Her name was Liz, and she scared me. I admired her too, but she scared me tons. Tons being the operative word. I had never met anyone obese before. Wildly, actively obese. Or whatever the word is that comes after 'obese.' 'Morbidly obese' is probably right, but that's not what she died from.
Liz was the most brilliant woman I'd ever met. She was wildly, actively brilliant. It was the 1970s, and she had started a women's newspaper in Detroit. And as I recall, it was wildly, actively subversive for the times. And certainly for the place.
I admired her wildly. Actively. Fearfully. I knew I'd never have the energy or inclination to be that innovative, progressive, radical, and whatever word comes after 'radical.' Libertarian is probably right. In the old sense. No one. Ever. Should impede her.
She was a powerhouse.
So this would be the moment to say "But—" and start telling you why she scared me so much. And that's what I was about to do. But. I remember more.
Her husband was a sweet and tolerant man. At peace with himself in many ways. Like someone who meditates. Not like someone who smokes too much weed. I admired him, too.
But this is all beside the point. Brilliant. Feminist. Those were the parts I admired in her.
It was the screaming, raging, and fressing that terrified me. Watching her interact with food. Watching the food fly. Watching it shoveled. Watching it fall all over her body. Watching it hit the floor.
She was a very angry woman.
And she was also by far the most interesting person I had met in my three years in Detroit.
And this, too, is prologue.
At a certain point not long after our sojourn in Detroit, she became quite ill. Terminal, in fact. Cancer.
Let me step back a few years. To pre-Detroit. To hitchhiking around Europe with my officially sanctioned, mother-vetted 'boyfriend' at the time. To Madrid. To the most beautiful store window I'd ever seen. A mannequin dressed in black, covered in an antelope cape and matching antelope knee-high boots.
Spanish boots of Spanish leather.
And me, with all my travel money in hand for the whole of my summer travels before having to return Stateside. After a year abroad. And a war. So. The year must have been 1967. I was 19 years old. There were no credit cards. There was lots of Dylan. That song had been on the first album of his I had ever heard and owned. The Times They Are a-Changing. From 1964.
You couldn't ignore an image like that. Spanish boots...
And so. I spent my small fortune on an antelope cape and matching boots of Spanish leather. And as a result, by Athens I had promptly run out of money, ended up in Constitution Square looking for a hitchhiking partner to finish my travels on the cheap. Instead, I met the 'him' who would many years later be the father of my children.
That's what those boots mean to me. And the antelope cape as well.
But y'know. You come home at last from your travels. And who the hell is gonna wear such things? An antelope cape better suited for a matador. With matching boots. A line of silver frou-frou down the sides. Gevalt. What had I been smoking?
I never wore them. Might of put them on once or twice, and taken them all right off a second or two later.
It was the first time I thought about consumerism (a word that did not yet exist). It was the first time I read about conspicuous consumption. And the weird thing is, I owned next to nothing at the time. Which made the possession of these luxuries even more ludicrous.
She wanted them. Liz, that is. The raging, fressing, ranting, brilliant feminist. She wanted to be buried in Spanish boots of Spanish leather. She wanted to be buried in an antelope cape.
And I thought, well yes. Let me bury my own indulgences with her. And never ever ever be that impulsive and consumptive ever again. A fitting tribute. A fitting farewell.
And then credit cards were invented.