined, unwavering, never looking down. She is a dear friend and mother, and is bringing two boys up in this world to be young man who will inevitably reflect her light.
I am not religious, but I look to her as an example of true Christianity. Her self-examination and willingness to commit some major upheaval in her life make her one of most rebellious people I have ever met.
The evening of April 21, 2012, I went to see a performance of hers on the other side of the Santa Cruz mountains. There was a power outage, and we found a bar in the hills where we regaled gritty, self-professed opera hating patrons with arias and duets in exchange for drinks, because their ATM was off-line. The next day was life-changing, and Suzanne helped heal my heart during that time period, one of the most isolating of my life.
She both challenges and accepts me with every interaction, every conversation. She drinks with me, laughs with me, cries with me, thinks with me, and gets dressed up and does silly things with me.
When I’m at Burning Man, she mails me Christmas cards, and they always say something to the effect of “Burning Man is like your Christmas!” She is more accepting than any self-proclaimed accepting hippie I’ve ever met.
Suzanne is my most unexpected friend. I would have survive the tragedies of the last seven years without her, but not very well. Her home is the emotional bomb shelter to which I intend to retreat if everything goes tits up in my world. You’ll find me there, drinking port and re-watching episodes of Sex and the City, and reading Jane Austen. Thank you, Suzanne.